Adam McChesney, Owner and Partner, Hite Digital (St. Louis, MO)
Adam McChesney, Owner, and Partner at St. Louis, Missouri franchise of Hite Digital, a service digital marketing agency with 15 locations. Adam’s agency provides logo design, branding services, website design, search engine optimization, paid advertising, and recently launched Hite CRM, a technology-based software based on GoHighLevel’s white-labeled CRM.
The goal? “To create an ecosystem that . . . helps us generate more business for them, . . . turn(s) those leads into customers, and then turn(s) those customers into walking billboards for our clients.” He wants to “turn a client’s business into “a scalable model” that helps them reach their goals and helps them get more out of what they put in.” Adam says over 75% of his clients are in a home-service or contracting-type industry.
Before Hite, Adam sold medical devices for around five years. When Covid hit, he decided he wanted to get into marketing. His background in prospecting, sales, and growing business gave him the skills he needed to get clients. He studied up on website building, ranking, and paid ad production so he could do the work.
He started his agency in July of 2020 and grew it “from basically nothing up to 30 or 40 clients,” but then came the problems. A lot of issues – fulfillment, account management, and scaling – were breaking the agency and its business. Adam started looking for ways to outsource. After he became “official” with Hite in June of this year, he doubled his agency’s monthly revenue in 90 days . . . jumping from $30K to $60k a month.
Hite Digital at the corporate level handles processes, systems, fulfillment, and some of the prospecting and administration services, leaving Adam with the time and energy to focus on prospecting, selling, growing, and scaling his business. Daily franchise calls with other franchise owners cover different business topics – each week starts with sales, then progresses through mindset, general operations, product, and on Friday, family-oriented personal sharing – providing a rich source of franchise “lessons learned,” but, more importantly, supportive relationships.
The franchise has allowed him to leverage the resources and abilities of about 150 full-time team members and 15 distinct locations, and do work at a scale that a small, independent agency could not. Adam feels the franchise certifications, high-profile sponsorships, and publicity have increased his “validity” . . . he no longer has to sell himself as an individual product. With Hite corporate providing the processes and systems (“Sales are not going to outperform and out-scale bad processes and systems,” Adam warns), he now has the time to be “hyper-focused on what’s going to take this agency and continue to grow.” He then concludes, “The things that are happening behind the scenes – strategy, everything like that – have continued to stay the same.”
One key to finding quality clients? Adam is in a number of mastermind groups where he meets with business owners from all over the country on a regular basis. Many of the people in his mastermind groups are his clients or become his clients . . . and those people refer new clients to him, as well. Adam feels personal branding contributes to his ability to get and retain clients, because people know, like, and trust him based on the relationship created before they even consider a partnership.
Adam is available on Instagram: @adamlmcchesney or on his agency’s website at: hitedigital.com/st-louis
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Adam McChesney, Owner and Partner at Hite Digital St. Louis, obviously in St. Louis, Missouri. Welcome to the podcast, Adam.
ADAM: Yeah, Rob. Thanks for having me on. Super excited to be here today. Appreciate you having me here today.
ROB: Excellent to have you on the podcast. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Hite Digital St. Louis? Tell us what you all are doing, what’s exciting there, what clients seek out.
ADAM: Yeah, absolutely. Hite Digital St. Louis is a franchise operation of Hite Digital. Hite Digital has 15 locations as of this recording today, and I’m lucky enough to be the owner/partner here in St. Louis, Missouri. We’re a full-service digital marketing agency. We do everything from logo and branding, website design, search engine optimization, paid advertising, and we’ve recently launched our own CRM as well.
We do things a little bit differently over at Hite. Some really cool things that we have in the works. But we are a franchise model, so we leverage the resources and the abilities of about 150 full-time team members and 15 different locations. It has allowed us to do a lot of things at scale that, if you were basically your own little hyper-agency like I was before merging with Hite, you just couldn’t do. Some really exciting things we have going on.
