This week I’m speaking to Zach Jones. Zach runs a digital marketing business in Alabama focusing on some really interesting vertical markets. Zach has some great perspectives and if you’ve ever thought that big government contracts were only for big agencies then prepare to think again.
Zach Jones is currently the president of Rekrewt, a recruitment digital marketing agency. With a team spread across the United States, Rekrewt works with federal and state government customers, as well as corporations, to solve complex recruitment problems.
Zach has been involved with digital marketing since he was a middle school student in the late 1990s. He went from being a web design freelancer in high school to agency owner in the 2000s, and in 2017 pivoted to be a digital firm that does nothing but recruitment marketing, all day, every day.
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Hi there. Thanks for joining me for this episode of gravity, the digital marketing and internet business podcast. I'm Bob gentle and every week I'm joined by small digital marketing business owners, creators, consultants and practitioners who share what makes their business work. Whether you run your own business, or you're just thinking of stepping out on your own for the first time, you're in the right place. If you're new to the podcast, and welcome along, just take a second right now to subscribe to the show in your podcast player. That way you won't miss new weekly episodes, and you can dig into some older ones when you finish this one. This week, I'm speaking to Zach Jones sack runs a digital marketing business in Alabama, focusing on some really interesting vertical markets, psycho some great perspectives. And if you've ever thought that big government contracts were only for big agencies to prepare to think again. So welcome along. And let's meet Zach. Zach Jones. Welcome to the podcast. You want to start just by telling us a little bit about who you are, where you are and what you do.
Sure Bob, thanks for having me. I'm the owner of recruit. That's already k ra wt for those of you listening. We are located in Alabama, USA. I will interject this I'm a bit curious to hear how people respond Bob because we have your Scottish accent. And my southern US Alabama accent you know, some people's heads might not be able to accommodate both? I don't know. I'll I'll do my best to speak clearly though.
You're perfectly clear. It's a very sexy accent. As a man I'm comfortable saying that.
Oh, thank you.
But yeah, we I like to say that we live at the intersection of a couple industry bases or verticals, and a few specific services are horizontal. So our two primary niches, our community colleges, to your colleges, and governmental workforce development agencies. And the specific services we most typically provide our digital ads, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Google search, those types of ads. So the services we offer are focused around recruiting for those issues, getting the right people get the writing the right leads the right applicants for government training programs for public education, things like that.
So you mentioned Snapchat there, and I'm isolating that one because that's really typically targeted at a very young demographic. And is that is that a commonality between the two vertical markets that you operate in the government and the community colleges?
It is we use it more? Well, it depends on the goal of the campaign. But if we're going after a high school age demographic, or around college aged, typically will get very good results with Snapchat, we don't even consider it with any age group, you know, I would say 25 or older.
Right? Just curious. Because in all the people that speak spoken to, and I'm talking about a lot of people inside or outside of the podcast, not very many of them are actually very comfortable with Snapchat, it seems to be something that either very big agencies have a small specialist team. Or they just don't go near it. So I'd be quite interested to really sort of needle into that a little bit as your point.
Yeah, I mean, me personally, I don't use Snapchat, which some people laugh at. But you know, we have Rebecca on our team. You know, she's a recent college graduate, she's really smart. She understands, you know, how people are using that platform. It I'll tell you the most difficult aspects for us. And what I hear from her in doing Snapchat ads is using their platform, you know, their platform for buying and placing ads and selecting audiences and uploading creative all the things that go with that is just light years behind Facebook. Google needs other platforms.
And that can make it frustrating.
Yeah, I can imagine.
I it's not something I have any experience in. But I can imagine it's frustrating. If you're used to Facebook's platform. Yeah, Snapchat, it doesn't matter how hard they try, they can't possibly keep up with that. So with the community colleges and the government, what does a typical engagement look like? For you? I mean, when the when the little mission mission brief arrives? What does it look like?
