Leaders Must be Deliberate about Culture with John Lincoln at Ignite Visibility

Being deliberate about culture takes intention, strategy, and a lot of heart. As a result, culture can be sacrificed if leadership is not committed to the vision it takes to be deliberate about culture. Today’s guest is John Lincoln, Co-Founder at Ignite Visibility, ranked at #1836 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Ignite oversees internet marketing, serving both large national brands and smaller companies. In this conversation, we discuss why being deliberate about culture is not a nice-to-have but is a must with leaders.

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Target Audience: John Lincoln is the CEO of Ignite Visibility. Ignite Visibility is a leading performance marketing agency specializing in multichannel digital strategy, SEO, paid media, social media, creative, email, PR, Amazon, and CRO. Founded on the principles of relationships, responsiveness and results, Ignite has been named #1 SEO company, # 1 Paid Media Company, #1 Social Media Company, and #1 Digital Agency in the USA. Ignite Visibility has a proprietary multichannel performance-based forecasting system and software allowing businesses to clearly hit goals.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

John Lincoln 
There’s a lot around that and a lot that comes into creating the mission and creating the core values and things like that. But, you know, our mission is really to do best in classwork, and then use the profits to reinvest in client success and employee success in the community. And that to me, just gets me excited every single day, because it gets me out of there, the better I do, the more I get to give to our employees. And we get to invest in software extra things that we can be the clients where we’re just giving them, you know, benefits and add ons. And then if we completely do fantastic, a great profit we get to do like we did last year, which was give back, you know, essentially over a quarter-million dollars, to the community, to pro bono clients. And to really help these causes that we care about.

Intro [0:45]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you would get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing, privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [1:02]
Having a great culture isn’t something that just happens. In fact, I believe you’ve got to be very deliberate about your culture. And as a leader, you’ve got to be intentional about how people work together, how they communicate. Your culture is such a critical part of that employee experience, whether people will innovate, whether they will feel empowered, whether they will be creative, it all comes down to how they feel about the culture and the people they work with. Now, you as a leader can shape that. But I do believe that we’ve got to be deliberate about our culture. Our guest today is John Lincoln, John is the co-founder of Ignite Visibility, they were a three Time Inc company, they were most recently on the Inc list at 1103. They have over 10 million in revenue, 90 employees, I give you all that background, because they’re not a small company. And they understand them. In order for their employees to feel a sense of challenge and creativity, they’ve got to have a great culture.

Gene Hammett [2:03]
Today we talk about some of the elements of that. We look at the foundational pieces. And they talk about how those work and play. They also talk a little bit about how john has been leveling up as a coach, the investments he’s made that have made the most sense for him. You might not be surprised, but I’ll let you listen to the interview to tell you the whole truth. Well, when you think about leadership, I want you to think about Growth Think Tank. When you think about growth, I want you to think about us, because we help companies grow. Make sure you share this podcast with someone that you know, would appreciate it. And now here’s the interview with John.

Gene Hammett [2:37]
John, how are you?

John Lincoln [2:38]
I’m doing good. Thanks for having me on today, Gene.

Gene Hammett [2:41]
Excited to have you on the podcast, we’re going to talk a lot about the leadership and culture that makes fast growth possible. I would like to understand your company. So tell us a little bit about Ignite Visibility.

John Lincoln [2:52]
We’re a digital marketing agency based in San Diego, California, which is about 90 full-time employees. And we offer a variety of different services to help you hit their online goals. SEO, paid media conversion rate optimization, email marketing, manage about 50 million in paid media. And, you know, the whole company is just built on strategy, forecasts, project plan timelines, and helping people hit their goals through digital marketing.

Gene Hammett [3:21]
Well, we definitely want to hit our goals. So I appreciate you being here. I know that you have a big team behind you. And you said that was on purpose, tell us a little bit more because I know the industry average for many of your competitors and your peers. And you’ve got probably at least 50% more employees given your revenue.

John Lincoln [3:40]
Yeah, I think it all depends on the type of agency that you’re looking at. So but frankly, one of the reasons we started the company was seven years ago, as a director at another company. I had 30 clients all paying, you know, all quarter $2 million clients. And it was, was a lot. And I just knew if we had extra staff, and we could really over-deliver for the clients, we can make more room a better work environment, we could grow accounts, better service to clients. So we’ve always worked very, very hard to make sure that we’ve got plenty of staff here. And I think the staff really appreciate that as well.

