We Interview Laurent Maillard of Adoraweb
A New & Exciting Way To Organize Your Agency For Max Profit & Freedom
Main Interview Questions
#1 – Hi Laurent, can you give some insight connected to what the Luxembourg and European markets are like connected to digital marketing?
#2 – How important is WordPress connected to your digital agency, and do you use or have been looking at a replacement for WordPress?
#3 – We might a WordCamp Europe 2022 (Porto), and you did a presentation on how you reorganized how your agency does work with clients. Can you give an extensive picture outline of the main elements of this change?
#4 – What were some of the significant problems you and your team had to deal with connected to a massive change in the way your agency works?
#5 – What are some of the things you think you and the team can improve on connected to working with clients?
#6 – If you had a “time machine” at the beginning of starting your agency, what critical advice would you give yourself that you feel you can share with the audience?
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Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS podcast, where Jonathan Denwood interviews the leading experts in WordPress, eLearning, and online marketing to help WordPress professionals launch their own SaaS.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back, folks, to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS. It’s episode 714, we have a great guest, we have Laurent Maillard, and he’s the founder and CEO of AdoraWeb. I’m sure I butchered his name, but as you are regular listeners, tribe, you are used to that spayed ability to pronounce, literally, any of our guests’ names. A slight impediment, but charming in its own way. I’m going to let Laurent introduce himself to you, the tribe. So, can you give us a quick 10, 20 second intro, please?
Laurent Maillard: Yeah. Lovely. So, as you perfectly stated, Jonathan, I’m called, Laurent. Okay. I’m originally from Belgium, but I’ve been living in Luxembourg for about 12 years now. And since nine years I’ve been spending my time in trying to create the best marketing or digital marketing agency here in Luxembourg. Apart from that I have a lovely dog, a lovely wife that’s pregnant. Yay.
Andrew Palmer: Whee.
Laurent Maillard: And so, I’m just, kind of, your happy type.
Jonathan Denwood: All right.
Laurent Maillard: I work a lot, but the life is getting back to me in a very nice way.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, I know.
Laurent Maillard: Even though, you butchered my name we could still be friends.
Jonathan Denwood: I know. And I met you at WordCamp Europe; you did a great presentation about how you reorganized your own agency and how it’s really transformed the profitability and the freedom that you feel. So, I thought that was going to be a really interesting topic for our audience. I have my co-host, Andrew Palmer. Andrew, would you like to introduce yourself to the tribe?
Andrew Palmer: Certainly. Salut to Laurent, welcome to the show, it’s nice to see you. My name is Andrew Palmer and I’m with Bertha.ai helping people write AI content within WordPress and we love Yoast.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, that’s great. I’m so pleased to hear that. So, before we go into the main meat and potatoes of this great interview, we have a few messages from our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. I just want to point out, we have some great special offers from the sponsors. Also, have some great recommendations, plugin, services, anything that you might need for yourself or for clients; you can get all these goodies by going over to wp-tonic/recommendations, wp-tonic/recommendations. So, straight into it. So, you’re based in Luxembourg. Obviously, I’m originally from the UK, Andrew’s based in the UK, but do you think there’s any fundamental difference between the mainland European market than the UK and American apart?
One of the main things that occurred to me is how you deal with all the multi-languages that you have to deal with, where in the UK, to some extent, and very much more in the US, it’s, really, a very English-based philosophy. So, I’d be interested to see how you deal with that effectively.
Laurent Maillard: Yes, of course. So, clearly, the main difference between the US market and the European market is the size, not, necessarily, the total size of the market, but just the fact that in Europe, there’s not one market, there are 20 of them. Okay. And each market has some real specificities. You will not market or sell your product the same way in France that you will do in Germany, or that you will do in Denmark. Those are very different people with different languages and that, yeah, it creates some hassles for us marketers.
Now, personally, here within our AdoraWeb, we, mainly, work with the Luxembourg market, sometimes we work with the French market or the Belgium market, but our lives, it’s already made easier because we share the same language, French.
Andrew Palmer: Oh, sure.
Laurent Maillard: Depends. The Northern part of Belgium does not speak French, but as I’m, originally, from there, that has never been a problem to adapt the campaigns we’ve been running for the entirety of Belgium. But, definitely, Europe, in itself, is a very different kind of market and Luxembourg, it’s, probably, one of the most peculiar, because you have to understand that Luxembourg it’s a market that’s about, a bit over half a million inhabitants, so it’s crazy small. Okay. We have around 600,000 people living in Luxembourg, but.
Andrew Palmer: That’s crazy.
Laurent Maillard: The population of the country doubles during the day. So, there are so many, it’s, kind of, I like to describe Luxembourg as a little piece of Switzerland that has been forgotten. Okay. It’s a place where there are lots of companies, there’s a very active economical tissue. There are very, very loads of things to be done and that are being done, but then again, it’s a very, very traditional market and it’s a luxury, for me, today because as digital a marketing agency, my market is in front of me, okay.
We still have some very, very traditional minded, kind of, companies that, oh, we don’t need to take risk, we’ve been doing that for the last 20 years, it has gotten us so far, so why change? Well, the European and the worldwide pressure is, we are, kind of, in a phase here in Luxembourg where we realize that we need to change the way we are doing things, okay. The industry is not working anymore, there are the banks, the banks industry, it’s not that high anymore, even though, they’re still very active and there are still plenty of things happening.
