Running a successful digital marketing agency would be difficult without the driven people behind it.
Bodie Czeladka, Creative and Managing Director at Dilate Digital, says his team of 75 focuses on six core values that unite the team like no other. And those values don’t end with his internal team–they also extend to the clients they choose to work with.
These values inspire and unite staff. As the DNA and heart of Dilate Digital, they guide the team’s decision-making and how they act and communicate. Ultimately, these core values serve as their “guiding light” to success.
“The reality is, these are the kinds of things we’re looking for in the people we want to work with. And what it comes down to is attitude over aptitude,” Bodie explains. “Because you can teach skills, but you can’t teach being a good human. It’s kind of ingrained and conditioned from your rearing and experiences.”
Like any business owner, Bodie made mistakes along the way, like hiring people who weren’t the right fit, but he learned from them by referring back to their core values.
Image: The Dilate Digital team in their Western Australian headquarters.
He recommends taking a holistic approach when choosing your team members. What do they need to be happy and come back to work every day?
“Happy people are productive people. And happy people are going to perform better in all areas of their lives,” says Bodie. “It sounds simple, but a lot of agencies get it wrong. They just don’t put enough time into their people.”
Whether Bodie is building relationships with clients, hiring people that fit the agency culture, or working with his business partners, putting people first has led to Dilate Digital’s success.
Finding the Right People Around the World
Back in 2012, when Dilate Digital was in its infancy, Bodie faced the common challenges many digital agencies face: hiring staff and pricing their services.
“I remember my first sort of retainer they said to me, ‘how much do you charge?’ And I remember calculating how much my mortgage was and how much my running costs were, and I said, oh that looks like a pretty good monthly fee, and I flicked that to them, and it served me well at the time,” Bodie laughs.
After he produced results for that client, it opened other opportunities. As the referrals kept coming, he knew he needed to staff up pretty quickly. While he searched for talented people to join him in Western Australia, he kept his mom’s advice in the back of his mind:
“Don't focus on the money. Focus on doing good work, and the rest will work itself out.”
Because he was just a “one-man show,” he was using an online classifieds website in Australia called Gumtree to recruit staff. A man from Hyderabad, India named Balu (who was looking to travel to Australia to pursue a love interest) had applied for a role. The two had an hour-long conversation about the “plenty of talented amazing people” over there and Bodie decided to travel to meet Balu and build his team.
“Looking back, it was a good decision, but very silly. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, or who I was meeting, and I literally just had faith in this person I met online. It could have gone bad, but it went really well,” Bodie laughs.
The two of them interviewed about 60 people over four days and hired Dilate’s first team of four.
Bodie became really close with one of the four original hires who ended up working alongside him for ten years.
“I actually had to push him to go out and get some other worldly experience,” says Bodie. “I’ve got a real attachment to our people, so it really sucks if they choose to leave. I know a lot of people say good company culture is like a family, but for me, it really hits me when they do move on–even if I have to push them for their own betterment.”
Of course, it’s never easy to see a coworker and friend move on, but for Bodie, it would’ve been selfish to keep him on the team. He ultimately left Dilate to pursue another opportunity and Bodie told him “get some experience and learn some new tricks.”
If the grass isn’t greener elsewhere, the doors (and windows) are always open at Dilate.
“Sometimes you gotta do what’s best for other people and not just think of yourself and the company,” says Bodie.
Creating a Unifying Vision for the Agency
In order to scale his agency, Bodie wanted a clear mission statement for Dilate and a set of values to not only unify the team but also to create a reputation in the community.
“Our mission statement is to be the most respected agency in Australia,” Bodie shares. “There’s no prize to be the biggest company, so if we have to pull the brakes in order to maintain that title of being a respected agency, that means we’re doing the right thing.”
Whether you’re running a digital marketing agency or any other kind of business, you know the importance of a vision and mission statement. Simply put, your mission statement focuses on today and what you are doing to achieve the promises made. And your agency’s vision focuses on tomorrow and what the goal of the company is.
If you create a vision and mission statement with care, they will resonate with your audience. And that’s exactly what Bodie set out to do.
The walls at the Dilate office display different phrases like ‘create business.’ and ‘better every day.’ And although they may just be words, they inspire and unite the team to reach new heights for their clients.
Forging an Unbeatable Culture That Works
Mission and vision statements are just two pieces of the ‘creating the most respected digital agency’ puzzle. Crafting (and maintaining) a fun company culture was also another huge priority.
In the early days of Dilate when Bodie was still working out of his home, he discovered an agency structure that worked really well to facilitate company culture.
