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Neil K Carroll [00:00:06] Hi. Welcome to the Smarter Business Podcast. This episode features CJ Maurer, the founder of The Gist. They are an inbound marketing agency that designs and executes strategies that create sustainable growth for their clients. We talk about CJ’s, career journey and why it’s important to outsource certain aspects of your business. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to wherever you’re taking this podcast and leave a comment. We’re always looking for feedback and it can help people find the show.

Neil K Carroll [00:00:38] On this episode of the Smarter Business podcast, we have CJ maurer. CJ, welcome.

CJ Maurer [00:00:44] Thanks, Neil.

Neil K Carroll [00:00:44] Yeah. CJ is starting up a new company called The Gist. And now I’m gonna give CJ a moment to kind of walk through what your services are.

CJ Maurer [00:00:55] Well, first of all, thank you for having me here. I don’t know how long it took me trying to poke you to get me on this podcast.

Neil K Carroll [00:01:03] It’s a very, very popular podcast to be on.

CJ Maurer [00:01:06] Well, I just love the idea of making content and doing podcasts like I want to be part of it. It’s something I’m looking into myself as well. But no, seriously, thanks. This is cool. I love what you’re doing. [00:01:16]The Gist is an inbound marketing agency, simply put. So, a lot of people know inbound marketing is a process for generating leads and then nurturing those leads. And certainly, we help businesses do that. But really, my view of inbound is a process of enabling marketers and business owners to really look at the entire business lifecycle through marketing, sales, and customer service, identify opportunities to reduce friction, provide an amazing customer experience and build loyal relationships that really help unlock sustainable growth. And if that sounds vague, I can kind of understand, but it’s really about applying the same principles that you use to make it easier for people to engage with you at the top of the funnel through lead generation and follow up and things like that and applying that through sales and customer service as well. That’s really what inbound marketing is as a mechanism to unlock growth. [54.3s]

Neil K Carroll [00:02:11] Excellent. So in terms of maybe products or services, if you were to go and tell somebody kind of this is what we do. You would say inbound services consulting or do you have specific kind of areas that you get into?

CJ Maurer [00:02:28] Yeah. We’re a strategy house with agency production capabilities. So, I come from, originally actually I come from the agency world. I spent about six years working at two different smaller advertising. One was an advertising agency, one was a branding and identity firm. And so I have a lot of experience on the strategy side and managing projects. I then made a move over to Complete Payroll. So, I was the director of marketing there for about four years. So, moving to the client-side where I was really able to kind of roll my sleeves up and lead a lot of execution in those instances. When you’re on the client-side and you don’t always have a budget to hire a full-service agency, at some point things are left to be done. And then there’s no one left to do it by yourself. So, that was actually really rewarding, like writing blog posts, doing scheduling social media posts and things like that, email campaigns, automate automated workflows, everything like that. So, I’ve kind of taken all that experience and built an agency that is designed to first lead with strategy, because I think at the heart of it all, in this day and age, there’s no shortage of access to tools to do things. Right? And there’s no shortage of access to people who can execute anything from social media posts to web design, landing pages, video. Right? Not to say that they’re all commoditized, but just this new economy that we’re living in the barriers to entry are lower. Right?

Neil K Carroll [00:04:05] Sure.

CJ Maurer [00:04:06] So what people are often lacking is not access to the capabilities and the means of production. Right? But it’s the how do you piece this all together and design something that works that accomplishes our goals, whether that be bringing in more leads at the top of the funnel, whether that be converting on more of the leads that we generate or whether that be marketing our products and services to our current customer base or sphere of influence. I have different clients. Most people, I think, assume that because The Gist as an inbound marketing agency that we live and breathe with the top-of-the-funnel lead generation. And while we’re certainly capable of helping people with that, I would say our clients hire us for other priorities. Converting leads, nurturing leads and marketing products to customers as much or if not more than they do for top-of-the-funnel lead generation.

Neil K Carroll [00:05:02] Alright. Excellent.

CJ Maurer [00:05:02] Strategy with production. We do web sites. We can help with like CRM management, produce content, blog posts, videos, infographics, whatever. All of the stuff that’s needed to sustain the inbound marketing ecosystem, if you will, that’s needed to actually like influence people, generate leads, nurture leads, add value. Right? So that’s what we do.