ROB: It’s a really interesting model, and I think it’s one we really haven’t encountered before on this podcast. How did you become aware of Hite, and how did you get drawn in? I’m sure that’s a process; I’m sure there’s some aspirations of what you can build on your own, what you can build together. It’s probably a journey.
ADAM: Absolutely. It’s definitely been a journey. I’ve been an agency owner full-time now since July of 2020. Quick backstory on me: I was in the medical device sales field for about five years. Worked my way up through multiple companies and was pretty successful, but right as COVID was going on, I realized I didn’t know if this was necessarily for me. I’d always wanted to take marketing full-time to see what I could do, helping local businesses – especially during such a unique time that we were seeing with the pandemic. So, in July of 2020, I left.
My background, my strengths are really in prospecting and sales and growing business, so I never really had any issues finding people that were interested in allowing me to do their marketing and advertising. And then I was taught through courses and programs and a lot of self-teaching how to build a website, rank a website, do all the paid ads. So, I could sell and then I could also do it, which was nice, but it also brought its own set of problems for fulfillment and account management and scaling. As I took my agency from basically nothing up to 30 or 40 clients, I had a lot of issues that were breaking the agency and the business as a whole. I started looking into ways to outsource.
Hite Digital was one of those ways that I was looking. Hite Digital in the past had been a white label fulfillment company for agencies that obviously didn’t want to do the work internally. So, transitioning over to this franchise model – I had heard about it; never heard anything like it. I thought, “Wow, this is way too good to be true.” They handle the processes and the systems, they handle the fulfillment, they handle some prospecting and admin stuff. For me, it was a perfect storm where I was at in my agency to be able to continue and focus on what I wanted to do, which is prospect and sell and grow a business.
ROB: It’s really fascinating. It sounds like the whole delivery aspect of the business is something you don’t really have to worry about on a day-to-day basis.
ADAM: That’s correct.
ROB: But then with that also comes – you still do have to sell something that is aligned to what Hite can deliver as an organization. How do you think about the alignment between what you’re selling and what’s being delivered?
ADAM: Luckily, I had a taste of what Hite was able to do before I came on as a franchise. I knew a couple other people that were already franchisees of Hite, I had seen it from a white label standpoint, and most of what I’m selling today was also what I had previously sold and also done myself. So, for me, it wasn’t much of a transition. The biggest transition for me was to get out of a lot of the mundane tasks of the day to day. So, managing the accounts, managing the projects, building a website myself – all the things that in theory were good for me in the beginning to get access to knowing how to do it and be able to better sell what I was selling, but it got me very focused on the things that weren’t going to grow and scale a business.
ROB: What kind of territory do you have, then? Is it St. Louis in fact, and someone else might come in and do Kansas City or Nashville? You’ve got about 100 miles? What’s your range?
ADAM: Basically, right now I’m the only one in Missouri. I can’t remember the specifics on the range. I want to say it’s about 120 miles that I can remember. For example, in the state of Texas we have four franchisees down there. We don’t really necessarily have a boundary of where we can do business, being digital marketing. There’s not any caps on anything like that. But I want to say it’s about 120 miles in terms of where another franchise would be opening.
ROB: Got it. It reminds me – the NBA operates kind of like that too, and they seem to be doing all right for everyone there. [laughs]
When it comes to prospecting, you almost get to go out and prospect a bit more unencumbered with the day to day of the operations, which is fascinating. Quite often in the medical sales field, it’s I think a little bit similar. How do you think about which kinds of clients you’re working with locally?
ADAM: Where I really got my start was online networking. I’m in a variety of different masterminds where likeminded people are coming together. I’m meeting business owners all the time, and whether I’m working with people within those masterminds as clients of mine or they’re referring people to me, most of my clients were all over the country.
This has now given me an aspect to start doing some cool things locally in terms of networking, getting my name out there from a standpoint that actually means something. When I am the product, the service, and everything, and I’m telling people, “Hey, this is what I’ve got,” no one really understands that. Now I can send them over to Hite Digital, show them all the team members that we have, all the certifications, all the sponsorships, all the stuff that has been written about Hite Digital throughout the publications. It has a lot more validity.
