Agency Breakout Summit/2020: Powering Agency Growth with WordPress

From a light user of WordPress to the creation of a highly sophisticated WordPress practice, has driven enormous agency growth over the last two years. During WP Engine’s 2020 Summit we heard from Jerry Boduch, VP of Strategic Alliances, on how they did it.

Video recording of session

Slides from the session

Jerry Boduch, VP of Strategic Alliances, discusses:

  • How launched and grew their WordPress practice to yield  incredible business growth
    • How the org went from using WordPress as a blogging tool to creating robust digital experiences, at a fraction of the cost and time, for their clients.  
    • How grew an internal team that is now focused exclusively on WordPress. 
    • How WP Engine accelerated business growth and value offered to customers.
    • Tangible tips and takeaways on how to grow your agency with WordPress

We believe there’s a lot of benefit in bringing best of breed experts and technologies together.

Full text transcript


– Hello, good day and welcome to my session titled, “Powering Agency Growth With WordPress.” 


I hope you’re finding the WP Engine Summit valuable. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in person in the very near future. The agenda for the session is pretty simple.


First, I’d like to introduce myself and the agency I work for,


Second, I’ll tell you our story and our history with WordPress.


And finally, I’ll wrap up with some tips and lessons learned.


Most importantly, I wanna say thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to tell the Americaneagle story and our WordPress story.


Hopefully based on what we’ve done and plan on doing you can gain some actionable insights that you can take back to your job as well.


So a little background about me: First, my name is Jerry Boduch. I’m the VP of Strategic Alliances here at Americaneagle. I’ve worked at Americaneagle for 25 years.


I started as a developer when there was only 10 people, quickly I moved into client facing and sales facing roles. About 10 years ago I started the Partnerships Program where we formed alliances with other technology firms deliver solutions for our customers.


On a personal level, I’m married with three kids, enjoy traveling, being outdoors and playing sports, especially soccer.


At Americaneagle, we love collaborating on projects. We believe there’s a lot of benefit in bringing best of breed experts and technologies together.


So please reach out if there’s any way that you think we can work together in the future.


So some key notes about Americaneagle as a whole: We’ve now grown from when

there was only 10 people to about 550 full time global employees.


We’re still family-owned and operated, privately held, and financially stable.


We believe in a customer first culture and we have over 100 employees that have been with us for 10 plus years.


Our headquarters is here in Chicago, with offices nationwide and globally. The picture that you see on the slide is a picture of our headquarters right by O’Hare Airport.


In terms of services, we offer your typical web development, web application services, your design services, we have a strategy and insights group, we do digital marketing for our customers, we provide hosting and security, and then we also offer ongoing client service support for our customers.


From a technology perspective, we take an agnostic approach.


We look at our customers needs and try to find the right solution for those needs.


You have a pretty even split between customers coming to us with a technology preference

versus customers needing us to make that technology recommendation.


We continue to always add solutions based on customer demand and learnings in the marketplace.


We weren’t always like this.


The shift in terms of offering many different technologies, happened at our organization about 11 years ago.


Prior to that we used a lot of our own homegrown CMS tools.


We still have customers using those tools, and one of those tools referenced later is called idev.


So let’s jump into the history of WordPress at Americaneagle.


So going back to 2013, let’s set the stage so you can see where we’re at as an organization as it relates to WordPress.


So in 2013, we’re really not doing much WordPress at all. We have a lot of customers on idev and we feel it’s still a great framework. But we started offering .NET CMS solutions that weren’t our own solutions.


So at this point, we had a tremendous amount of success with those solutions, and we’re always looking to grow into new areas.


But at this point, from WordPress perspective, we’re just using WordPress usually just as a blogging tool. So let’s move ahead and fast forward to 2015.


So in between 2013 and 2015, is when we had a lot of breakthroughs when it comes to WordPress.


As a company we’re experiencing really a cultural shift from being just a web developer to having more consultancy and digital agency services.


So we grew a ton in terms of digital marketing, so we’re no longer just building sites, we’re helping our customers grow their businesses.


And clients kept asking us about WordPress in particular, specifically around WordPress.