Sure. They're, they're actually fairly similar. And sometimes there can even be some overlap, depending on the specific customer. But, you know, we, we, we are all about recurring revenue. So we trot most of our campaigns are on an annual basis. So we try to really get them to think about a long term strategy instead of just, Hey, I have this urgent need, let's do it 30, or 60 day campaign, and, you know, we'll see what happens after that we're trying to get our customers to think in terms of long term strategy. So, you know, for a college, you know, Community College typically has three primary enrollment periods, you know, fall, spring and summer. So we're doing, you know, enrollment and recruitment campaigns three times a year, and those other months, we may promote, they may come to us and say, Well, you know, we have these specific programs or courses that have very low enrollment, we need to boost them. So we'll focus on those those other months. For the workforce development work that we do. It's, it's it's pretty consistent year round, there's not a lot of seasonality to it. So the government is trying to get on and underemployed people to improve themselves and get a better job or a job if they don't have one, so that they can be a, you know, a taxpayer in stead of a someone who's sort of living off of government assistance. So that's a continuous need. And we try to recruit people into the right or ideal training situations based on their interest and experience, work history, etc.
And in terms of where your clients are, I'm assuming, and I'd be interested in my assumptions are right or wrong, but that that is contained within a particular geographic footprint? Is that correct?
Yeah, you're mostly correct. I mean, most of our customers are based here in our state. We have some local at the store, the local level, we, you know, the state of Alabama is a large customer of ours, the state government, we do have one federal government contract, we do want to expand beyond our state, because we feel that our DC expertise is fairly rare. In this nice is fairly new to us, though, over the past one to two years. So we're really trying to grow slowly and deliberately, being sure that we're, you know, doing things right. And we're not trying to rush into anything before we, you know, have a solid, you know, process and systems in place for the types of work we're selling before, we, you know, want to grow too quickly, I guess, is what I'm getting at.
Yeah, but I guess To be honest, the state of Alabama is probably not too different in terms of size as my whole country. It's still a big territory. So across your clients, then what, what does a typical engagement look like in terms of a tactical deployment? If you like, what would you mentioned, a few tools that you're using, but how are you normally brought to bear? Sure.
There's so you know, our nation is so small, just in terms of the number of people working within it. It's, it's somewhat difficult to market ourselves. So it's a lot of word of mouth and referrals. You know, we do try to put out some content. But you know, when those people come to us, they typically have a very specific need, the type of people they need. And then fortunately, with our nation, our experience, they're not coming to us saying, Hey, we want you to do Facebook ads, they're coming to us saying, we need this audience we need. You know, for one campaign, we're about to start, you know, they literally need 5000 workers. And, you know, how do we how do we, here's the type of demographic we're looking for you tell us what needs to be done to reach this note, you know, to reach enough people. So there's a lot of strategy involved. And we depending on their demographics, determine the platforms, the types of creative can we get by with static images? Do we need video or html5 ads? You know, what is going to reach that audience the best, and, you know, we just tell them, what we think they need to do and what it's going to cost. And, you know, it's, you know, we were talking before we came on air, the benefit bits of being a specialist. And when you have all that experience in their space, they're expecting you to tell them what they should do. So, you know, what we literally get asked often more often than not, what should our budget be? You know, they're not telling us we can only spend X dollars, they're asking us, what do we need to spend? So good? Yeah, that's typically how it goes.
Yeah. So you mentioned your own marketing. And I think because you, the more you become known as the go to guy for a thing, the less you have to do marketing. But how do you handle your own marketing, or the I guess that's really where I'm going?