Neil K Carroll [00:05:29] Well, that’s excellent. Kind of that more comprehensive approach to inbound. Does that make you unique in the market at all?

CJ Maurer [00:05:42] From what I can gather maybe in Buffalo, I mean, there are certainly other agencies around the country that do what I do. But yeah, I think a little bit it does. I think it’s harder than ever before to really have your finger on the pulse of the industry and figure out what people are doing because it just changes so much. But, from what I can gather, it definitely does. I mean, just the fact that I’m an inbound specific agency to begin with, that you’re not going to hire me to do a logo or run radio or TV ads. Right? I’m just not going to do that. So I think that to begin with makes us unique to a certain degree. And I think the fact that we apply our focus on sustainable, holistic organizational growth, as opposed to just top of the funnel lead generation probably does make us a little bit more unique as well. Because, I mean, all you have to do is have a is manage a business Facebook profile and you will start seeing ads from lead generation experts. Right? Gurus who are saying we can generate, you know, 4000 leads in the next 30 days or whatever. Right? So there’s like a lot of people out there that do that.

Neil K Carroll [00:06:52] Yeah.

CJ Maurer [00:06:54] What we’re more interested in doing is kind of like the difference between sometimes I use the analogy, the difference between renting a house or owning or the difference between like going to the market and buying apples or like planting apple trees. Can we do some more short term top of the funnel lead generation? Yes, absolutely. But I have a feeling that when there’s a lot of people out there doing that. Right? Those leads are either harder to come by or the value of those leads are less valuable. Usually, when you generate more leads there, the average lead is less qualified, less actual value, less, you know, actually valuable.

Neil K Carroll [00:07:32] Yeah.

CJ Maurer [00:07:32] So you want to focus on is. If then the question becomes – Is what matters how many leads? And I would say most business owners would, if they were to really take a look at it. The amount of leads does not matter right.

Neil K Carroll [00:07:48] No. No, no, no.

CJ Maurer [00:07:48] The growth of client units and revenue and the retention of that revenue and the satisfaction. Right? Of their clients, the loyalty, all of that matters. And oftentimes we’ve confused the number of new lead generations at the top of the funnel with value. And in many cases is an indicator of value. But it is not. It does not tell the whole story of value and what people are really looking for.

Neil K Carroll [00:08:13] Right. Right. Yeah. It’s kind of a next level. Like we talk a lot about vanity metrics. You know, with our stuff, with our video production and like views are a vanity metric.

CJ Maurer [00:08:25] Web site visitors.

Neil K Carroll [00:08:27] Yeah. They’re a better metric than nothing. But like leads or maybe another step along. But yeah, obviously true ROI is where it’s at. If you can find it.

CJ Maurer [00:08:42] I mean I trade a lot on growth in web site visits.

Neil K Carroll [00:08:46] Right.

CJ Maurer [00:08:47] That’s an important metric in my business and I’m proud to show it. But at the end of the day, if you were to just look at web site visits by itself under a microscope, it does nothing other than make people like me or my clients feel good.

Neil K Carroll [00:09:04] Yeah. Yeah, right. And it does. Right? You look to see that graph.

CJ Maurer [00:09:08] Right. Right. So, when I first got started into this several years ago, my analysis didn’t really go deeper than that. But then when you look at that and maybe you see a lot of times what you’ll see is you’ll see web site visitors increase and then you’ll also see new leads and then maybe new customers increase as well, but not proportionate to the increase of the web site. So something like that could tell you and this is another example of something we do beyond just trying to drive more traffic to the web site. Right. Is that your web site either is not attracting enough of the right people or it doesn’t do a good enough job making it easy for the people who come to your site to get the information they need. Right? It doesn’t engage them or doesn’t give them a reason to respond. You know, fill out a form or, you know, respond to a chatbot or something like that. People use CRO – conversion rate optimization, not just looking at the people who come to your site, but then like, how good are you at getting them to take the next step? Because that’s really what you want to use your web site for.

