1898 – Digital Marketing Coaching with AJ Rivera & Mike Schmidt

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks to the Co-Founders of Agency Coach, AJ Rivera and Mike Schmidt.

Rivera Schmidt Wide 1

Mike Schmidt and AJ Rivera, the CMO and CEO of Agency Coach, discussed their evolution from managing a web design and digital marketing company in 2003 to establishing Agency Coach. Their objective is to assist digital marketing agencies in achieving more time and financial freedom, a goal rooted in their personal experiences and the obstacles they overcame during their entrepreneurial journey.

Agency Coach provides a variety of programs and coaching services designed to deliver practical strategies for agency owners. Mike and AJ shared success stories from agency owners who have experienced significant growth and financial success by applying their guidance. These success stories highlight the effectiveness of their coaching and the potential for transformation within the agency space.

Their discussion also covered typical challenges faced by agency owners, such as the urge to accept a broad range of projects and the difficulty in securing recurring revenue. Mike and AJ provided solutions to these problems, emphasizing the importance of selecting projects that support long-term objectives and focusing on high-ticket services that generate recurring revenue.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Mission of Agency Coach
  • Distinguishing between freelancer and agency owner
  • Common challenges faced by agency owners
  • Strategies and principles for agency owners to overcome challenges
  • Importance of saying no to projects not aligned with long-term goals
  • Nurturing and warming up leads
  • Value of review and reputation management in attracting and retaining clients
  • Programs and coaching services offered by Agency Coach
  • Success stories of agency owners who achieved growth and financial success
  • Importance of community and collaboration in agency ownership journey

About AJ Rivera:

AJ Rivera is a distinguished figure in the digital marketing world, renowned for his role as a #FunnelHacker, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Agency Coach. As a multiple 2 Comma Club award winner and a successful digital agency owner, AJ has significantly impacted the #FunnelHacking community by creating the FunnelHub movement. His prior experience with Intuit, managing online communities for products like QuickBooks and TurboTax, has provided him with a robust foundation in digital marketing strategies. This background fuels his passion for assisting small businesses to thrive in a competitive digital landscape.

Beyond his entrepreneurial ventures, AJ Rivera has co-owned a 7-figure digital agency, showcasing his expertise and dedication to the digital marketing sector. His agency, Anchor Wave, is a pivotal example for many digital agencies worldwide, offering vital frameworks and strategies for achieving time and financial freedom. AJ’s commitment to empowering digital agency owners is evident through his extensive work in online courses, coaching programs, and private consulting. He collaborates with industry giants such as Russell Brunson. He speaks at notable events like Funnel Hacking Live, further cementing his influence and contribution to the digital marketing and funnel hacking communities.

About Mike Schmidt:

Mike Schmidt launched Anchor Wave in 2003, recognizing the nascent potential of digital marketing long before it became a cornerstone of business strategy. His foresight and leadership have guided the agency to become a significant player in the industry, boasting a team of 20 dedicated professionals and a portfolio of over 2,000 website constructions alongside numerous successful digital marketing campaigns. Under Schmidt's stewardship, Anchor Wave has survived and thrived, evolving into a multi-million dollar agency known for its innovative and effective digital solutions.

In 2008, the agency's trajectory gained further momentum with the addition of Anthony “AJ” Rivera, whose expertise in corporate sales injected new vitality into the firm's operations. AJ's adoption of forward-thinking sales strategies and a mindset focused on abundance played a pivotal role in securing multiple awards for Anchor Wave. Mike and AJ have expanded their influence beyond the agency itself, founding Agency Coach in 2017 to share their accumulated wisdom with agency owners globally, aiming to transform the digital agency landscape through comprehensive training in cutting-edge tools, strategies, and business philosophies.

About Agency Coach:

Agency Coach has emerged as a premier institution committed to enhancing the capabilities of digital agencies, embodying the principle of “own your agency, own your life.” This philosophy underpins their mission to arm agency owners with the essential skills and knowledge required to successfully navigate the complexities of the modern digital environment. Launched by experienced agency entrepreneurs Mike Schmidt and Anthony “AJ” Rivera in 2017, Agency Coach fills a critical void by offering specialized education and support tailored to the unique challenges faced by web and digital agencies today.