Sure. Our biggest challenge is the fact that most of the people that need us have never hired anyone to help them with what they need help with. I know that sounds like a weird answer, but they've never used digital marketing to recruit people for Workforce Development. So the thought has never even entered their mind to seek someone like us out. If they try to seek us out, we're pretty easily found. But they've never done it, they've never even thought to do it. So that's our biggest obstacle is that educational aspect. So you know, we, between YouTube videos and, and being active on LinkedIn, which is the biggest platform for our target audience, we try to be active with putting out content, whether it's just articles, you know, we do proprietary research that our audience can use to help them do their jobs better. So we try to push that out. But, but it's a little bit different. Just because, you know, it's not like we're selling to, you know, in a b2b space where everyone knows they need us, you know, we're having to educate them on why they, why we even exist in the first place. And then we have to move on to the next step, showing them the results we've gotten. And then finally, they realize, hey, we need to hire these people. Bits a bit of a lengthy process. And,
again, it's a question I often ask is, most people, the work is a bit of a blend of inbound through that kind of evangelist activity, you spoke about and referral? And where would you be on the scales of inbound versus referral?
We're definitely closer to referral than than inbound. If you were to put up you know, drag the slider between those two.
We're working to change that.
But you know, it's, it's been, it's been tricky. But that that's where we're at currently.
I know a couple of people who are in the recruitment, digital marketing space in the UK, and there's a How would you describe that there's a golden rush towards chatbots. At the moment, I think that's probably the way I would describe it, companies are springing up all over the place as chatbot companies for recruitment, because they see it as a way to very quickly handle large recruitment campaigns, is that something you've looked at?
Definitely, it's something we are actively trying to sell to our customers. You know, 100% of our revenue is from government. And, you know, working with the government is a little bit. Sometimes it's slower, they're slower to want to try new things and slower to adapt that we may like. And so there's lots of regulations in place that maybe a business may not have to pay as much attention to with government, we have to think about, you know, how would someone with a disability interact with this chat bot? Is it going to be compliant? You know, if, you know, we may have to take into into account different languages. So it's, it, there's things I think we can handle, but it's been difficult to get buy in. But I bet you're absolutely right. That's, you know, especially for some of our larger campaigns, where we're getting, you know, thousands and thousands of clicks at a time, you know, when we generate these leads for our customers, they have a hard time managing them efficiently. And absolutely chatbots. And some item automation would improve the process for both ends, the, you know, the public and and our customers. But it's something we're trying to trying to get more buy in for Absolutely.
I was just curious about the chat bar thing, because I've played with chatbots, a little bit, but what I'm sort of hearing from, from what the way you're describing your businesses, there's so many actually quite technical, cool things going on, in lots of little silos, if you like. And what I'm curious about is, you mentioned you have somebody who's really, really good with Snapchat, you probably have somebody that's really good with Instagram, and somebody that's really cool with Facebook ads? Are you doing things exclusively in house? Are you working with a broader team as well?
So we have a core team of full time employees. And then we do have a few contractors that work with us as well. You know, but we try to do the bulk in house and do some of the more specialized things with freelancers. So if we're doing a video ad, you know, we're going to use a freelancer for that. Or, you know, any kind of voiceover those types of things that we don't do a ton of, you know, we haven't hired for that yet. Yeah.
I was just curious. So in terms of your own business, you've got to the point where I mean, looking on LinkedIn, it's telling me your businesses around 10 people, is that accurate?
No, we're smaller than that. So it always cracks me up. We we have three full time employees. And it's some people, sometimes people are surprised by that number. And I just say, well, we were so specialized, you know, we can get by with a much smaller team. And, and not to take anything away from you know, my team that mean, they are super smart, super hard working. You know, and that helps us to, you know, to get by with a smaller team.
But yeah, I love small teams having having had big teams, I would pick a small team, any day, you're more agile.
You cost less.
So when times are good is great. But when times are tough, small teams really important. And it's more intimate, you get more, more loyalty and buy in a small team. I agree. I agree. So working exclusively with government, is that something that you've intentionally cultivated? Or is it something you're looking to maybe branch out of?
It just happened? We are wanting to branch out. And I think with the types of recruitment experience we've gained, we can it'd be a benefit to several types of, you know, private companies, that is on our roadmap for this calendar year. But it really just sort of, you know, I heard expression one time that you don't select your nieces, your nieces select you. And the older I get the more I think there's a lot of truth to that.