So, I’m more proud to be able to go and show that and do that, and it’s given me access and more time to be able to do it. Personal branding is such a big aspect of where I’ve been able to get clients, keep clients and retain clients, because people know, like, and trust me based on the relationship that we’ve already created before even coming into a partnership together.
ROB: Where does that lead you? Are there particular verticals or sizes of companies? Is there a typical client right now in St. Louis for you?
ADAM: Most of the clients I have are in the home service or contracting space. That’s really where I got my start and where I’m heavily involved from a client standpoint. But transitioning over to Hite, we’ve been able to work with clients of all shapes and sizes and a variety of different industries. Even started getting into the ecommerce space, which I had never been into before. There’s really not a cap, but if I had to say, majority of my clients, 75% and above right now are all in a home service or contracting type industry.
ROB: Got it. That certainly makes sense from a services perspective, whether you’re talking about SEO, whether you’re talking about paid search. All of those kinds of things, you need a certain kind of website; you need to be distributed certain places. You can definitely see how there’s a lot of them, and you’re prospecting probably looks a little bit similar on that side too, going to the medical. There’s lists of these people. You can find them, you can build trust with them, and keep on going. Does that transfer?
ADAM: Exactly. That absolutely does.
ROB: You mentioned the CRM product, then. Is that a Hite central offering? What does that look like?
ADAM: Yes. We partnered with GoHighLevel to create a technology-based software of their white label CRM. It’s called Hite CRM. We launched it probably about two months ago right now. We’ve started to have some people adopt it. But essentially, we want to create an ecosystem that not only helps us generate more business for them, but able to obviously turn those leads into customers, and then turn those customers into walking billboards for our clients.
The strategic part about what we do isn’t just getting them more lead flow or more calls; it’s how we turn your business into a scalable model that helps you reach your goals and helps you get out more of what you put in.
ROB: That part makes sense. I do wonder – and this is always a little bit of a tricky art between that transition from sales to delivery in terms of relationship. You mentioned relationship, you mentioned retention. How do you think about the ownership of the relationship when a client goes from sales in your office to delivery, which is across the world, and certainly has to be at a level of quality – but it seems like the boundary of who owns the account is a little bit trickier than maybe if you had everything in-house.
ADAM: Absolutely. Technically, we still obviously have it in-house. My account managers that I have are full-time. They just work with my clients. We have created the relationship and created that on a very high level. People obviously do business with me because they know, like, and trust me, and then I transition to not necessarily completely step away from the account, but “Hey, here is Kevin or Moe that’s going to be able to take care of you on a daily basis.” The problem in agencies, as you grow and scale, and the issue I was having, is I was lucky if I was able to hop on a call with a client that was paying me a good amount of money once per month. In that, I wanted to make sure that the customer service was to a tier above where I had it and that we were still getting the results, that we were getting the correct reporting, that we were building efficiencies around how we do things for our clients.
The aspect of the touching of each account and to the effectiveness we’ve been able to do it has completely gone through the roof in the transition. Obviously, that comes with me stepping back and delegating and putting processes and systems in place so I’m not the face of the day-to-day communication. But at the end of the day, the things that are happening behind the scenes – strategy, everything like that – has continued to stay the same.
ROB: What does it look like? What’s maybe the most extreme example of what it looks like to scale a city as a Hite franchisee? What’s the limit? There’s almost an unlimited amount of business.
ADAM: Yeah, there’s unlimited amount of business. Ideally, I think in the future we create physical offices, we have all these different things. Being able to work remote and pretty much anywhere in the world, I think there’s a ton of opportunity just with one location.