The foundation of Agency Coach's curriculum is its focus on a comprehensive approach to agency management, emphasizing not just immediate business tactics such as sales and marketing but also the importance of building a business that is both sustainable and scalable. Beyond business acumen, Mike and AJ advocate for personal development and cultivating a positive agency culture that supports work-life balance. Serving over 15,000 agency owners worldwide, Agency Coach has become a pivotal resource, fostering the growth and success of digital agencies around the globe through its bespoke coaching programs and the deep industry expertise of its founders.

Tweetable Moments:

08:03 – “The biggest flex an agency owner can execute on is saying the word ‘no'. No, you're not a great client to work with; no, it doesn't pay enough; no, I don't want to work on this.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Agency Coach’s website at

Check out Agency Coach on LinkedIn at

Check out Agency Coach on Facebook at

Check out Agency Coach on Instagram at

Check out Agency Coach on Youtube at

Check out AJ Rivera on LinkedIn at

Check out AJ Rivera on Facebook at

Check out AJ Rivera on Instagram at

Check out Mike Schmidt on LinkedIn at

Check out Mike Schmidt on Facebook at

Check out Mike Schmidt on Instagram at

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Josh (00:00:04) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence. Com and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us. Right now we've got A.J. Rivera, who is a CEO and co-founder of Agency Coach, and we've got Mike Schmidt, who's the CMO and co-founder of Agency Coach. Gentlemen, your website is It's so great to have you.

Mike and AJ (00:01:13) - Hey, Josh, thanks so much for having us.

Mike and AJ (00:01:15) - Yeah. Super excited.

Josh (00:01:16) - Yes. So tell us what agency coaches.

Mike and AJ (00:01:19) - Cool. Well, you know, we got our start in the web design digital marketing space. 2003 started way back in the land before. Google is the top of things and before, you know, Facebook and YouTube and all those things. A web design company. So we've owned that web design company and digital marketing company since 2003. It's got a team of 20 folks that that work for it today. But, in 2016, 2017 agency decided and kind of realized we had slayed a lot of the dragons in that business. And we're looking to do something differently. And so what we did is we launched Agency Coach, which is all about helping digital marketing agencies create more time and financial freedom because we believe that when you own your agency, you own your life, you know? So, too many digital marketing and agency owners are trapped by the very businesses that they've created, right? They have a job, not a business. Right? They have all the downsides of owning a business.

Mike and AJ (00:02:13) - All the risk, all the things that come along with that. And they have all the downsides of the job in terms of limited upward mobility. And so it's like, why do why do we go and create these businesses? Why do we put ourselves out there and stick our necks out there? it's because we were trying to create a different and better lives for ourselves. And it's really about understanding that, you know, business is a game that we get to play, but when we're the owner, we get to design it as well. And so we help agency owners create high ticket monthly recurring revenue that's greater than their expenses. So that way they have financial freedom to be able to do the things that they want and buy back their time.

Josh (00:02:47) - Yeah. In defining what an agency is versus I think other ways that you can serve, particularly, you know, we work with a lot of folks in the B2B world, you know, certainly you can go out and you can provide education, you can coach, you can be a consultant.

Josh (00:03:02) - How would you define what an agency is? You know, particularly if you say, well, it's just me and my assistant. Are we an agency?

Mike and AJ (00:03:09) - Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think a lot of times some some of the agency owners call themselves freelancer, right? So like really, really like what's the difference being a freelancer and an agency. And in our community we say like freelancing is an f word, actually.

Josh (00:03:26) - Why don't you want to say you're a freelancer? I wouldn't want to say that, but I got my own reasons. I'd love your take on that.

Mike and AJ (00:03:31) - Yeah. I mean, no, no, no disrespect to freelancers who might be listening here, but, you know, the thing is that I think that when you adopt the identity of an agency, you are looking at your business in a long term fashion. Right. I think that your, you know, freelancers trade their time for money, whereas agencies get paid based off of value and not the time that it takes.