“We’re not siloed. We work within pods, kind of like micro teams. Everyone who has to deliver an outcome like an SEO person, PPC, content, designers, developers, and so on, all work in smaller clusters which gives them that culture and that vibe because it’s a smaller environment,” Bodie shares.
And even though this structure worked well for team culture, it still had some issues.
“We realized what it was like for some of our remote teams who work from home on a regular basis,” Bodie admits. “I understand it can be quite isolating and lonely, and I think you need to do things to make people feel like they’re still part of the team, even though they may not physically be in the office.”
So, to bridge the culture gap between remote staff and office-based staff, he decided to experiment with a few fun activities. Every Friday, the teams jump on a Google Meet call and plays a Pictionary-style drawing game called Gartic Phone.
“It’s very engaging. You have to draw a word, and everyone has to guess the word, and you get to see some of the people who aren’t from the design department and how bad they are at drawing,” Bodie laughs.
But what fun would a Friday afternoon game be without a nice, cold, refreshing beverage? The Dilate office has a beer fridge stocked with their very own XPA beer complete with Dilate Digital branding called ‘better everyday. XPA.’
Image: Dilate team members showcasing their Dilate merch, including their XPA beer.
“Everyone cracks a beer at 4 pm, has some banter, and lets some steam off from the week. I think it’s a great way to send someone off into the weekend feeling like they’ve accomplished something and had fun while doing it. Like that work hard, play hard mentality,” Bodie smiles.
Their team also has a Slack channel that they check on a daily basis to communicate and celebrate each other’s customer ‘wins,’ and what they’ve all achieved as a team. And when they want to create a Feel Good Friday video for their own social media channels, the video team has a wealth of content to publicly highlight their successes.
“Some of the work our design team does for example is phenomenal. You can see the lengths they go to. And I just get super pumped, and that’s why I like celebrating the wins of the clients when they deliver work like this. You look at it and you wonder how they can fit more rad-ness into it and it just makes me super stoked,” Bodie smiles.
Image: A Dilate Digital web design created for Rottnest Snorkel featuring an adorable quokka (AKA the ‘happiest creature on earth’).
Bringing On a Partner For Balanced Growth
After seven years, Bodie wanted to focus on his own work-life balance while positioning the agency for further growth.
In 2018 he sold 35% of the business to a CPA accountant business advisor, Tom Parker, AKA the “other side of the brain.”
“I take the visionary role, and he takes an integrator role,” Bodie explains. “I might come to him with ten ideas and he’ll say ‘These ideas are $#*t, these two aren’t practical, these two are good, and I’m going to implement this one.’”
This process has helped Bodie see his ideas implemented and actually come to fruition. There’s no shortage of ideas for Bodie, and he says it really helps to have Parker on board, who’s really “patient and process systems driven.”
Image: Happy-as-can-be Tom Parker in his Dilate t-shirt.
Parker was Bodie’s collared-shirt-wearing business advisor back in 2014 who would give advice about Dilate’s growth and finances.
“As a young person starting a business, it was great to have people with some knowledge help steer you in the right direction,” says Bodie.
Parker let Bodie know which numbers to focus on in the balance sheet and educated him along the way, including on how to build a better business structure.
“He loved when he started at Dilate because we just wear t-shirts. He’d always been a corporate kid, so he was like ‘oh I love this!’” Bodie laughs.
And Bodie’s sharing hasn’t stopped with Parker.
His ultimate goal is to build a bit of a “legacy” with his agency. He hopes more people will step up in the business, causing him to dilute even more of his shares and have more people benefitting from its growth.
Maya Angelou, the famous American poet and civil rights activist, is an inspiration to Bodie. He tries to live his life with a similar value of leaving people better than he found them. One of her most famous quotes, about people forgetting what you said and did, but remembering how you made them feel, still resonates to this day.
“At the end of my days, I want people to say he made me feel good, he made me feel valued, he made me feel worthy.” - Bodie Czeladka, paraphrasing Maya Angelou
Scaling Up The Agency on WoM
The agency grew from 2012 to 2016 with no real advertising for itself. This taught Bodie a valuable lesson about just how impactful word-of-mouth (WoM) referrals can be and how to grow his business organically.
Quality work comes from a well-educated team that knows the difference between different digital marketing solutions and what might work best for a specific client. Quality work keeps clients coming back for more. And quality work shouldn’t stop at the clients. It should also be applied to the agency itself, as a way of practicing what they preach.
“We also perform quite well from an organic standpoint,” Bodie explains, as a way of highlighting that it's important for an agency to prove their capabilities with their own digital marketing materials.