Neil K Carroll [00:10:19] How do you use video for The Gist? And, you know, do you have any plans of how you might be able to use it, kind of move that further in the future?

CJ Maurer [00:10:29] In my experience of designing websites and designing landing pages for lead generation and just for like the whole inbound model. Right? Getting people to engage. When you put video on a web site, it significantly, it does a lot of things. So from an SEO standpoint, right. Video is there. Right? Indexed by Google. But people also stay on the page longer. Right. So, you know, average session length, things like that, that increases. When you shoot video too oftentimes you can pull the transcript and put it on the page. There’s a lot of things that just having video as a content asset can do on your web site and in marketing, in general, to increase SEO, make sure more people find you when they search for you on Google.

Neil K Carroll [00:11:17] Absolutely.

CJ Maurer [00:11:18] So there’s that. Right? But what I also found and what initially compelled me to use video is that if you ever ask somebody to take an action on your web site, click a button and fill out a form, do whatever. When you have a video of somebody just introducing themselves, humanizing the business just a little bit. People seem to engage with it better. And it absolutely increases conversion rates. How much always varies. But every time I’ve used video, I’ve seen conversion rates increased by some order of magnitude. So, I put video. I use video almost religiously. Sometimes my clients might even tire from me talking about it because I’m encouraging them to put it on their web sites. I even use it in pages that aren’t your traditional like landing pages, conversion pages, just because I know that it provides a better experience. And if somebody is going to be coming to my site and checking me out, whether it’s their first time or somebody, you know, referred them and they want to do it a little due diligence. I know that the best way for me to share what I believe is important about marketing, about inbound marketing, about growth is to just like talk.

Neil K Carroll [00:12:35] Yeah.

CJ Maurer [00:12:35] Right. I’m the type of person who you know, if a text conversation is going back and forth, I might stop just pick up the phone and call because. Right. It’s easier, right. It’s just a better form of communication. The closer to like people the people you can get for communication. I think is best. So I believe it provides a better experience. It also increases conversions and also helps with SEO. So video is a huge part of my marketing strategy.

Neil K Carroll [00:13:05] So we try to tie it these podcast episodes into some of the content that we already have out there. So, we’ve got a blog post about how to sell video to a doubtful client. Right? Now you kind of touched on that a little, but you’ve you’ve done a fair amount of convincing people that video is needed. So what’s your strategy when it’s like, you know, they need it, they’re not sure. Do you just roll through the SEO and those benefits or do you take another approach?

CJ Maurer [00:13:39] So recently I had a client and we just launched a new web site for them. And there were a couple of pages that were, you know, they were important pages on the site. You know, one was for a careers page, one was for a contact us page, other rooms like, you know, services, overview, things like that. Right. And these were pages where one were either conveying a lot of information to their really important that those pages establish a point of difference. Right. For them, that they differentiate the business from the competitor or they were a conversion page where we’re asking the visitor to take some type of action. And with this particular client, the president of the company happens to be very articulate, very well-spoken, very passionate. So I suggested I said, hey, these pages, I think we’ll perform really better. There was like four or five. I think these pages will perform significantly better if we just embed a video on them of you just welcoming them and telling them about, you know, your business, you know, contextualize to each page. And they came out great and they really like it. And we’re seeing some improved engagement on the pages already. And they’ve only been live for just a handful of weeks.

Neil K Carroll [00:14:54] Well, that dwell time comes immediately. Right? Throw it up there and you start to see an increase pretty quickly.

CJ Maurer [00:15:00] Yeah. And they and they want to do more. So I think there’s a couple of ways to answer that. One is I’m not really interested in and making if somebody really is doubtful to the point of being a true skeptic, then I’m not sure I want to be the one that like now tries to fight that uphill battle. Like, if you’re just if it’s just not your thing, then that’s just not, you know, a hill that I want to die on.

Neil K Carroll [00:15:27] Sure.