And at this point, we had a lot of clients that were looking to redo their site, make it more mobile optimized, responsive.


So there was a lot of work we were doing in changing solutions for our customers.


Candidly, at first, being mostly at .NET shop, we were worried about PHP at our organization.


We didn’t really have the capabilities and we were worried because the internal perception was that open source was not secure, and that WordPress just isn’t capable of doing more than being a blog site.


Boy, were we wrong.


Two thought leaders really changed that that came into the organization. And they’re pictured in this slide.


Ellis would always say, and I will never forget, “hey, there’s a plugin for that.


“Why are we writing that code?


“We can just use the plugin.”


And we were amazed that some of the things that we could do with WordPress and how much value we could offer our customers.


Jason was Ellis’s right hand man, and he was very passionate about WordPress as well. And so the two of them really started to position WordPress as the right option for many of our clients.


As a company, we’re right at about 300 employees. We started doing more and more WordPress. Wasn’t a full team but we had three people, and we were doing on average about three sites a month and the projects were on average about $10,000.


So let’s fast forward again two more years in 2017. We’re realizing we can really make some money with this and our customers love it.


So at this point, we do have a dedicated WordPress practice where there’s enough work for them to just focus on WordPress.


So there was a huge investment by our company right around the 2017 year mark.


We hired new team members. We’re moving a lot of customers over to WordPress as the recommended solution.


We built a lot of our own IP and our own accelerators.


We started getting more involved in the community.


And our entire sales team learned about WordPress as well.


So we were getting case studies that we could market in particular industries with particular solutions.


Another crucial point for us growing in WordPress was when we became official WP Engine partners. That was a pivotal point in our growth.


Generally as a company, we’re about 400 employees now. So as you can see in those two years, there was a lot of growth, a lot of success that we had.


The web was obviously taking off, responsive work, accessibility work was taking off.


The WordPress team also tripled in size.  The average project now is 25,000 for the WordPress team, and we’re doing more and more, and we’re up to about five sites per month.


So I do wanna spend a couple of minutes here talking about why WP Engine was such a critical point and why it accelerated our growth and the value that we were able to offer our customers.


If you remember going back to our services slide, one of the key service offerings that we have is the maintenance and the hosting of sites.


Well, up to this point, before we were offering WordPress, a lot of that maintenance’s

hosting was in .NET. And if you know anything about hosting, you know that .NET hosting and PHP hosting could be very different.


And so what we decided to do instead of learning it ourselves, we found that there’s a lot of companies out there that could help us.


WP Engine stood out among the companies that we reviewed, for many reasons.


One of the clear reasons right from the beginning was their focus on the customer, customer success, customer service, but also their culture.


We visited them and the culture was great. Very, very similar to our customers first culture, focusing on their employees and their customers.


And we just hit it off with a lot of their team members and a lot of their support staff.


But also by partnering with WP Engine, we now had another company that we could also do some business development with.


They’re really strong in the WordPress community, we wanted to be strong in the WordPress community, we could market together and use a lot of their channels to help market.


While also focusing on our strengths, and focusing on digital marketing and the development and not having to worry about support and hosting.


Ultimately, in the end, what this allowed us to do is just be more efficient with our customers, offer more value and better support.


So let’s take a look at some of the efficiencies and customer value we were able to achieve by partnering with WP Engine.


So if you look at this chart, we’re now down to less than an hour to debug most solutions with WP Engine support. Prior to that, when we were using other third parties.


Time from a support ticket getting entered by our customer, and then us resolving that support ticket along with the third party could be up to a week.


That’s obviously not good. And so we couldn’t do this or we could not achieve this without the partnership we have with WP Engine.


So let’s keep going and look at where we’re at now and where we wanna go.


So we really feel that the sky’s the limit when it comes to WordPress.


We wanna keep being successful and do a great job for our customers.


Some of our goals include doubling the size of the team, keep increasing the average project size.


We’re going to continue to do investments in internal training.


We’re going to continue to run case studies and do marketing around those case studies. And we’re gonna use those case studies to targets particular industries and particular enterprise clients.