Just to give you an idea, I came into Hite officially June of this year, and by stepping away from the account management, by stepping away from the fulfillment and the admin tasks, I’ve been able to double my agency in 90 days. We went from about $30k a month to over $60k a month. And really all that is attributed to me being able to step away and not have to worry about “When’s this project going to be due?” or “How am I going to figure out how to get all of these reports out to these clients and then hop on calls with them, and then hopefully for 30 minutes to an hour a day focus on my personal brand and also prospecting?” Those things tend to go in the backseat when you have to figure out the projects and the account management. For me, I’ve been able to be very hyper-focused on what’s going to take this agency and continue to grow.
ROB: A lot less fires to fight, for sure. A flipside of that, I would think, is maybe having fewer people around you when it comes to having a table of different opinions to help challenge the business, to move it forward, to think of what’s next. How do you think about finding peer support and things to drive you forward in that way?
ADAM: Luckily, the support system with the franchise model at Hite is absolutely phenomenal. We have a daily franchise call. Each day of the week is a particular sector or topic of the business. Today was sales, getting the week started off right. Tomorrow is mindset. Then we have general operations, product, and then family-oriented personalized stuff. So, we talk together on a consistent basis, even though we are completely on opposite ends of the country or the world or wherever we’re talking.
I think by having all of this communication and collaboration in the last 90 days, what’s also taken me is I’m finding new ways to put different twists on my business based off of what all these agency owners are doing, because we’re all in it together. If someone is finding success in a certain area, we’re going to share it with the team because we want to grow and scale at its height. If you were to just have a daily call with 15 agency owners, I don’t know how many people are going to start sharing their secrets every single day of the week to help you grow. You might get one or two things. But we’re able to do this thing at scale and really help a ton of clients, a ton of people, and do it on a consistent basis. So that’s been a really cool part.
ROB: Right. From a geography perspective, there’s no competition. You can be fully transparent. Someone can tell you exactly one account they’re having a hard time with, they’re weak, they’re dying, the client’s at risk, and you can’t go steal that client. There’s nothing you can do. That’s their client, and they need the help to succeed, and you can learn from it.
ADAM: Yeah, it’s been phenomenal. To also give you an idea, we have one of our owner/partners who’s in Nashville, and he’s a real estate investor himself. He got into the space for being a real estate investor, to try to grow and scale his wholesaling company. He’s jumped on calls with me to talk real estate with potential clients that he’s never going to see anything from. No one’s ever going to take time out of their day to do that if you’re not a part of something like we have going on at Hite.
ROB: One thing that seems like it would be tricky – and I’m sure they’ve solved it – how do you handle the question of product offerings and pricing? Because it seems like there’s a lot of room for transparency there. There’s a lot of room for you to try to mark up a service 10 times the rack rate. There’s room for Hite to mark up a service 10% and tell you to just deal with it. How does that balance work from the pricing as it flows through to a client?
ADAM: We have our fulfillment costs of what we pay per project or per service offering, what have you, and then we have “Hey, here’s what we recommend selling it for.” You can sell it for what you want. If you want to package something together, if you want to offer X, Y, and Z free for 90 days or at a percentage off, you have the complete ability to do that. Clients are never really getting access to what our cost is on anything, so you then can go and say, “Hey, here’s what I want to do in my business to be able to get to XYZ goal, and I’m going to reverse-engineer back knowing your costs.” So yeah, we haven’t had any issues with it thus far.
ROB: It’s an interesting thing. It also allows you to be entrepreneurial because you can assess the market conditions locally, the competitive situation. It all makes sense. It still feels like selling, sounds like.
ADAM: Yeah, it does. The huge thing for us is we’ve been able to get access to opportunities that we would’ve never gotten access to if we were just our little agency here in St. Louis. We were the VIP sponsor out at Traffic & Conversion. We got a ton of exposure there. We’re a sponsor on Dave Ramsey’s podcast. There’s a lot of things you can now do when you have 15 locations that are all pooling things together. We have an opportunity generation department that helps out with our prospecting and even sets appointments for us. There’s a lot of really cool things you’re able to do when doing it at scale.