CJ Maurer [00:15:29] However, if I believe in something and video is a perfect example, but really, this applies to anything, right? If I believe in something strong enough that I think it would help them, that I think it would help achieve the outcome that they hired me to help them achieve. Then I’m going to one say, OK. This is what I think you should do. And these are the cases. Why? And in the case of video, usually I kind of share the same perspective that I just explained to you. Yeah, usually. Again, SEO benefits, right? Engagement. Benefits. Those are the big ones, right? I should say SEO conversion and then overall, like brand endearment. Right. And so usually the idea comes from one of those benefits like, hey, let’s just make these pages feel more like us. Let’s cure let’s humanize the business a little bit. And, oh, by the way, like we’ll probably see a greater conversion rate on the form submissions. And also, you know, it’s going to improve our SEO. So just helping them see the entire picture is usually how I go about that.

Neil K Carroll [00:16:32] So actually, we’re gonna move on to the kind of one question that we ask everybody to encounter on this podcast, which is what is one thing that you’ve done to make your business or maybe if you want to reference time when you were in-house, a client’s business smarter?

CJ Maurer [00:16:58] One thing that I think can be and has been applied to both my business, my employer, when I was on the client-side as well as my current clients, is to outsource non-essential activities. That came in a variety of that came and can come in a variety of forms. When I was at Complete Payroll, I started off writing all of the blog posts myself, and when it became very clear that just that little bit and blogging activity was resulting in more web site traffic and it was helpful fueling the entire inbound growth model that we were designing, it became clear also that more content, more quality content would be beneficial. We added more, not by carving out more of my time to write, because I still had to do so many other things, but by outsourcing content production. So, similarly, now that I’m in my business for The Gist, I have written some blog posts. I’ve also just I’m in the process of outsourcing a blog series on content strategy with a partner of mine that I have learned sees content the way I see it. And we’ve had a couple of conversations. We’re very much in line in terms of what we think is important to educate people on. And so she’s actually in the process of developing that right now. But I’ve also done is I’ve outsourced some project management duties, so I have a partner that just helps me five to 10 hours a week keeping track of projects, communicating back with clients and doing some of the work that is required to actually fulfill on our client projects. And that really helps me because, you know, if I want to grow.

Neil K Carroll [00:18:54] Right.

CJ Maurer [00:18:55] Or even if I just want to focus the majority of my attention on what I think I do best and where I think I can provide the most value. It’s really hard to do everything all the time. So I think that outsourcing non-essential tasks or even if it’s not non-essential, is really every time is essential. Right.

Neil K Carroll [00:19:15] Right. I could go one step beyond that. So it’s like it’s not just non-essentials, it’s tasks that, you know, maybe somebody else can do better than you. Or an expert in the field is going to do a better job than you.

CJ Maurer [00:19:30] Yes. Absolutely. I’m you know, and if at first, it’s weird, just kind of just accepting that, because as part of doing that, you’re implicitly accepting that either I am not the best at this or I am not the best suited to do this.

Neil K Carroll [00:19:46] Right.

CJ Maurer [00:19:46] So when you first and when you first do it, it maybe feels like, you know, is this a cop-out? Am I like not? But the reality is, is no. In fact, it’s I found it to be the most responsible decision that I could make for myself, because, again, I spend more time on the things that make the biggest impact for my business and my clients.

Neil K Carroll [00:20:04] Well, it’s. Tough one early on to kind of wrap your head around a little. Right. And like there’s a cost to it.

CJ Maurer [00:20:12] Yeah.

Neil K Carroll [00:20:13] So you have to justify the costs. But if you’re always working within the areas that you operate best, like you’re gonna be a more effective business, that’s kind of all there is to it. So that’s a great one.

CJ Maurer [00:20:23] And I know. I know. So just to kind of expand on that just a little bit.

Neil K Carroll [00:20:28] Go for it.