Gene Hammett [4:18]
Well, of course, they did. Because if they’re stretched too thin, it’s never any time to be creative, and maybe even try new things. So having extra people there, you know, maybe it cuts in your margin a little bit. But it also cuts into the value that you’re creating for your clients.

John Lincoln [4:35]
It does, yeah. And so you know, it’s really been, I think it’s a big mistake agency make, you know, for us, our new client acquisition strategy, it’s Yeah, sure we get, you know, tons of prospects who come in every month. But what I’ve found is if you work really hard on one, one client, they’re probably going to send you three or four more. It could be their own business minds. It could be peers, it could be friends and family. So what we really like to do is get one client in, just really do a fantastic job on proof of concept. And then before you know it, you’re working on five different companies for any filter, nice little team around all their business needs. So that’s something that I think works pretty well.

Gene Hammett [5:16]
Well, you’ve been on the last three years running, you’ve gotten it to, you know, over 10 million won’t get the specifics until you’re ready to announce that but when you talk about, you know, what does it take to get there, in the research that we were looking at this ignite visibility around? Did you talk about the importance of culture? So what is culture to you, that you can share?

John Lincoln [5:41]
Yeah, I think every company has kind of like a heart to it, it’s got, you know, a vibe, it’s got, you know, a reason for being, and for us, and in most companies, I think it all kind of starts with a mission. And, you know, there’s a lot around that, and a lot that comes into creating the mission and creating the core values and things like that. But, you know, our mission is really to do best in classwork, and then use the profits to reinvest in client success, employee success in the community. And that, to me, just gets me excited every single day, because it gets me out of bed, the better I do, the more I get to give to our employees, the more I get to invest in software, extra things that we can do to clients, where we’re just giving them you know, benefits and add ons. And then if we completely do fantastic, have great profit we get to do like we did last year, which was give back, you know, essentially over a quarter-million dollars, to the community to pro bono clients, and to really help these causes that we care about. So it makes it more about just running a digital marketing agency, you know, getting clicks and conversions for sometimes mid to large brands, which we care about as well, obviously, but it makes a little bit more first full circle and kind of touches on people’s lives.

Commercial [6:55]
Hold on, John just said, it all starts with a mission, have you thought about how important the mission is to the company, when you think about the mission of the business, it’s not just to make money, your mission has to be something that aligns people together, or else you’re missing that opportunity. And your mission has to be something is a North Star for the company, so that you know where you’re going as a team, not just something that you’ve made up in your head, and you expect everyone just to do the work along that journey, you really want to engage people to be a part of that mission, invite them on it with you, back to John.

Gene Hammett [7:31]
So if it starts with a mission, where do you take it from there? When you think about, you know, really being deliberate about your culture?

John Lincoln [7:36]
Yeah, I think you’ve got to map out, you know, what are the three top 10 things that really define you, you know, for us, you know, it’s being first to market, you know, being the most innovative company out there, you know, being incredibly first to market. You know, it’s about, you know, making sure that people are heard, you know, it’s about being also humble, at the same time, realizing that none of us are as smart as all of us. So we’ve got, you know, 10 core values. And, you know, I think it’s just important that you map those out, and that you reiterate those on a consistent basis to the entire company, and you reward people for doing a good job, you know, around them.

Gene Hammett [8:15]
Now, you set up a big word in there. And I want to make sure we get really specific about what is consistent with your values me?

John Lincoln [8:22]
Yeah, so one of the things I learned when I was at the Inc 5000, 2 years ago, the first time I was there, two or three years ago, but I was talking to somebody who had a much bigger company than me. And he mentioned that you know, nothing in big companies changes quickly, and not even changes, but just anything you want to get in front of somebody, you’ve got to get in their head, you’ve got to consistently reiterate. And so what we found is anything that we really care about, we’ve got to bring it up a lot of times, and we’ve got to kind of, you know, because if somebody starts and you say one thing to them in an onboarding session, and then a year goes by, I mean, they’re, they’re not going to think about it, even if a week goes by, they’re not going to think about it. So in every kind of company meeting every all hand, you know, it’s important to continue to reiterate, why are we here? What are the things we care about? What do we value, and, you know, those things don’t create themselves? And if you kind of let them create themselves, it can run wild, you want to be more deliberate with the direction of where you want to take the company. And people really appreciate it.

Gene Hammett [9:24]
Well, when you think about the values, you’re probably rewarding by them, you’re probably selecting and hiring by them, you’re probably developing people through their employee review process, you probably exit people on values. It’s really amazing where companies just don’t put that much emphasis on living the day to day, what’s been the real value of having these 10 values that everyone knows and the consistency you bring to the organization.