Mike and AJ (00:03:54) - Right? Agency owners, you know, one day, whether you're a freelancer or agency owner, you will not be working in your business. Like, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but like, we're all going to die. We're all going to, you know, hopefully live a long, long, long life and at some point not do the thing that you're doing right now. and if you have a freelance business, that's an awfully hard thing to sell or to give to somebody else, right? When you have an agency, it's a business that has value and can be sold. It can be, you know, you can get out of something like that. And so I think thinking with the end in mind, giving yourself the identity of the agency owner today is so important because it's going to help you make the decisions that are in alignment with your long term success, even if you don't feel like you're an agency today. Because we've talked a lot of people, I'd be like, oh, do you know an agency? They're like, oh no, they're like, just me.

Mike and AJ (00:04:45) - It's just me. I'm like, okay, all right, well, here's here's lesson number one. You're an agency owner, right? Just put SEO on your business card. It's it's like it's okay. Like, sure. You know, AJ and I like we get laughs or chuckles sometimes when people when we were first starting like like you look at the card CEO really like I'm like yeah. It's like yeah, but that's what I'm just one way I want to think the way I want to act. And that's what I put, you know? So that's that's really the key differences.

Josh (00:05:11) - Let's provide some guidance for the agency owner that's listening to your conversation right now. That might be stuck in a. Well, all I did was just created a job for myself. And I'll be frank with you, not a very high paying job. And to add insult to injury, I'm now working 60 plus hours a week. What's going on? What am I doing wrong?

Speaker 3 (00:05:33) - Yeah, there's there's a couple key things that we see happen time and time again with agency owners.

Speaker 3 (00:05:38) - The one thing is that we believe that they're like some of the most resourceful people on the planet, right? Because there wasn't really a school, at least when we started this, to to learn this stuff. Right. You can get a degree in web design. At that time, you had to just learn how to do it and you had to figure out how to do it. And I think sometimes agency owners fall in the trap of. Realizing that they can be super resourceful and then saying yes to anything anybody wants, right? And being the one that's on the hook for doing that. We call those snowflake projects, right? It's just like somebody has money in hand. They want to give you that money. And you're like, well, I've never really done Facebook ads, but I can figure it out, right? I can do that. And so they say yes to it. And guess what? Now they have to spend a ton of time learning how to do it. You know, they probably underbid what they needed to do.

Speaker 3 (00:06:21) - And under scoped it and they're the ones stuck doing the work. So it makes it impossible to delegate anything because no project is the same as another. Right? They've got all these different projects that are a little bit different, and they're the ones, at the end of the day that are on the hook for delivering all this stuff. And so we always say, like, imagine if a realtor had to build every house that they sold. They're not going to sell many houses. Right. And that's what we do time and time again, is agency owners who go out and sell something. And then we spend a bunch of time actually doing the work. And so just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should write and you have to get better at saying no to projects that aren't in alignment with where you want to be as an agency. Now, the second piece of that, and the way that makes it really easy to say no, is when you have recurring revenue, right? For a long, long time, we played this game where we're out there trying to hunt for big website projects, right.

Speaker 3 (00:07:13) - There's these whales and we wanted to get bigger and bigger sites, you know, ten grand, 20 grand, 50 grand, a hundred grand. And the truth is that at the beginning of the next month, we started zero again. I gotta go find another one of those and another one of those. And so Mike and I realized that we needed to stop chasing that. And we were tired of starting at zero. At the beginning of each month, we shifted all of our focus to high ticket, recurring revenue services like digital marketing. And once we did that, we started to see our lives change, right? Because we got to a point where at the beginning of the month, the very first day of the month, all of our expenses were paid, payroll, you know, our office, anything else. And we didn't have to make another sale that month in order for us to be able to pay ourselves and and pay all our bills. And when you're in that type of position, then you can say no to that weird project that's coming through because it doesn't quite fit right.

Speaker 3 (00:08:02) - You don't want to be the one that's doing it.

