May 1, 2024 - 13 min read
AboundUp, a marketing agency, found the perfect solution in Elite to meet their needs for specialized team members, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.

Matt: Hey, so I am absolutely delighted to be here with my good friend and longtime business partner, Austin. Austin is the owner of AboundUp, a marketing agency. I think we've been working together now for, I want to say, four years or so - quite a long time, Austin. Thank you so much for agreeing to take some time out of your day to record this video with me, great to be with you.

Austin: Yeah, you too. It's a pleasure.

Matt: So let's dive right in. Maybe we could just start off. Perhaps you could just tell everybody a little bit about AboundUp and your journey.

Austin: Yeah, so I actually started AboundUp about three and a half years ago, and when I was thinking about starting a marketing agency, I realized that I didn't have this desire to hire a bunch of employees. I needed to be kind of careful with the way I started and scaled, and I got notice of Elite starting and this solution that provides outsourced developers, and there was an email I got, and I had already been thinking about starting this agency.

At that point when I got that email, it was like, "Okay, this is the last piece that I needed." It was a few months after that kind of thing started to unfold, so we provide a lot of different services focused on lead generation. We work with some global companies - national companies, but have a specialty in SEO and also building robust and very impactful websites, and that's where Elite comes in. We've shared a lot of different types of clients over the last three and a half years, and I'm excited to talk about Elite and the role that you guys have played in helping us get to this point where we're able to serve clients well.

Matt: Great, okay, so you said that when you were starting AboundUp, you had in mind that you didn't want to hire a bunch of people internally, so I suppose you always had this idea then that you were going to be bringing in either contractors, freelancers, or outsourcing to a team. What kind of solutions did you run through, and I suppose, before you settled on Elite, what did you see as the potential pitfalls of maybe working with contractors or freelancers, or what were the challenges that you saw?

Austin: Yeah, so when it was really just me, I was thinking through this, I didn't really know what I was going to do. I just knew that I needed to keep costs low. I knew that I wasn't able to afford that out of the gate. I knew I had a couple clients once I got started, but I didn't have the funds to provide any kind of full-time work, so it was really going to be a contractor work. Some of  the rates that I was going to be going after with some of these projects, I knew I needed to keep costs low.

My brother had actually started a little agency a couple years before, and he worked with some international team members,  1099 contractors, but he seemed to always run into issues with them being reliable and just kind of disappearing off the map. He had to go find them. There's a whole set of things that I didn't know about, and so I was like, to even start to go down that path for me was complicated. I didn't have time. I was working another job at the time before I was thinking about starting this, so I also knew that I had different skills that I would need.

I knew I needed some frontend work, which are things that I could do, but I knew that if I was going to be bringing clients, I needed to find a partner to help with or somebody to do the frontend work. I knew I likely needed some backend work, where I know enough, but there are things that I would hit and run into that I didn't. I didn't even know the qualifications that that person might need. This was three and a half years ago when I was just starting, and also on the design side, I needed somebody there. Again, I can do a bit, but I knew I wasn't great.

So there are all these different roles that I also knew that I needed that just added some complexity. In my previous work role, I had found some contractors on Upwork, but even that, they just didn't seem super focused on my work, and quality was hit or miss. I knew that what I was probably going to go do is to try to find folks like that, but to find more of a turnkey type solution - and we use Cornerstone, you know Pro, at that point, was X Theme, but in my previous role... So, to have a team that knew the technology that I also was very familiar with, it's like, "Okay this is a no-brainer."

Matt: And you said that there were issues with regards to reliability and quality, what did that look like? And you said, as well, that your brother had run into similar kinds of issues.

Austin: Yeah, so with my brother, he was going like super low cost model and kind of that being a differentiator. I knew that, especially starting out, I needed to keep my costs lower, but in doing that kind of the direct to some of the international team members that he was facing, there were just complexities with the location that he was getting team members and so they, again, they would just kind of like drop off the map. They would literally just wouldn't respond for a month and then come back, and he would be left doing things himself. So his approach, he realized he had to know the web world - he needed to sell that, but he also had to figure out how to find the right team members that were trustworthy and have the system and process to manage them.

So there was two different sides, and I realized that I knew the website side and the strategy and consulting side, but to figure this whole other thing out, to get the lowest possible cost, was something I didn't need that added all of these risks to the business, and at that especially early stage, I just couldn't afford. So they were designated to his team, but then also they would just drop off, and then they were, in a sense, like full-time team members but there was no stake. They just could stop working for them. As it relates to other contractors, I realized that I had to pay quite a lot to get the right team members on Upwork, so I didn't  get the benefit of the cost side.

What we would do is, I would just end up finding good quality people, but I end up having to pay a lot for them and realizing from my business model, especially early on, I couldn't afford it. I kind of was in this tension of, "I need the quality; I'm not able to pay." I don't need the lowest possible cost where I have to figure out this whole other model of finding the international team member at the lowest possible cost, training them, making sure that they're reliable, and that they're not going to just jump off, and then I'm in the middle of a project and don't have a team.