John Lincoln [9:55]
You know, I just I think the main thing is, you know, you’ve got to map everything. What’s Important to the client, everything that’s important to the employee, everything that’s important to leadership, everything that’s all of it should really be baked around, you know what your main goals are for just creating an amazing, fantastic place to work and hitting any type of growth goals and anything that ties back to your personal mission. Right, and then that philanthropy. So you know, that’s, that’s the main thing. You know, it’s just important that every single time, you know, you have a meeting, you bring that up. And, you know, some of the things you mentioned, are just fantastic. So I hope your listeners take note of that, you know, if you can bake that into your hiring process, your review process, your exit process, you know, every single step that goes a really, really long way, because those are other fantastic ways to reiterate them.

Commercial [10:48]
Hold on for a second, john just said, what goals do you have to create an amazing company, we have a lot of goals around sales, maybe marketing, customer service, operations, creating new products. But what goals you have around created an amazing company? is a great question. Because hopefully, if you thought about that, and you could really answer those in a meaningful way, then you have that doubt in, but if you can’t answer it, or you have some kind of, you know, Pat answers that you would say in that area, then you really need to put a little bit more effort and time into thinking about the goals that would make this an amazing company. And it’s not just your retention rate, it’s not just your engagement rate. But we create a survey that allows your company to figure out how your team is aligned. Do you know where you score on that, that could be an interesting assessment, if you have, if you want to find out more information about that, make sure you go to genehammett.com/assessment. And we call this the growth assessment, it is something that we could share with you, and you can get some insight behind it, find out more information about that at genehammett.com/assessment. Now back to the interview with John.

Gene Hammett [11:57]
John, this whole episode is around creating a culture that is deliberate, I want to make sure we look at it, you know what you thought, think about leadership inside that culture. Because it’s not enough to just have people that communicate well together, what do you what are your thoughts around leadership that really drive the growth of your company?

John Lincoln [12:17]
So on leadership, you know, there’s a lot that goes to that, you know, there are certain times when leaders have to be able to step up, you know, have to be able to put on, you know, a smile, you know, have to be able to do the extra work, to lead by example, and show that they really care about, you know, the organization, they’ve got to be constantly working and learning. And they have to be able to, I think most importantly, continue to show people the vision of where the company is going on the overall level, the department level, and then all the way down to the individual level, you know, I find it’s really important that leaders can paint a clear picture, keep people excited, keep it positive, you know, make it so that people are excited to come to work every single day. And there’s a lot around leadership that we can get into. But those are some of the few things that I think, you know, matter quite a bit.

Gene Hammett [13:10]
One of the things that I love talking to Inc 5000. And hopefully, I won’t surprise you by this, but one of the things that they have a lot of companies don’t get to kind of experience, which is a very high retention rate. I would imagine that what you’ve created, that the attention you put on that employee experience is created a high retention rate. Is that is that accurate?

John Lincoln [13:33]
Yeah, we’ve worked really hard on that. And we do have a pretty good retention rate. And, you know, one of the things I think, is just people love being a part of the growth, you know, I mean, they’re excited about it, they like the direction we’re headed. You know, I tell our employees, you know, my, our goal is to have you be, you know, some of the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid people in the entire industry, it creates benefits for them to you know, manage, you know, other people and things like that. But I’ll tell you, you know, the thing that I found that people care about the most out of all of the things that we’ve surveyed is really ongoing education and personal development. So one of the things that we’ve done that people really like this, we do these innovation Fridays, where every single Friday, we have either a guest speaker come in, or an industry expert, occasionally me or some staff, and we teach them something, you know, really, really cool about digital marketing. In addition to that, we send them to a lot of events. And you know, we’re always working on our own internal training program. But, you know, that really fascinated me, people want to learn, they want to be growing personally.

John Lincoln [14:41]
They want to be getting a better education, you know, they want to feel like they’re not stagnant. And I’m like that myself. No, I care about that stuff a ton. I’m always you know, looking to learn. So that’s one thing that I think has helped a lot with retention and then also just serve rate serving employees on a consistent basis. Learning about their pain points, the things that, you know, that would make this a great place to work from now, keeping them involved.

Gene Hammett [15:06]
A lot of people, leaders that listen in to hear, I hear back from them, and they see that, that these things are important. But they’re also, you know, they put up this barrier, that it’s expensive to give that kind of training, but the way you just described it, it’s probably not costing you a lot other than a little bit of time to allow them to it. But the payoff in the end, is they have the skills to actually deliver on the promises that your sales team makes, do you spend a lot of money on employee development?