Mike and AJ (00:08:03) - Yeah, we'll say the biggest flex a agency owner can, can, can execute on is saying the word no, no, you're not a great client to work with. No, it doesn't pay enough. No I don't want to work on this. Right. No, no. Right. As opposed to many agency owners get themselves into this trap of trading their time for money to get themselves into this job they call a business by saying yes to too many things.

Josh (00:08:29) - Yeah. so let's say that there's someone listening to us and they're like, that sounds great. I want to say no more often. But right now they might be facing they just don't have the volume of bodies coming through the door to engage in those conversations with. Are there any, practices that you find that are really great for? And again, I know each agency might be a slightly different, but any tried and true principle that you would recommend for getting to that place where you've got some momentum and maybe some sort of predictability on at least new potential client conversations?

Mike and AJ (00:09:01) - Yeah.

Mike and AJ (00:09:02) - You know, one of the most common things folks come into our world with is exactly that. They're like, hey, Mike, AJ, I need more leads and can you help me figure out where they are and have those conversations? And the thing is that most businesses in general, like, don't know what to do with a lead like leads come in there. Let me just tell you this. There are so many leads out there. Like everyone you know, especially if you're a digital marketing agency. Yes, this is one of the most in-demand needed services that exist, especially in a rough economy. Right. Because what's happening in a rough economy is people, business owners need someone that they can trust to help them with the stuff that they're worried about, which is their business and their customer activity. Right. So the agencies that win are the ones that know how to not only attract that attention, but also warm up their own leads, because, you know, every lead goes from cold to warm to hot, right? Every single one.

Mike and AJ (00:09:56) - But most businesses run on hot leads, right? The word of mouth, the referrals that come in just naturally. Yeah. and we love those. Right. And but if we understand that every lead goes from cold to warm to hot, well, then we can start to realize that we can actually warm up our own leads. Now. Now the referral, the the word of mouth lead that comes to you that came in really hot like that also started cold. And the question is how did it get hot. Right. Well, it got hot because the person that referred it to you warmed it up for you. Like it showed up on your, your doorstep. Josh maybe. Right. And they're like, hey, I really want to work with you. And and the person who referred it was like, hey, you got to work with Josh. He's amazing. He's awesome. And boom, this cold lead went from cold to hot instantly, but you just didn't realize that. And so our approach really is recognizing that most, most businesses in general, especially agencies, they're not doing anything to nurture or build a relationship with the leads that that are in their world.

Mike and AJ (00:10:50) - even right now, what we're doing in this, this space here is that, you know, there's people who are listening, who are listening to AG and are being warmed up for our services because they're getting to know us a little bit more. And so we we really feel that, you know, warming up those leads, like email marketing is oftentimes one of those services that is just neglected. And people don't talk to their list. Or what are you posting on social media? Could somebody look at your social profile and understand what it is you do in the specific problem that you solve and and really being clear about that? But, you know, with that all in mind, one of the key services that we, open up the door to a lot of the contracts that we work with is actually review and reputation management. there's a lot of businesses out there that are getting pitched hard all the time, but I can build your website or I can run Facebook ads for you. I can do X, Y, and Z.

Mike and AJ (00:11:39) - And the really pivotal moment in our agency is when we recognize that, you know, we could simply open up the door with virtually any business by saying these exact words. Hey, you know, Josh, would you be interested in getting more five star reviews from your actual clients and customers? So that way you appear as the obvious choice among your competitors, and you'd be surprised, like so many people hear that and say, well, what do you mean? Like, yeah, I do need more, more reviews. And so we've built a really strong business just around, opening up the door around reviews and having conversations with businesses. because a beautiful thing for an agency about reviews is. You know, we can help a business get more reviews in about 30 days. And when you provide a result for a client, when somebody gives you money and then you provide an immediate result, like suddenly there's a huge amount of trust built. What do we, as agency owners typically hear from clients? Oh, the last guys suck.

Mike and AJ (00:12:34) - They were terrible. They promised the world and delivered nothing. Right. And the reason why is because they have never established that trust. And coming in and opening up the door for reviews has been been huge.