ROB: Absolutely. That did ring a bell, actually. I have listened on the EntreLeadership Podcast. I have heard Hite Digital. It did ring a bell, and part of me wondered how much that sponsorship cost. I don’t expect you to know that, but… [laughs]
ADAM: I don’t know it. [laughs]
ROB: It’s probably something you wouldn’t do on your own.
ADAM: Yes, exactly.
ROB: Very good. Adam, you’ve done your own agency, you’ve chopped the delivery part off now and freed yourself to focus on some strengths; what are some lessons you’ve learned on your journey leading the agency that you might go back and tell yourself if you could rewind the clock and try to play Back to the Future and tell yourself what you ought to have known?
ADAM: There’s a variety of different things. It’s only been 15 months of doing this full-time, and I’ve had a lot of success, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes, so the list could be very long. But I think the biggest thing for me, being a sales rep in my past, is sales are not going to outperform and out-scale bad processes and systems.
When I first started running this full-time, I leave medical device, I leave a very lucrative industry, benefits, security, all those different things, and the shiny object is “Just go get sales. Take whatever product or service you can get in here and start selling it. Get people in the door.” Which was fine to an extent, but then my weakness – and why it’s been such a great transition into Hite – is the processes and the systems. It’s the organization. It’s the fulfillment aspect.
Trying to outsell bad processes and systems is never going to be the answer, and I think so many agency owners experience those problems where they’re just focused on the shiny object, which is that next deal or that next month’s worth of retainers, when not focusing on a process or system could set you back next month, 90 days, 6 months from now, and keep you from scaling to grow your business.
ROB: Sure. A lot of the processes are handled for you. How do you think about the processes that are not handled for you? How do you think about keeping consistency? Is there a playbook you’re pulling from Hite? Is there a playbook you’re writing yourself? How do you keep those account managers locked and loaded? How do you think about the next zero on the size of the business?
ADAM: There’s definitely a playbook and framework from Hite, but with how we do our business – to give you an idea, not everyone is going to have an account manager based on where they’re at in their franchise. I happen to have two of them due to the size of our franchise. There’s different dynamics that are coming in. I’m doing things a little bit differently than someone else is doing them based on our comfortability and based on where we’re at with our clients and what projects we have going on.
I’m managing it and learning new things each day, because I’ve really never managed people in a full-time aspect, especially in the account manager role, and I’ve also never been just an account manager. So, there’s a variety of different factors that are going on. The next level in my agency is to bring in an integrator type person with digital marketing experience that really knows how to grow and scale an account management team, eventually a sales team. That way, I can really focus on what I’m doing best, which is at the top, strategizing, growing, and scaling the franchise itself, and not in the day to day still when it comes to managing people and the operations aspect.
ROB: That lets you focus also on bringing in a very interesting sort of integrator, because you’re not talking about a full-scale ops and delivery integrator. You can think about it as a different sort of organization, probably bring a more specialized integrator into that role.
ADAM: A specialized integrator, one that’s done SOPs, one that’s done the product and the service aspect of what you do, and that likes doing it. Because at the end of the day, I think a lot of people are put in positions or pivoted to be an integrator when really they could be a visionary type of person or someone that doesn’t like “I’m going to check the boxes and do all these different things.” My mind races at 1,000 miles per hour, and I need someone to help reel that in, and when we do have a good idea or a new process and system that could take the business to the next level, have someone that can run and put it into place and actually make it work.
ROB: Absolutely. You’ve mentioned there’s different scales of these franchises; there’s one-man/one-woman shows. You’ve got a couple people around you. With the visibility that you have, what’s the biggest you’ve seen a franchise get so far, and what does it look like from a work structure?
ADAM: The franchise model is actually not even a year old. It’s super new. We have people that have come in with agencies of all sizes, and then also people that are brand new to running their own agency, which I think is really cool. I think on the spectrum of where things are at, our average agency – we just saw the numbers today – is doing almost $30,000 a month. That’s between all the agencies that are out there.