John Lincoln [15:36]
So to have like a speaker come in, you know, sometimes we’ll do it for free, sometimes we’ll do it for you know, you know, a few $1,000, something like that, you know, it all kind of depends. But yeah, we do spend a pretty good amount, actually, I would say, you know, it’s somewhere between, it’s somewhere around $100,000, probably a year that we spend on that, which is, you know, a good amount of money. And I think it’s well, well worth it. I mean, at any point in time, you know, you send somebody to a, an event, they get to have an experience, they come back, you know, they come back with all this energy and great ideas for the company. It’s really, really powerful. So we invest quite a bit in it. And we’re going to continue to do that. I think it’s just a really important part.

Commercial [16:20]
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Gene Hammett [16:35]
Well, As the old saying says you can not invest in people and they can stick around. You don’t get the benefits of the upside. John, I want to switch gears just a little bit here. You know, being on the fast growth is probably taught you a lot about your own personal leadership, how do you continue to level up as a leader?

John Lincoln [16:53]
Yeah, so you know, I’m, I’m constantly studying constantly learning, you know, constantly pushing myself to learn from other great leaders and people in history. So I mean, I just love finding people who have already achieved what I’m looking to achieve. And then, you know, reading all the stuff that they’ve done, and, you know, following them and things like that, in addition to that, you know, I’m a part of a couple different groups, a couple different masterminds, and, you know, CEO groups and things like that. And those are really, really helpful. So, you know, for one of them in particular, you know, we meet, you know, a couple of times a quarter, and we’re always plotting the 90-day roadmap working together. And many of these people are much more successful than I.

John Lincoln [17:38]
So by getting resources from them by meeting with them, it’s really great. I also work with a CEO coach, who has launched one of them, you know, most successful agencies in the history of San Diego, I’d be with him every couple of weeks. But I’ll tell you that that is not something I’ve always had, those things did not take place until a couple of years ago. And before that, I was constantly searching, trying to figure out things on my own, bugging my wife all the time for advice, which she is the smartest woman you know I’ve ever met, I’d love her. But you know, she was a lot for her. So I would highly recommend, you know, everybody goes out there and seek a fantastic mentor, and get a part of at least one group that can be really helpful.

Gene Hammett [18:21]
I want to ask you a question about that. Because I have seen the value in my own career for over 20 years of having a coach. And in fact, it’s one of the most critical things for my company, getting to about five or 6 million is having someone challenged my thinking with questions. And I remember one of the questions, if you can remember something 18 years ago, it’s a pretty powerful question, right? But I was I had a lot of problems in the business, I felt more like a firefighter than I did a CEO. And she goes, who are your most valuable, profitable customer? And I couldn’t answer that, like, I just had a bunch of business and a bunch of clients. And so, you know, when you think about hiring a CEO, coach, I don’t even know the exact numbers, but is there an ROI to it for you?

John Lincoln [19:05]
Uh, yeah, absolutely. There’s an ROI. I mean, you know, this, this person has been at companies, you know, 10 times the size and, you know, figuring out organizational structure, figuring out how to bring on bigger clients and service them better. I mean, I, I have to say, I mean, the ROI there had I not had somebody to guide me in the right direction. You know, you’ve got to think it attributed to another 30 or 40% of growth, you know, for the company just help to help to level up. And it’s just a big mistake. You know, nobody knows everything, and you have to be willing to reach out you have to be willing to find somebody who’s done it before somebody who’s smarter than you. So I agree with you, 100% you know, something that everybody needs.

Gene Hammett [19:51]
I really appreciate you being here sharing your wisdom on the podcast.

John Lincoln [19:55]
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on.

Gene Hammett [19:56]
Really appreciate another great interview here on the podcast. talks about culture today. Now, culture and leadership go hand in hand because leadership has to drive and shape culture. My question is, how are you leveling up as a CEO? Are you truly investing in yourself? Are you putting in the work and time? Are you really working on being a better leader, or just looking at the project and maybe increase in sales and the metrics, those things are important. But your ability to lead others, your ability to create more leaders is critical for the continued success of the company. I know this because I’ve studied this. I’ve seen it with my own companies. But creating more leaders is your job. You ever want to talk about empowerment, the sense of ownership and transparency that is necessary, and maybe even challenging the leadership model that you have, make sure you reach out to me, Gene Hammett, I’d love to get to know you. When you think about growth, you think about leadership, think about Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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