Josh (00:12:46) - Yeah, yeah. so let's talk specifically about how agency coach works and how you engage with your agency owners and what what does that process look like where you're kind of helping them uplevel their work and outcomes?

Speaker 3 (00:13:02) - Yeah. So we've got a number of different programs. We've got some kind of do it yourself course material, do it yourself implementation of like lead funnels and things like that that they could purchase just as a first step. But then we have higher end coaching programs where we can work more directly in a group setting with some of our, our students. Really, everybody's kind of like at a different point in their agency that when they come to us. Right. And so we're able to identify kind of what your next step is and really provide you the shortcuts that we never had. You know, Mike and I talk a lot about, like how we wish something like agency coach existed back 20 years ago when when we were just starting the agency but didn't.

Speaker 3 (00:13:38) - Right. And that's why it took us so long to kind of figure some of these things out. You know, we provide not just theoretical like strategies. We provide stuff that they can just rubberstamp and implement in their business today.

Josh (00:13:51) - Yeah. And what would be some examples of maybe someone that's, joined, what did they experience? What were the outcomes that they helped create?

Mike and AJ (00:13:59) - Yeah. So one story that comes to mind is a student of ours, Jason Burrows. And so Jason came in, I love his story because he was a rock star, like quite literally touring drummer for a band and bands that people listening probably would recognize if I said it. And he was tired of of traveling. Right. Young kids. And he was actually on a, on a plane listening to one of our trainings, and the light bulb just went off for him. In fact, they made him shut down his laptop. This was shut down his laptop, and they cut the cell service. So right at the good part, and he couldn't wait to land to listen to the rest of it.

Mike and AJ (00:14:32) - Well, that was the catalyst to help him launch his agency from zero. and just about, you know, two years into it, he crossed the million dollar mark of revenue. And what really is fascinating about that is that's what the pretty small team. Right? It was him and a full time employee. And then he had a connection to what we call leveraged service partners to help him deliver the work. So he's really done some amazing things. Right. But I think some of the stories that are the most that's an amazing story, but one of those ones that really just excite me the most is students who come in with an idea of how much they need to make monthly recurring revenue wise, and and we help them set that goal. So that way it exceeds their expenses. Right. And that's really the focus of everything we're doing. You know, it's it's how to create more monthly recurring revenue such that it's more than what your expenses to have your team or your personal what you're paying yourself.

Mike and AJ (00:15:26) - Because when you're in that space, that's a space where you can say no to projects that don't fit and you can create and build a business that's that's fun and easy and less stressful. Building a business is hard enough, right? But if we can cover the financial aspect of it, business gets a lot more fun.

Josh (00:15:42) - As well as life should be for every agency owner. If I had my magic wand. So your website is agency To our friend that's listening. What would you recommend their next steps be?

Mike and AJ (00:15:53) - Yeah. If you actually head over to agency, what we'll do is we'll put a link to training that I think be really relevant for agency owners if you're looking to create more recurring revenue. if you're looking to get more leads, if you're looking to get your foot in the door with more folks, we'll link to that training there. So you guys can, can take a look at that. But agency ownership and business ownership in general can be a lonely thing. Right? And there are folks out there that have done it.

Mike and AJ (00:16:21) - And I think the general attitude of a lot of agency owners tend to feel like they have to figure it all out themselves. But I'll tell you, come on over, join in with all of us who are talking about this day in and day out. Trading secrets, trading ideas, pointing out where each other can improve and celebrating each other's wins. And let's build the recurring revenue together. And, that's one of the coolest things we get to do.

Josh (00:16:43) - Mike Schmidt, CMO and co-founder AJ Rivera, CEO, co-founder of Agency Coach. Your website agency coach. Com go to agency And there is that special training for you. Gentlemen thank you so much for joining us. Great conversation.

Mike and AJ (00:17:01) - Awesome. Thanks so much Josh. Thank you Josh.

Josh (00:17:08) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence. Com slash guest. If you're a listener, I'd love to shout out your business to our whole audience for free.

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