CJ Maurer [00:20:29] You know, I’ve met business owners who maybe have in so many ways said, well, why would I outsource any part of marketing? I have a marketing person. He or she should do all the marketing stuff. Right. You’ve also had that marketing lead maybe feel a little bit threatened by the idea of outsourcing something because then they won’t look as good to their boss or something like that. So similar to that I know another business owner who has started by outsourcing lots of different things. And then when he sees that it’s good and it’s valuable, he will bring he will hire a full-time person for that. And now that is something completely different. Basically, what I’m ultimately advocating for is the idea that I don’t think that you can or should do all the things all the time. I don’t feel hamstrung to try something new. If you don’t have all of those capabilities in-house. If something proves itself out and it’s valuable enough for you to bring that in-house. Great. Great. I think it’s absolute this person I’m referencing. I think it’s absolutely fantastic what he does because he gets a little taste of what it is, how it could benefit his organization. And when it gets to the point where either it makes more sense financially or he just likes the idea of having that person closer to the team. Bring that in. That’s fantastic. What I don’t like is, is perhaps the rigid resistance against outsourcing for outsourcing sake, because in most instances you’re going to get a more highly trained expert to do something more efficiently at a lower cost.

Neil K Carroll [00:22:09] Yes, absolutely. True in. Yeah. I feel like that’s like a little more of an antiquated ideal, too. Right. Like that. You’re going to know everybody in-house is going to do everything. And all you end up doing is it’s kind of maybe dumbing down the overall project and or the overall product and at the same time, it can actually be a lot more costly because you’ve got on with specific projects in mind that maybe, you know, you could’ve had an outsourced agency.

CJ Maurer [00:22:46] So mean. That’s true. But there’s always a give and take. Like, to be honest, if money was no object, I would hire lots of full time people to do lots of lots of functions.

Neil K Carroll [00:22:54] But money is an object in business.

CJ Maurer [00:22:54] Right. So that’s where you always have to you know, that’s where you kind of always have to like find the right.

Neil K Carroll [00:23:02] There’s a balance there. Absolutely. Is there anything that we have maybe touched on that you want to dove deeper into? Is there anything that you would like to talk about that’s important to your business?

CJ Maurer [00:23:16] I just want to acknowledge the fact that we’re sitting here in your studio recording a podcast, which is also on video camera, which is going to be used. I mean, people can listen to this audio file. They can watch the whole video. I’m sure you’re going to edit small clips that share them on social media, things like that. So, all this is is just us sitting down for a half an hour talking about things that matter to our businesses, to other people’s businesses from marketing, video, whatever. Right. And this is not the hardest thing in the world to do.

Neil K Carroll [00:23:53] Yep. It’s like we. We created it because it’s a library lift in terms of our creating video content for our company. Right. And we talk to people. I talk to you. That way, I don’t have to come up with content. You’ve got your own ideas and we can break it up and, you know. Yeah, it looks it works really well for us. And, you know, we’ve been doing it for a few months now and yeah, not. Not bad.

CJ Maurer [00:24:24] I mean, you’re you’re proving my point. Right. Like, literally the whole reason why I started my business is because I found that a Complete Payroll. Like I talk about like inbound marketing and the whole strategy. Yes. The one thing that has truly fueled that that is enabled us to generate more leads, do a better job nurturing our leads, you know, support the sales team with more content and points of differentiation and add more value to our customer base by keeping them up to date with, you know, whether it be labor laws or news or whatever. Just interesting content. Right. That is relevant to them in their jobs, in their industry. The reason why we’ve been able to make this whole thing work and we’re seeing the results, it really. Comes down to can you make quality content? Right? Yes, at a relatively high frequency over a sustained period of time. Can you make quality content production your new normal? I forget the first time I heard it or which, you know, famous Internet blogger or vlogger or whatever heard it. But somebody said that like these days, like a business should also be its own media company, because first of all, the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been before. It’s never been easier to either invest in some equipment or go, you know, outsource the production of something like this and add value. Talk about things that are relevant to your business, to the people that you serve. Right. And I think it is just a tremendous opportunity like this is presumably a effective tool to market your business to market vidwheel.

Neil K Carroll [00:26:01] Yep.

CJ Maurer [00:26:02] We’ve barely talked about video. Right. We slightly mentioned the fact that, you know, I’ve hired you to produce video for myself and my clients. And that, you know, great. OK. So, we work together, but and we know each other because of that. But aside from that, like, this is a really good way to promote your business. And we didn’t it was the first time we mentioned the word vidwheel. You haven’t talked about you haven’t pitched anything.

Neil K Carroll [00:26:27] Its not a commercial, right.