Yeah, one of the things that I've dabbled in government work over the years, and I found that whenever I've tried to do it, there's been a ridiculous process of competitive tendering. Is that something that you find as well? Or is it different where you are?
It, it can be
the referral work, and, you know, repeat work from existing customers, it's not very competitive.
when you're dealing with, you know, if you are going after an RFP, or your or it's just an organization you contacted on your own, then at that point, it can be very competitive, a very slow, lengthy process. But you know, when they know that you have, once they get to that point where they know, you've already solved the problem they have, you know, in some ways, it's just as quick if not quicker than going, you know, they're working with, you know, a regular private business. Yeah.
I think I'd like to roll back to what we discussed previously, that you come from a web design background, and you pivoted into the digital marketing space. And you've been doing this, actually, for quite a long time. Now, I think you said something like 15 years, that there's a journey you go on in this kind of business, where in the beginning, it's a little bit of a struggle, you're not making much money, you're building a business, and you go through the feast and famine stage of things are up and down or up and down. And then things can stabilize for a while. Where are you just as a person in your business now, I think it's quite stable. Our I'm vicious for growth,
both were stable. We had a good year, last year, we're going to have based on the contracts that we already have in place, we're going to have a great year this year. But we do want to grow. I think there's we provide a great value to a specific type of customer. And I definitely want to grow further. But all those things you described, I've experienced. You know, it's easy, man, I wish I could remember the Steve Jobs quote. But basically, you know, it's so easy to look at someone who looks like they have it all together, and they're successful, and they're doing well. You didn't see the years of frustration and struggling and not making any money. And you don't see all of that. And we certainly and you know, I certainly, you know, had my share of struggles over the years to get to this point.
Yeah, the 15 year overnight success.
So one thing I really often try and dig into is, in the creative space, or the technical space, whatever you call it, it's usually it's a mix of creativity and technical when I'm talking to people, people are very good at trading time for money, they're commodities, elements of the business where you're good at doing something people pay you to do that thing. And then you move on, and you do it again and people, it's Yeah, it can be a bit of a hamster wheel. And sometimes that hamster wheel is running smooth, but sometimes it's not. But then there are other more productive elements of what we can do. As there any elements of your business, you've actually looked at product sizing. So instead of constantly trading time for money, you actually package something at once, and you can sell it many times,
we have we have looked at and still are considering, you know, for a specific type of campaign instead of, you know, having to work with the customer and doing a customer engagement and all of that, looking at building something on to you know, a Facebook API, or one of the platform API's to sort of automate it almost as a SAS product. Were a specific type of customer could go in and completely on their own purchase a campaign where we would have sort of predefined audiences and creative and things like that. We have looked into that. And it's something we still are considering from time to time, we just haven't, you know, pulled the trigger on that yet.
Yeah, I was just curious, I kind of thought that might be the answer, because some businesses really push quite hard towards that, because they're in a tough a vertical market, whereas you're in, you seem to be in a groove with your vertical market is really working well for you. So that, that that pressure is not there.
And it depends on the customer, you know, we have some agencies that work with us that, you know, kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier, they fully understand the value of digital, and this goes, this could be applied to any industry, you still have a lot of people out there who, you know, marketing directors who are looking at their budget for the year. And they're spending money on print and billboards and radio and TV. And then with whatever is left, they say, well, let's get this new digital stuff a shot. And they don't have enough money left for a proper digital campaign. So they, you know, they can ever even attempt it, or they want to do it, you know, halfway or, you know, they just can't do anything that's going to get any meaningful results. So we still encounter that a good bit. And that for those types of customers that either for whatever reason don't have a lot of money to spend, we could offer a much cheaper product than if we're having to, you know, customize everything. That's where we're coming from on that.
