Episode 105 – How a Do-It-For-You Marketing Agency Evolved Into A Consulting Firm Getting Paid More For Advice – Member Case with Kyle Romaniuk

When starting a boutique, it is best to begin with the problem you will solve for clients. Why? There are lots of boutiques with solutions that no one is going to buy. On this episode, Kyle Romaniuk, CEO & ECD at Vantage Studios, sheds light on the process of truly understanding the problem he’s solving for clients.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast with Collective 54, a podcast of founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated exclusively to boutique pro serve firms who want to grow, scale and maybe someday exit their firms. My name’s Greg Alexander. I’m lucky guy gets to lead this group. I’m the founder of this company, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about identifying a problem worthy of solving, which is a precursor to developing in launching a new service. And it’s often overlooked and done incorrectly, and it causes great harm. So we’re going to try to share some wisdom on avoiding some kind of dumb taxes, if you will. And we’ve got a role model this week, Kyle Romanek, and he is a collective 54 member. He’s been one for a while and he’s always got lots to share. And he’s going to share part of his journey with us today. So, Kyle, it’s great to see you. Welcome to the show and please introduce yourself. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:01:27] Thanks for having me. So great to be here. So I’m kind of outgoing. The president of Vantage Studios here with Air Canada. We’ve been doing a lot of agency marketing work for over 25 years, and I’ve had the privilege and honor to use the boutique as kind of a guide or role model myself to help us look at defining a problem that we want to solve, that we’re excited about and will motivate us for the next few years. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] Okay, fantastic. So I’m going to set this up a little bit. And then, Kyle, I’m going to ask you to talk to the audience about this new service you’re you’re launching and how you thought through the problem. So in our perspective, we think a problem that is worthy of solving has four characteristics. So first, you can state the problem clearly. For example, I like to state it to my wife, my parents, even my dog to see what their reaction is. And if they get it, then I know I’m not talking in industry jargon and it’s something I can state clearly. Second, I need to prove to myself before I invest any time or money in pursuing it that the problem is pervasive. And what I mean by that is that it’s not just a small number of people that have it. There’s a large number of prospects that are dealing with this problem. Third, I need to confirm that clients are willing to pay to solve it. There’s a lot of problems in the world that could be characterizes, nuisances or inconveniences, and that’s not a problem to go after if they fall into that category. But if the problem is big enough and clients are willing to pay to solve it, then maybe you got something. And then lastly, lastly, you want the problem to be urgent. You want it to be something that you never hear a prospect say, Yeah, I’m interested, but call me back in six months. You want them to say, Where have you been all my life? If you can solve this problem, let’s go. So those are kind of the four screens. So call my team and prep for this interview. Told me that you’re planning on or have launched brand new service and you’ve given a lot of thought to the problem. So could you share with us what you’re up to? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:03:39] Yes. So over the many years, we’ve done a lot of things for different clients and there’s certain areas of that that we definitely love doing and other areas that don’t really get us anymore. So what we did is as a group, we started going through the boutique chapter by chapter, starting off with chapter one, looking at what is the problems. So we’ve been able to define that for ourselves and then go and ask friends and family and other people to see if this seems like something that they totally understand or if it’s really complex. So I’ll start off by sharing with you what we’ve defined as a problem. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:17] Great. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:04:18] So we help organizations with a focus on community based not for profits and government. When they feel meeting a deadline or expectations are at risk because they’re in their in-house team, isn’t sure where to start or how to take things to that level. And they don’t have anyone to guide them or give them direction of how they’re going to make that possible. Often when we talk to a client, they have a very specific item or priority or project or initiative, this specific to marketing. And we see that all of the services that we were offering our clients before, we can package that into like a fractional CMO offer so we can work with their to help them understand the opportunity or the challenge and build a plan together with them, execute that plan with them, reach their goals and set new goals. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:15] Okay. So let me ask a question on that. So I heard the problem statement and then the assumption that we made is that the reason why they’re going to miss the deadline is because they don’t have a leader, the CMO. And so and so that’s the root cause. So you’re going to solve that problem by providing a fractional CMO. So the word fractional makes me think not only do they not have a CMO, but they probably can afford to have a CMO. So renting a fractional CMO makes a lot of sense. And my understanding this correctly. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:05:47] That’s right. And we’d be targeting any organizations that are large enough that they have at least one full time marketing coordinator or a small marketing team. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:55] Okay, got it. So that’s a very clearly stated problem statement. So I like that. So that clears the first hurdle. Let’s go to determining if the problem is pervasive. So these community based organizations, governments, nonprofits, I have no idea how many there are and how many fall into this category of needing a fractional CMO. So how have you thought through that? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:06:27] I guess going through the question by question, we started off with this is probably similar to one industry. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:32] Okay. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:06:34] We felt. Yes, it does. Any business that implements marketing or hires an individual marketing coordinator or builds that small in-house team, they have a finite amount of experience about what they’ve done for marketing in the past. We find that there’s there’s usually a talent pool to go from to hire those people in-house. And usually the strongest talent from that pool is usually attracted to go work for an agency because of the diversity of the work that you can get there and the quality and caliber of the clients, the esteem related to that work. So it’s harder for them to pull in the talent experience that they want, especially if they can’t afford to hire the top ten, which a large organization like Procter and Gamble or someone that has a full suite of brands. For them, marketing is an engine to really scale that business, and you can see how it works. But for most smaller to medium sized organizations, they’re dealing with a really strong, passionate team and have a mandate or purpose business worth doing. But their experience will find a moment in time when they’re limited. And it’s in that specific trigger point where they’ve got something that feels a lot bigger than it did before. Or it might have a deadline that see that. How can we achieve this deadline? That’s when they feel like they need to reach out to someone or somehow. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:04] Okay. Very good. So that that I would agree with you. I think it is a pervasive problem. So let’s move to number three, which is usually where the rubber meets the road, as they like to say. Is the prospect willing to pay to solve this problem? So what have you learned there? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:08:25] So we’re thinking about the problem that’s being solved. There’s a chance that it’s pretty simple and it’s on the surface and they’re aware of what the problem is. So when it is an issue where someone that had the knowledge before leaves their organization, so if they had a marketing person that was taking care of this before, but now there’s a void that has to be filled. It’s very easy to see what the problem is. Sometimes it’s very below the surface and it’s hard to see. And if you let it go too long, the chance is that you’re going to end up with a lot of very severe problems doing that. Really harder to unravel and resolve. We get a lot of thought to what those types of issues could be from the surface level and as it goes deeper. So I believe it’s sort of like a snowball rolling down the very beginning. The problems and the pains are very small and minor and you can live with them and it doesn’t really bother anyone. But if it goes unresolved and you don’t identify what’s going on early enough, the problems can become more complex and more devastating to disappear. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:32] Okay, so then the assumption there, using the snowball analogy, the bigger the snowball, the more willing to pay they’re going to be. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:09:39] Yeah. The longer you let it go, the bigger the problems that are going to start to snowball together and small problems become bigger problems and eventually they’ll smash into something. Right now, our hope is that we can actually work for that. That happens. But often people don’t see the problem until it’s smashed into something. So, again, if it’s as simple as someone’s left, there’s a knowledge gap. We can step in and fill that gap very quickly, a lot faster than maybe hiring someone and a lot more cost efficient than hiring CMO or CGI for itself. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:16] Okay. Got it. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:10:17] In addition, we are also looking at helping that internal team actually increase their capabilities, increasing knowledge, their skills, so that our clients are actually investing in their own internal team when we work with them, as opposed to hiring an agency or consultant to do it for them. They’re hiring us to do that with them. So we’re actually pulling their team up with us. And eventually we might actually they might outgrow us where they have the capabilities in-house to see things going forward or they’re able to say, you know what? Now that we’ve got this thing under control, what’s next? How can we help you escalate what you’re doing now and do more? When we’ve talked to a lot of our clients that we’ve presented this new service opportunity right now talking to past and existing clients, some of them have said, Wow, this is exactly what we need. And they could be already down the path of implementing a plan that they’ve realized doesn’t really have a plan, that they’ve got their team feeling lost, overwhelmed, not sure what to do. Doing a production on elements that they don’t really have a marketing plan of where they can use it. And they’re now down the path. And the boss in that organization is saying, My team doesn’t really know what to do. They’re kind of lost. They could use some guidance. Kyle, I know that you could come and help us. Please give me a proposal to get going on this right away. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:46] So that’s positive feedback for sure. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:11:50] Yes. You’ve also heard of that. We’ve seen this in our own company as well, where there is a lack of motivation or engagement from the team. There’s a high attrition rate where you’re losing staff and you’re not sure why. What we found is we’ve almost developed a system that goes deeper for those clients that have something that is below the surface where the lack of consistency of their brand through multiple departments because they don’t have a brand guide, that’s a pretty simple thing to fix. But if it goes on down for five or ten years, the problem can go beyond that. You might not have a purpose driven brand or organization. You just kind of have the job day to day and the staff starts to kind of drift away where they’re not as motivated and engaged as they once were. So for some companies, again, it could be really simple on the surface that some knowledge has been taken away, or they can see the structure or splintered brand identity because it’s multiple departments or partners implementing something that consistently. Again, this problem surfaced easy to fix. But when someone feels like, you know what, we’re losing a lot of people. We’ve got lack of engagement. Performance isn’t there, and we’re not sure how to fix it. It might be more of a cultural thing, but we can go through our system of looking at understanding what’s the final process of that. So we can start with understanding what’s the purpose of the brand? How do we get everyone motivated? How do I get everyone on board and a part of this plan? How do we build out the goals? What are the key areas to focus on? What are the key activities that maybe need to be done in each of those areas? And how do we achieve all that out of the whole team and get them onboarded and engaged and motivated and choosing the things that they want to do and be a part of implementing to get that motivation back and get it participating in all the synergies of their team and the external partners that maybe they don’t know how to give really good direction to to get the most of those external partners like other agencies or consultants, where we could kind of coordinate the whole system together. Okay. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:59] So when you went out and shared this idea with your current and former clients, how did you assess their urgency? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:14:09] Well, in in one instance, I was just reaching out as a friend. It’s like I’d like to bounce off of in your past client of ours. And for over a decade, we’re looking at shifting our business and moving away from the execution offering into the consulting side and fully doing the workshops and the plans and working with the existing teams to help them implement it and not be the do it for you agency that we once were. And the response from that was, Wow, my team right now is lost. COVID put us down a different kind of set of tracks and now things are kind of merging back to the norm for them that their team doesn’t know how to go back to their normal. How do we stop doing what we’ve been doing for the past few years and now go into something new? In that instance, they actually lost someone that went to a different career path that used to do a bunch of stuff that was never documented, never cross-trained. And now we’re going to go back to doing those things that nobody in the organizations that we’re part of do. So they need someone with some more experience to come and help guide. And even that might just be help build confidence in the internal team to make them feel like they do have good instincts. They do know what to do. They’ve just never done it before. And we might just need to work alongside them to enable them to do that. Other clients that we’ve spoken to about this day, we’ve produced, for example, campaigns for them and we’ve talked to them about what’s going on. We started working with different departments and we’ve had one of them say, We’d like you to look at our entire brand. How is it organized, where the assets that are maybe used across the whole organization and how do we create consistency across all of our departments? And we talked about like your brand guide and this is something that they’ve never really been exposed to a lot of benchmarks of how brand guides can be produced and how they can be used and go beyond just the basics of Here’s our full color logo, or Here’s our one color, and it can really look at even getting everyone on the same page. If you start talking about it as type in including brand stories or scenarios that are a little bit softer but get more depth into the understanding of their brand, more so than only some general rules of how to use it. And then now is suddenly getting inspired and excited about, well, this could actually improve our organization in a way even more so than what we knew about. So if we can find opportunities to understand and listen to what people are going through, listen for them to tell us what their pain points are, and then find ways of weaving it into Here’s how we can help or Here’s how someone I know can help, even if it’s not us. But it really starts to just listening. And I think something else that I’ve learned recently was sharing with others when we’re going through change, if I have a challenge and when I share those things with other people, suddenly there are some connections to start getting made and solutions on to present themselves. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:26] It happens all the time. I mean, it’s fantastic that you went out to the market before launching, got all that real positive feedback and that’s how you save time, energy, money, effort, etc. So what’s going to happen? Are you going to launch this fractional CMO thing or are you guys still thinking about it? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:17:42] We’re launching for sure. We actually, out of all the clients that I’ve been talking to, one of them we were actually building a plan for during this whole transition strategy thinking. And they pose to me, would I be their fractional CMO before they knew that we were planning to do this? Because in building the plan, they’re like, we don’t have anywhere to implement this plan, but we don’t have anywhere to do this. Could you implement it for us? 

Greg Alexander [00:18:11] Awesome. So you got a client, it sounds like, before you even launched? 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:18:16] Yes. And I actually had a follow up client today, which I have a weekly call with him. And I have mentioned to him about what we’re doing here. I have told him that we’re basically modeling what we do after what I’ve been doing with him for the past three years. I have a one hour call with him every Monday. Once in a while we’ll skip a week. But for the most part, we’re meeting every single money for an hour, talking about what’s happening, where things are going so that we have things to design. Some things we just talk about what’s on Netflix. Yeah. But for the most part, he’s. We’re just keeping everything moving. And we’re his marketing team. And I’m, they’re. They’re fulcrum on everything that’s getting done. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:58] Yeah, that’s awesome. I will. Listen, we’re running out of time here, but this was a great story. It really was. This the chapter one? The problem is something that often gets overlooked. The way that you went through that was textbook up to the point where you’ve got a client before you’ve even launched, which is just a fantastic thing. And I wish you the best of luck with this new offering, and congratulations on doing it the way he’s supposed to do it. 

Kyle Romaniuk [00:19:20] Thank you so much. 

Greg Alexander [00:19:21] All right. Okay. So for those of you listening that are not members and you might want to be a member and meet great people like Kyle and become part of a community of peers, check out Collective 54 dot com. You can see a form to fill out there and apply for membership. And we’ll get back to you.  If you’re not quite ready to become a member but you enjoyed this episode and want to consume additional content. Again, at Collective 54 dot com, you can subscribe to C54 insights that give you some some benchmarking data. Weekly Podcast The Blog Access to our bestselling book, How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firms to check that out. Okay, so great episode today. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.