We also wanna keep investing in accelerators and some of our own IP. In particular, we have a

sister company Hawksearch that does on-site search, and we wanna make sure

that we’re leveraging those capabilities of Hawksearch on WordPress sites as well.


So this is where we’re at. Over 300 project implementations, and 15 dedicated WordPress staff members.


It takes us about 10 hours to do an audit and migrate a site from another hosting provider

to our process with WP Engine. And we’ve done a lot with them already in the three years as a partner  and we plan to continue growing in that regard as well.


In terms of some of our clients, this slide represents some of the ones that we’d like to highlight.


You’ll notice that there’s small and large clients in this list.


Some name brands that you may recognize and others that you may not.


Some of these sites are transactional, others are just brochure or marketing sites, but they represent all sorts of industries.


Everything from financials, to e-commerce, sports, restaurants, b2b manufacturers, government and public sector as well.


So let me give you some tips that you can take away that we learned and helped us grow.


So number one: I think the right people are key.


If it wasn’t for Jason and Ellis being thought leaders and disruptors, and having a passion for WordPress, we may have never gotten into WordPress.


Jason and Ellis had a really good sales acumen as well. They were able to sell the team members internally, the executives internally, but then also bring customers in so we can drive that business forward.


So they were really great leaders and had the right balance between technical and sales.


I would consider always being focused on efficiency. By being efficient, by doing trainings, by learning, by always investing the right way, you can offer that value back to your customer and the customers appreciate that value. So stay focused on efficiency.


I would contribute to the community, develop thought leadership, figure out where your differentiators are, what you’re good at, and develop tools and IP that can help the community as well.


And that will help your name brand and help you with your sales initiatives as well.


Listen to the industry and the customer needs.


Don’t work with blinders on, look at other solutions and see how those can be brought together with WordPress.


And don’t be afraid to try something new. Be agile, embrace the power of WordPress.


Finally, make sure the offerings that you give to your customers are the right solutions for the right problems.


So looking back, there are lessons that we could have learned.


One in particular that, you know, being on the sales side and the partnership side makes me wonder is, could we have done it earlier?


Should we have listened earlier to the trends that we were hearing and done WordPress even earlier?


Could we be a little bit further ahead if we did that?


The other thing that we always constantly look at is we have to realize that we’re not always the right fit for every customer.


As an organization, we’re pretty aggressive on the sales side, but I think sometimes for certain customers, for certain things, maybe not the right budget, the right location, the right expertise.


I think it’s okay to say no and let someone else take on that work that may be a better fit for that customer.


So looking back, there’s definitely some customers that we took on that we probably should have passed on. And so we’re always looking at that.


And that kind of dovetails into the other point here, is you wanna focus.


And we strive to focus every day, but there’s a lot of different things that can take us away from that focus.


So if we focus on customer success, customer value, the strengths that we

have, the IP that we have, and where we can be most profitable, in the end, we offer the most customer value.


And I think that’s a huge lesson that we’re basically learning every day and trying to get better at every day.


Thanks, everybody.


Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Q&A Session 



All right, welcome.


WP Engine Summit attendees you are live and direct here.


I’m Ryan Ashby, lead the Agency Practice here at WP Engine.


Thank you for participating and watching “Power Agency Growth With WordPress”.


I’ve got here for the Q&A session. Jerry, VP of Strategic Alliances with Americaneagle and a longtime partner of WP Engine’s. 


So some really exciting stuff.


Really appreciate Jerry,


all of the insights that you’ve provided.



– Thanks for having me Ryan.



– Absolutely.


So we’ll get kicked off with a few questions here. And you know, from the audience, please submit your questions via the the Control Panel there.


But you know, really to start off, Jerry, you know, you talked a lot about, you know, the growth and the progression over the years, the adoption of WordPress, and really how it began to change, you know, as you built the WordPress practice, how you went and scoped the projects that you provided your clients.


I think that there was a progression of, you know, four-figure projects up to six-figure projects, you know. You know, the question that was posed is, what would you say was the

biggest contributing factor to that growth and the size of projects that you took on?