Yeah. And I guess with the team that you've got, I'm, I'm curious when you have small teams like that, that seemed to be very, very productive. It's not always the case. I know, I've had, I kind of hesitate from saying this. I don't think my former team, listen to the podcast. But I've had great teams, and I've had incredibly unproductive teams, that's a good way of putting it. How do you manage that productivity? Again, that's where I'm coming to in the digital marketing space. It's notorious for procrastination and not getting stuff done. Because there's so many distractions. If you're going to be profitable, you need to be productive. How do you how do you sort of manage that motivation, incentive incentive ization? side of things?
Well, that's, that's a great question.
There's no easy answer. I mean, like you, I've had bad employees, I had great employees, you know, our, all of our team now is excellent. And if they listen to this, I'm not just saying that, because they're, they're currently employed, that we really have a great team. It, you know, I think it starts at the hiring process, you know, one of the things I look at is obviously, past performance and experience, I look at their history of work ethic, you know, going back even to high school or college, you know, do they have are they used to working. And I start with that, and, you know, it's even more difficult for us because we, you know, our team, we're location, and God IQ, so everyone works from their own home, we're not all in the same office, we're not all even in the same city or state. And that presents its own challenges. And I think if you interview properly and take your time, and you can tell people just you can tell what people's work ethics are. And it's, it just comes down to the selection, I mean, you're not going to be able to make someone be productive, who doesn't have the traits of being productive, it doesn't matter how good of a manager or owner you are, if you make a bad hire, they're going to be a bad employee. There's nothing you can do. Believe me, I've tried in the past when that was a problem. And vice versa is true.
It's it's, it's difficult.
Yeah, I've done the same. One element I'd like to pick up on is it businesses like ours, we become known as the companies, that's quite straightforward. But people tend to do business with people. And sometimes business owners, they put a lot of time and effort into cultivating a personal brand and really being a visible visible presence. And others really withdraw from that. How does that work for you? Are you consciously investing and building a personal brand in your particular vertical markets? Is it something you even think about?
No, I agree with you. I mean, I think that's a great question, I tried to be very involved in that, you know, making myself a part of, you know, our, our communications, making myself the face of the company, that's my primary job every day is not just sales, but to network Connect, meet people. You know, when they hire us, they're, they're starting with me. And then, you know, once they begin, once they're ready to hire us. And I introduced him to our team, before they ever even hire us, I let them communicate with the people they're going to be working with, because I'm not very hands on wants to engagement starts. So I'm a firm believer in making yourself part of that company image. And I think the owner, if the owner isn't going to do it, then you better have someone who was fully body and you know, this. And I say this, because I've made this mistake in the past, you can't go hire someone to be the face of the company, or to do you know, handle sales and that type of thing. It's very difficult to do, that's the job that I feel the owner has to be involved in most of the time.
I absolutely agree with you there. And quite passionately. So I've tried to hire people in exactly that role on three occasions and failed every single time. But I know, when I look to the left or the right of me where I am, geographically, there are companies that have 3040 employees in my space. And I know, the only reason they could do that is because they have sales managers and the sales team that are well how to put together quite predatory. And what I realized was, I don't want to be the guy that has to run that company. So I'm not going to go that way anymore. I've tried it again and again. And it just doesn't, it's not me. And I think I kind of came to the same realization as you that if you if you want the business that you want, you better get used to being in front.
because nobody's going to do it for you.
You're right. And the key to me, the key thing you just said is that's not me. Right, and maybe they're you know, someone listening, maybe they they're all about creative, they don't want to sell they don't want to manage, they just want to be a designer. And there's nothing wrong with that, if that's you. But, you know, you just have to structure your company in a way to let you do what you want to do. But I just think it's very, it's very difficult. I mean, I think it's a huge advantage. And those instances where we have competed for a project, I feel that being the owner of the agency that customers going to hire, you know, they're going to talk to me, the owner, the other company has, you know, a salesman or a sales manager that you just mentioned, that's a huge advantage for us. So I, you better have an idea to combat that. Because customers love knowing that they have they can communicate with the owner anytime they want.