So I knew I needed something in the middle: high-quality people who are trained, they know my tech stack, and there's a solution where it's not even just one person but it's like different team members that can plug in in different ways, and then as we got into it, I realized pretty quickly as I brought on big jobs that they could also scale up and down with me. So instead of, "Hey I have this full-time team member," especially early on, we get this project, we finish it; it's like I haven't any time to bring on the next big client. So now, there's this lull that I got to figure out: "How do I keep this person full, and I'm paying them, but they're not engaged?" I have this kind of team; I needed something, I realized, that could kind of scale up and down with me, which is the benefit of 1099, but these were the different pieces that I was thinking through and hadn't really figured out, until you know, obviously I got that email and had that conversation with you, and realized, "Okay this is a sweet spot," and then ended up being exactly what I was hoping. And as we've talked to you guys, as you'll probably share, the last three years, it's even gotten further refined and further more of a sweet spot to be what we need.

Matt: Gotcha. Okay, so enter Elite, and you said that it kind of hit that sweet spot for you, so maybe let's talk a little bit about that. Why is Elite that ideal sweet spot?

Austin: So I've already talked a little bit about being able to scale up and down, we've landed a couple big projects, and instead of me focusing on, "How am I going to win this project and source it at the same time," I know if I go after it, there's this team behind me that can scale up to then serve the project at a super high-level bunch of hours and at a very high quality. And then as we kind of come down, it's fine, and I'm going after the next one. So that ebb and flow works with our cash flow, it works with our business model, so that's been a huge piece for us.

Another thing as I mentioned, we need team members who are specialized in certain things, not like just the generalists. We're  operating at a very high level very high quality, so we need specialists, but we can't afford to  pay a special specialist full time for all these different roles: frontend, backend, design, project manager, so we have all these things and we need those specialists. The fact that Elite has those team members who are specialists, and can plug in and out of our projects, and serve in their specific roles instead of just hiring a bunch of generalists that are pretty good, there is a high level, they have a sweet spot, they're very good at something, and they've been trained for that.

So as we have that need, we know that team member that we can say, "Hey, can we even ask? We have this person that we've worked with in the past...", and then they're jumping on our project, so that's been another thing. As we've kind of refined and I've given feedback and other other agencies have as well... Really having Elite adopt a process and solutions that are really ideal for our workflow and being flexible there... You know, having two different task management systems and trying to work out ways to streamline that, make sure we're getting the data we need, having even team members that will come into our Clickup and play certain roles, even engage with our clients directly, just very flexible in terms of what our needs are... As you know all the time, I'm messaging you, Matt, and saying, "Hey, we have this need could  you guys fill it?," and you're like, "Yeah, let me think about it... Yep, what about this?" It's like, okay, that works great.

I think even as we've been operating these almost four years, realizing how much feedback we've been refining, you know what our needs are, and you guys have worked with us to be that sweet spot, so all of those things, I'd say, together... And then the key is, with this role, because there are international team members and there are other folks that are being leveraged, we have to keep this area of our business relatively lower cost. And with my consulting time, my rate is much higher, so we need to find some way that we're packaging a solution that is very very high quality but also affordable for our clients. Having Elite be the other piece has been what we need, and we don't need to go direct to try to figure out this whole process of finding the right team member, hiring them, training them, keeping them full-time. That's the role that you guys have played for us and allowed us to take advantage of a lot of the benefits of that that keep our costs lower- not kind of experience the lowest possible cost, but we're making so much more upside on not having to think about it for all those reasons that I just shared.

Matt: So what has been the impact then of finding a team like ours that has been able to work with you and adapt as well as you've just kind of spoken to, and being able to do it at a price point that is that  fits with your model but also giving you that quality that you're looking for? What has been the impact of that in terms of projects, in terms of growth, and I suppose, in terms of maybe your future plans?

Austin: Yeah, so I'll jump to future plans. You know as we met, and kind of met with our advisers, mapped out all the different things that we could go and pursue, and there's quite a lot... Over the last years, there's a lot of different types of projects that I mentioned, lead generation and SEO and content. There's all these things we could do to a high degree, but our main focus is going and getting e-commerce, complex, big development projects. The reason is that we could do that, and should do that, and prioritize that, is because of our relationship with Elite. Realizing that and having gone through a couple projects that are very complex, that for other development companies would just blow up really just because of the complexity, we've been able to bring them on. We've been able to serve them well and navigate really complex things, and then we're able to to keep them. So now, these are very profitable projects, so we should go after more of them. In essence, what we're doing is primarily focusing on work that's very development-heavy because of Elite.