They ensure Dilate Digital is ranking for the most search terms within their geo-location and beyond (Sydney and Melbourne). This resulted in a relatively easy way to score a large volume of organic leads for their team.
“With organic rankings, you can’t turn that off,” Bodie laughs. “We’re typically getting a few hundred leads a month, and we're probably only taking on 10% of those inquiries into the agency.”
Having too many clients to choose from is a good problem to have.
“We’re probably leaving a lot on the table, but now we can pick and choose those businesses that we can really help and point the others towards strategic partnerships, workshops, consulting, or other areas where we can help them,” says Bodie.
And even if the client doesn’t sign on with Dilate Digital, that’s okay in Bodie’s opinion. Because “if you educate someone well enough, they’ll make the right decision for their business.”
Building Long-Lasting Client Relationships
So how does Dilate Digital build client loyalty and retain customers? They not only do their initial research in advance but also continue clear communication going forward.
“If you’re not talking to your customer and you’re not finding out how the data is translating into real-world results and outcomes for their business, you’re going to fall down every time,” says Bodie.
Keeping an open line of communication with clients ensures that you’re understanding the specific business challenges they may be facing at any given point.
“We’ve had clients stop with us because we’ve given them too many leads too quickly and it caused operational problems. It created a phase of HR recruitment and so on. So it’s important to understand the challenges the business is facing so you give them the right volume and growth that they’re looking for,” Bodie shares.
The common phrase ‘communication is key’ exists for a reason. By frequently (and transparently) communicating with your clients, it shows that your agency cares while building trust and showing the value your team brings–almost like an extension of your client's team.
Building stronger communication and relationships with your clients are key to client retention. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Hold regular meetings to go over reports with actionable takeaways
Create a ‘partnership’ mentality with clients by listening to and validating their concerns
Educate the client to further empower them: can you give them access to their reporting or dashboards?
Be proactive rather than reactive by sharing ideas and proposing new campaign strategies
Create an onboarding process when you secure a new client
Hold a kickoff meeting to ensure everything is lined up for a perfect execution
If your client has big plans and aspirations, show your expertise by sharing your concerns as to why it may or may not work (budget, ad policies, etc.)
Be real, show your personality, and embrace small talk–this translate into genuine care, outside of campaigns and metrics
As Bodie puts it, “life’s too short to work with clients you don’t like.”
This is the advice he would give another agency:
1. Make sure each service is set up properly. Even if a client heard a buzzword at a meeting and is asking for a service (but you know something else would work better) make sure you communicate that.
2. Build strong client relationships. Partner with people with similar values to create a better working relationship, and your team will also enjoy working on their campaigns.
3. Look out for new opportunities. Think about your client’s business, what stage they’re at, and where they want to be in the next six months instead of putting them on a “set-and-forget” campaign.
Putting his clients first means ensuring they are doing the right things for their clients, despite what the client sometimes thinks they want.
“You shouldn’t use an intent campaign for something that you should be using an interruption campaign for if you need to educate the market,” Bodie explains. “And just knowing that a medium is not right even though the customer may be asking for it.”
It’s extremely important to understand the differences between marketing services in order to run a successful campaign for your clients–especially when there are countless other agencies to choose from in a crowded area like Western Australia.
Although Dilate has no restricting contracts with their clients, they have a 30-day cancellation policy. Bodie continued to put people first and waived that policy when clients came to them in distress during recent economic challenges.
“A lot of them came back, and they brought friends with them. They said ‘these guys showed their character through that time,’” Bodie shares.
He understands everyone has a bottom line and needs to protect it to scale, but you can still do the right thing while doing it and not take advantage of others.
Defining Agency Success
Although Bodie has an amazing team doing great things for their clients and steadily scaling the agency, he says he has a unique definition of success.
“I stopped coming here for the money a long time ago,” says Bodie. “I believe that if you’ve got a special skillset that can help people, there’s no better way to spend your time. And so, I come here every day to serve my clients, but also to serve those guys out there,” Bodie added, pointing to his team.
The majority of his employees are at a young age and are aspiring to start families, buy their first home, and do things of that nature.
“The longer they’ve been here, I have more trust and loyalty towards them because they’ve given to me and to the company, so I want to give back to them as well,” says Bodie.
If his team is succeeding, then so is he.
Image: Dilate Digital celebrating Christmas with a Woodstock-themed murder mystery party.
From employees to clients to partners, people are driving the success at Dilate Digital. By striving to leave them better than they found them, this full-service Australian marketing agency is creating a business that is better every day.