Our agency here in St. Louis is definitely the largest in terms of I have two full-time people. I think everyone else pretty much at least has another full-time person or is working towards that. From a monetary standpoint, those things are going to be on every which end of the spectrum. But the average is right around $30,000, which is pretty healthy for 15 and only being a year old.
ROB: Yeah, and you’re setting the pace then a little bit, creating what this looks like. I wondered up front what it looked like perhaps from a pride perspective, because you start your own business and then you’re merging, you’re rebranding. But it almost sounds like a way to think about it is it’s a way of making a bet and investing in growth. You’re saying, “I think if I take this path instead of another one, I’m going to rebrand, I’m going to gain this halo over me” – and I guess some podcast ads, and this conference, plenty of other lead routes. But sometimes a merger is an ego battle, and it sounds like this is a little bit more of an investment strategy.
ADAM: Yeah. It was a concern for me, to be honest. I was a lot more concerned with the way that I thought it was going to go versus how it actually did. For me, it wasn’t so much the ego, but it was that I was the product, the service, and the everything. Basically, taking feedback and taking how the customers at the time and eventual customers took it, I took all that stuff personally. Some was good, some was not so good, and there were areas of opportunity.
But for me, it was more so we each have our own commitment at Hite, and we’re committed to so many different things of helping people, empowering people. I am the commitment to live a more whole, well-rounded life. If I want to do that, the way I do that is by impacting as many people as possible. I can only impact so many people if I’m doing everything, and I don’t have the support, I don’t have what I have now at Hite.
Now, in 90 days, I’ve already grown the business double to what it was already at before, which was helping a lot of people. It’s really cool to see even what we’ll have at the end of the year and then this time next year. We’re able to fulfill our commitments at a higher level, and in the process of that we’re obviously going to lose clients that maybe we wouldn’t have lost if I stayed and did my little agency. But we have to look at the bigger picture. I have to look at the bigger picture and what’s best for me, my family, my agency, and everything else that’s included.
ROB: For sure. When you’re looking ahead, Adam, at the next year, if we were to catch up a year from now, what’s going to be new from the Hite Digital fulfillment mothership, and what will be different in St. Louis? What should we be looking forward to?
ADAM: I alluded to earlier, over the next three to six months, I really want to bring in an operations integrator type manager to help take this business and plug up the holes that are here. What I think that allows us to do is to grow our team here in St. Louis – adding that person that would be local here in St. Louis, potentially adding some sales managers, more account managers. But getting very strategic on the partnerships and the things we’re doing, investing in relationships, investing in masterminds to make sure that we’re impacting not only as many people as we possibly can, but the right people, the right clients to come in here. The more people we’re able to work with on a consistent basis, it’s really going to help everyone win.
I think in terms of Hite, we have ambitions of taking it from 15 franchises – I don’t know what the end goal looks like in terms of a specific number of franchisees, but I think the people we’re bringing in are all quality. They fit the bill of what makes Hite, Hite. And the best part is we’re attracting all of these people. We’re bringing in agency owners that we’re connected to in our market, we’re in other masterminds together. There’s just a uniqueness to what we’re doing. I think that continues on over the next couple months and throughout the years.
ROB: Excellent. Adam, when people want to find and connect with you and Hite Digital St. Louis, where should they go to find you?
ADAM: The easiest place is going to be my Instagram account. That’s @adamlmcchesney. That’s where I’m probably the most active in terms of messaging back and forth with people. You can also go to hitedigital.com/st-louis and find our information there in terms of what we offer and everything we have going on here at Hite Digital St. Louis.
ROB: Excellent. Adam, thank you for coming on. This really does uncover a model we haven’t talked about a lot on this podcast. It’s a different path. It’s clear it’s working for you, it’s exciting, and I think we’re going to hear more about it. Thanks for coming on and sharing your experience, sharing your vision and leadership thus far, and we can’t wait to see where it all goes.
ADAM: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be on. Super excited for the future.
ROB: Thanks so much, Adam. Take care.
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