Even though we could go and pursue all kinds of other projects, realizing that there's so much opportunity, it allows our business to scale my time, which, when I started, was the key thing that I was trying to figure out. I'm the generalist, in a sense, and I love strategy, but how are we going to not have this business just to completely rely around around me as the agency owner (and then now, Brian, who's kind of our director of operations), how are we going to scale this thing? And then realizing that development projects, particularly, are the big means of how we're going to do that. How we have done that over the last three years? Last year was by far our best and most profitable year, and it was because of a few of these very big projects that we landed because of Elite, that we kept because of Elite, and now we want to go get more like them because of Elite. I would say it's really exciting times.

Matt: If I could just ask you on one thing, I know one thing that some people might be concerned about or might find challenging is just the thought of working with people in different parts of the world, thinking about responsiveness, thinking about, "Well, what if all hell breaks loose and there's a problem and the house is on fire?" Could you maybe just speak a little bit to that and your experience working with us, and hopefully maybe you could allay people's concerns on that?

Austin: Oh, totally. So actually having you all, we actually have kind of a 24/7 solution, so working with you, we have team members from your team who are up working with me, and other team members are actually asleep. So actually even just yesterday, one of these big clients had their site go down; thankfully, it wasn't our fault or anything like that, but it was like, it's millions of page views, and an Elite team member, and then we did get one of my team members up from their sleep to figure it out, but for me, having the peace of mind to actually have like a round-the-clock solution has been amazing. There's been quite a few times where there's been like emergencies and there's a fire, and every time we have a team member, whether from Elite or our team member who is able to jump in. So you guys have folks who are working my time overnight, but then also my time during the day, and right before I'm about to clock off, and then as soon as that one team member is clocking off, we have another clocking in, so it's actually a more safer option.

So if I didn't have you all, there would be stretches of time that my team members are actually not available if I need them. Because of the the wide range of skill sets, and as I face those situations, I know I can reach out to you guys and you guys are jumping on it, you're helping me figure it out get it solved, and then we become heroes which has happened again and again. It's actually been a huge relief to have that kind of round-the-clock type emergency solution, and it's also allowed a ton of efficiencies to be able to run things and launch things overnight, and then we start testing in the morning our time, and it's all done.

Just having that, whether it's updates, or we're moving a site to another platform, or we're running a new feature, you know we can actually have hours and hours of testing before there's any traffic that's really coming to the site, and then when our client's are ready for them to test, it's already been thoroughly tested. The operation is normal, so I know our clients have felt that and have been very thankful just the fact that they feel safe, if they feel like if there's an issue, we're going to jump on it, we can solve it, and no matter when, no matter what it is. There's not been anything that has happened that with you guys and our team that we haven't been able to figure out, like, "Hey, we haven't been able to resolve it or get the site back up or whatever," we've been able to do that.

Matt: That's great to hear. One area that we've evolved quite a bit as a business over the last few years is the project management role, and I'm curious to know your thoughts just on how, I suppose, important you see that role and what difference that has made to the relationship and also to your workflow.

Austin: Yeah so in terms of the two areas, that for us, has been the hardest to scale is my consulting time and bridging the gap, and then also managing the project. So, to the project management side, we have another team member who kind of helps bridge that gap. Now, also having you guys start to play that role in terms of being the bridge between our team and Elite - just that part where we're not having to go in and make sure everything is being done, following up that someone else is doing that on our behalf, and then communicating back to us the way that we want, which is for us is Slack... It's not going in and kind of checking on every single thing, we feel like someone else is making sure our stuff is getting done, prioritized, and shifted around, that's been a huge blessing.

Now that we're also experiencing the benefit of both on this, well, I'll say, on the strategy side, where if, let's say, my team member isn't available to help me think through how to take the business model to then translate it into what what should we do, you know you all have team members who are operating at that level, and I trust and have helped me think through solutions and what to do. So that's also a huge opportunity where if my team member is full, then I feel like I can't go after any more of those projects, so to know that you all have that team member that can jump in and help me think through that, that's been huge.

We're even thinking about how we're positioning our services for clients who we would kind of designate as "smaller," like more ad hoc type projects, or we're doing maintenance but there might be some random things that come up. We're thinking about instead of us playing that role of bridging the gap and then moving it into the development side, actually having your team member take that task, put it in the system, and communicate where we say, "Yeah." I mean, they're communicating great with us, and we trust them to communicate directly even with our clients. When the right opportunity is there, we'd say, "Yeah, that sounds great." That's a whole other way that we're planning on scaling some of those smaller projects. You even playing that role where we're like completely stepped out - we might like BCC it on email and kind of make sure things are done at a high level, but knowing we can trust you guys to communicate well with our clients and get it done is another part of how we're actually planning to scale on our end.

Matt: Perfect. Thank you for that, Austin. Thank you so much for taking the time to go through all this with me. I know I'm taking up your time, and very gracious of you, so thank you so much.

Austin: Awesome, Matt. Yeah, appreciate you guys, for sure.


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