Yeah, you know, I think it had a lot to do with our confidence and being able to execute and offer value to our customers.


So as we got more expertise, as we got more projects under our belt, we just felt more confident and we learned a lot, and we saw that there was a wider audience of customers that we could build sites using WordPress.


So I really think it was just kind of the confidence in the growth and just knowing that we can execute. So a lot of it was our internal teams growing in that regard.



How do you approach plugin theme updates and maintenance without it becoming cost or time prohibitive for you or your clients?



Yeah, so I mean, I think it starts in the very beginning of an engagement with the client.


We definitely wanna make sure that they understand that there is an investment in the technology, in the software.


And so they have to go into it knowing that there is going to be some time throughout the course of the year  as plugins and updates come out that there needs to be some effort there.


So by setting that stage early, the customers aren’t shocked when you bring up additional maintenance costs.


So I think that goes a long way in terms of making sure that they really understand that there is some effort there.


And then on the technology side, to be quite honest with you, I can’t speak to that as well as some of the other guys from our team.


But I know that we continue to make advancements in that. And I know that the toolsets that you guys are able to offer us has really reduced the time and effort that it’s taken us in the beginning.


Some of the challenges that we have is sometimes when we bring on a new customer that really hasn’t been keeping things up to date, becomes really challenging to get them, you know, to the latest and greatest, get them secure, et cetera.


But we have done that as well. But it’s really changing that mindset.


From the business perspective, I think that’s a very important thing to do with your customers.



Absolutely. And expectation setting and probably became, you know, little bit

more proficient into that as you went along and it kind of correlates with those scope of projects as they became more robust and moved along.


Got another question here. And I really like this one. How do I know that the time is right to grow my WordPress team? When should I start hiring more people?



It’s a good question. So we basically do it based off of the number of projects that we have coming in. And, you know, we try to look at kind of our pipeline, our sales pipeline, you know, try to be as predictable as possible in terms of the work that we have. 


We also support a lot of customers. So that support kind of helps us get through those ups and downs of sometimes project work.


So, you know, we try to look at the pipeline, look at the growth, but then we also try to educate a wider audience of team members.


So if we have people that have multiple skill sets, if the WordPress team gets busy, or isn’t as busy, they can, you know, offer value in other other places.


Whether that’s, you know, another technology or other services around digital marketing, et cetera.


So, that’s kind of how we manage those ups and downs and that’s how we prepare ourselves for, you know, for hiring more people.



– Building predictability, you know,


is sometimes difficult but–


One of the more popular questions here, as you mentioned that you guys are very aggressive with sales, can you elaborate on your sales process and channels?


It sounds like you guys, you know, sell as a village? It takes a team to help to bring those clients across the line.  Very good.



Yeah but I think they’re becoming bigger and more complex. A lot of integrations, a lot of, you know, third party involvements, sometimes a lot of partners, things like that.


So the more boxes we can check, and the more trust we can build during the sales process, you know, we do what we can to make the customers feel like we’re the right choice.



Absolutely. One more question here. We’ve got a couple minutes but maybe one, maybe two here. We’ll see.


But as WordPress evolves from a blog platform to a very theme-based product, and then into frameworks, et cetera, how does the Americaneagle team evaluate new development methods, and then when do you decide to make a change in a particular direction?



Sure. Yeah. So we actually have a subset of our team does a lot of R&D.


So, you know, we’ll set aside time for continuing education, for research, and making sure that, you know, we’re kind of always involved in the community as well to understand what those latest and greatest things are.


And then if we think that we can use a newer technology to help a given customer, you know, we’ll be honest with them and tell them that, you know, where we’re at in that particular framework of technology.


But a lot of those customers like to be thought leaders and like to try new things.


So we’ll use those customer accounts, or we’re use our R&D team that really kind of stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest.


I mean, we feel like as the consultants out there, we have to be first to some of these new things.



All right, well, I think that that does it for this Q&A session.


Thank you again Jerry, very much. Glad to have Americaneagle on board as a sponsor and we look forward to joining folks here for additional sessions. Thank you.



Absolutely. Thanks, Ryan. Have a great rest of your day.


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