Yeah, it does come with a lot of credibility. Assuming you don't have a terrible reputation.
It can go both ways, I suppose. But
Zach, I think we should probably start wrapping up, you're going to need to get home for dinner, and I have to go to bed. That's the way if you could offer one piece of advice for somebody that's just about to undertake the journey up and on or somebody who's maybe just a couple of years behind you, what would that be?
I could I could go on for hours answering that question. But I
there's plenty of time.
I think, you know, speaking from my own experience,
I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially myself, you know, we have a tendency to have too much pride, we can be very prideful. And for me, you know, when I started out, I had a tendency to think that I could figure it all out on my own, I didn't need help, I didn't need to see how other people were doing it, you know, I was smarter than them, I could come up with a better way, whatever the case was. And, you know, looking back now, over the past 1516 however many years it's been, I mean, I made a ton of mistakes, some of them very expensive mistakes, some of them, you know, mistakes that wasted months and months of time. And you know, there are people like yourself Bob, there's lots of resources out there of people who have been down the road. And if I could go back and do it all over again, I would pay a lot more attention to those people. And you know, be very deliberate about my decisions, not try to wing it not try to think I can do it on my my own, you know, stop and think, you know, how did they get there? What decisions that they make. And I think the speed, I keep going back to the speed taking things slowly not trying to grow too quickly. I think that's the main thing. And then also just I wish I'd nice too much sooner. And instead of trying to be a generalist, it is, you know, we've touched on a lot of aspects and benefits of that already. But if I could give you know, I guess if I condensed it to two items, those were the two primary things to think about. Don't be too prideful. admit that. You need help. It's okay to need help. We all need help. There's nothing wrong with it.
I knew I put you on the spot with that question. But that was a fantastic answer. And yeah, absolutely identify with that. And I think you'd be surprised, actually, anyone listening? How happy people are to help you if you ask for it?
Yeah, I love doing this type of thing. Come on your podcast has been a blast. Anytime I met some kind of event or conference room with other people. I love you know, answering questions. If anyone you know, wants to ask me something I'll be glad to. Because you better believe that when I'm around someone with their own experiences, I'm asking them questions. You never get to a point where you can't learn anymore. I don't care how long you've been in this space, or how many customers you have or how high your revenue is. There's always something you can learn. And I think you're right, I think I think we make each other out to be more competitive than we need to be. I think for the most part we're not you know, these agencies that think they're competing against each other. You're not competing against each other as viciously as you think you have lots of common ground, we could potentially even help each other. I think it's important Remember that?
Zach? If people want to connect with you, how would you like them to do that?
Sure. They can look for me on LinkedIn. I'm Zach Jones CAC h there's quite a few Zack Jones is out there. So be sure to add recruit rd k ra wt to query. They can also email me Zach CAC h at recruit calm RT k ra WT. And again, going back to questions I'll be glad to answer any questions anyone has been my pleasure.
Zach Jones from recruit you have been an awesome guest. I've really really enjoyed myself. And I personally really would like to continue this relationship and maybe have you on again sometime but for now. Thank you so much.
Thank you Bob pleasure.
Zach is a great example of a niche digital marketing practice being a big success. operating a single vertical market gives you the opportunity to be the standout operator in that space. You occupy that category of one and offer obvious compelling competitive advantages to prospective customers. Just by offering that Industry Focus, it takes some nerve to make that commitment. Zach's done that brilliantly. Before I go as usual, just a quick reminder to subscribe to the show and if you haven't already to join our Facebook group. You can find a link from the website to Bob gentle com Or just search gravity, digital marketing and Facebook and you'll find us easily enough. My name is Bob gentle thanks again to Zach for giving us his time this week. Thanks for listening to gravity. Let's see you next