CJ Maurer [00:26:28] All you’re doing is just like talking about things that matter to people who might need video at some point, who might need marketing help. And whether you do that through blogging, through social media, through video, through audio files, podcasts. Right. Email, infographics, literally, whatever your preferred content format or formats are. It doesn’t matter, but there is a tremendous opportunity for those who care enough about the people they serve to make stuff that matters. And it is truly the self-fulfilling prophecy where if you don’t do it and if you’re not chasing the lead in every opportunity and you’re not saying, OK, we just launch a new episode or we just published a series of a blog post, what did this get us?

Neil K Carroll [00:27:14] Right. Right.

CJ Maurer [00:27:15] If you can resist the temptation to just look at short term reward, and just commit to positioning to serving your people, what it will do is teach people to think of you as a leader. Right. A thought leader. Or just like somebody who is there to inform you or keep you engaged or we’re kind of build a community.

Neil K Carroll [00:27:37] Right.

CJ Maurer [00:27:37] The payoffs are incredible and they will happen. But it only happens like, again, the self-fulfilling prophecy. It only happens if you first exist to serve people. And that’s really what this is designed to do. Somebody hopefully somebody who’s watching this has a couple of ideas. Yes. Or, you know, maybe has more confidence to start something.

Neil K Carroll [00:27:59] Yeah. And that’s the whole idea behind it. Right. I have a lot of great conversations off-air about these very things. So, it’s just a way to kind of like formalize a little. Talk to people who know what they’re talking about or have something to offer in like this kind of space. And not just me, though. I’ve learned something every time I do one of these or, you know, get kind of reinforced on a specific idea. But for anybody who’s, you know, who’s watching, like, I feel there’s a real learning opportunity there. So, yeah.

CJ Maurer [00:28:36] You said it. I mean, how many of us who are either in business or sales or marketing have had more conversations than they can remember, either over lunch, over coffee, at some type of networking mixer or some type of like industry-specific meetup? Right. Right. Were they’re exchanging ideas and value? Yeah, right. You’re doing it all the time.

Neil K Carroll [00:28:59] Yeah.

CJ Maurer [00:28:59] If not on purpose by accident. RIght. Yeah. And so like to take the additional step to document it, to package it and repurpose it and share it is is not a significant leap as many would have to believe. And as we’ve already discussed, it has tremendous benefits. And again, SEO, more people find you on the conversion, more people filling out forms and taking action when they encounter your content. And then again, three, what I talk about is just like people say, like, want to run a branding campaign. Right. They just want to make people feel a certain way about their business that accomplishes that, too. It hit on all of them. So. So I’m just a big believer in that. And I want people to hire my agency to help them. But more than that, like, if I could represent anything, it’s just to like generally push people in that direction, in that direction, to try to take a leap to produce something, even if they feel vulnerable, because it’s probably better, you know, than they may give it credit for. Right.

Neil K Carroll [00:29:57] Right. Yeah. Yeah, we were joking before we came on to those that I was nervous. I wasn’t really nervous. But yeah, but no these yet. But yeah, the first time I did one of these. I was a little bit nervous.

CJ Maurer [00:30:10] Of course I was. I wasn’t nervous until you were messing with me and told me you were nervous.

Neil K Carroll [00:30:16] That I was I did it.

CJ Maurer [00:30:17] Should I be nervous? Maybe I should. No, I always I mean, I do. I have a lot of I don’t know a lot relative to the average person. Maybe I have some experience being on camera, recording podcasts and then giving like live presentations.

Neil K Carroll [00:30:32] Sure.

CJ Maurer [00:30:32] And I am especially for like if I’m ever like speaking in front of a group, I am nervous every single time I do.

Neil K Carroll [00:30:37] Yeah, I think great content, great kind of ideas that we’ve that we’re able to share with the audience. And I think that’ll do it for today. Thank you, CJ.

CJ Maurer [00:30:48] Thanks, Neil. Appreciate it. Peace.

Neil K Carroll [00:30:51] OK. That wraps it up. Be sure to visit The Gist’s web site to check out the business and some of the services they offer. Thanks for checking out the Smarter Business podcast. Subscribe and comment on this episode to help us grow our audience.