But, clearly, based on my market and for our market, regarding all the digital tools, would it be a WordPress website or other things, we are still a market that I would estimate to be maybe 10 years behind what you’ll find in some more [Inaudible – 07:51] European cities. Yeah. Or even in the US.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, sure. Before I rthrow it over to Andrew, I just have a quick follow through question. So, has the pandemic, and what happened, did that change people’s attitudes and accelerate a move forward or don’t you think it’s really affected it?
Laurent Maillard: I think it has affected plenty of people everywhere else. I think it was kind of unexpected, I also think that it has been, relatively, well-managed, even though, I might not have done everything the same, but then again, I’m not the one taking all the responsibilities or paying the consequences for them.
Jonathan Denwood: I meant more how it affected company’s attitude to digital marketing.
Laurent Maillard: So, as a business, I don’t have that answer just yet, because, actually, I’m still perceiving, kind of, the after taste of the COVID break, where business for almost two years, everything has been very slow. The rule was, let’s not take risk and it’s starting to grow again, it’s starting to happen again. But I will be delighted to give you a more definite answer in six months, let’s see if all my clients, all my prospects in my pipeline, would they sign the project that they’re going to.
For most companies, I believe it has, clearly, been a self-realization that there were some problems, but as there were so many problems, regarding workforce, regarding changing clients, I think that the marketing, in a way, has still been, kind of, left outside of it. And we’re going to see in the next few months, how does that impact our enterprise or industry?
Even though, I, personally, have absolutely no doubt that it will help people understand that they need more digital activities, they need to control the acquisition funnel, the conversion processes and to control the entire digital bio journey that they want to build. And they need to control that digitally, because physically, sometimes, it gets into troubles
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. Over to you, Andrew.
Andrew Palmer: Well, cultural differences, you were talking about Europe, every single country is a different country, it speaks a different language, generally. You have the French languages spoken around Flemish in the north of Belgium, I think you were talking about. Switzerland, a multilingual, French, Swiss, German, Austrian, all these languages that people, we tend to think that we don’t have a language barrier in the UK, but we have cultural language barriers.
So, the people up north, for instance, I’m 24 miles west of London; sometimes I find it hard to understand them because they speak very fast and they have very strong dialects Mancunian or Durham, or Newcastle, those sort of things, and they say words in a different way. So, we still have to deal with cultural issues within our own countries, in America, the same, you have Southern America, you have North America, and it’s a relationship with attitudes as well, as much as, kind of, different ways that they speak to each other and what they mean in their tone of voice and things like that.
So, one of the things that I wanted to ask you about, it’s aligned with question two, really, is that you’ve talked about how your agency has changed in the way that you feel other agencies react to customers. Could you just give us a minute or so on that and what you’ve done to change? Without going into the other questions that we have, what’s the core principles that you’ve adjusted in your agency?
Laurent Maillard: For me, the core principle was about accepting that there is no way to know it all before you get started, before you get, actually, some work done. And that was the main realization that has brought me for the last six years, to try some, maybe would say some crazy stuff to try and change, to try and change the way we market our services, to try and change how we build our products, how we retain our clients throughout times, to bring more value on the table.
The realization, it’s, really, about accepting the fact that if I meet your company for the first time, I’m not able, even though, I would be the best digital marketer in the world, which I’m not pretending to be, I try to be good, but I wouldn’t go as far as that, but even the best in the world cannot have that magical crystal ball where you’ll find all the answers from the get go. And that led me to develop some more iterative processes, that’s all about the agility in the talk we did and that’s how we met, actually. Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Perfect.
Andrew Palmer: I think we’re on question three. So, that was, kind of, part three, so let’s have a look at how you, are we going for a break, Jon, but it’s this question?
Jonathan Denwood: No, I just want to give some additional information to the audience. One of the reasons, I felt you had a very insightful mythology around sprints. Andrew, I don’t know if you saw the presentation, but it’s about accepting that some clients can’t put you on a massive retainer every month, but they still want to work with you. So, you book a block of time at a certain date, they pay for that block of time and you agreed outcomes in that block of time that you.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah, it’s a great idea.
Jonathan Denwood: And, I think you framed it as a sprint, did you not, or did you use a different?
Laurent Maillard: Yeah, I do. I do.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m sorry about that, Andrew, I just thought that would useful.
Andrew Palmer: It’s alright, that’s what the question is. So, it’s, basically, can you give an extensive picture outline of the main elements of this change? So, you have sprints going on, you have booking of time in advance and you have goals and targets to reach, and what happens when you don’t reach the target and it isn’t your fault, it’s due to client holdup? So, that’s the question.
Laurent Maillard: Okay. I’ll get back to that. The first thing I want to say, because, as I told you, it’s, kind of, a little introduction, it’s about how I realized that I needed to find a way to get out of the, actual, situation, the current situation of many marketers; that situation is plain and simple. It’s now; we’re going to go to summer holidays, that’s going to be September, okay. September going back to school, all the marketers throughout Europe are going to sit down and say, we need to define everything that we are going to do for the next year, because before the end of this year, I need to validate a budget, okay.
I need my company to validate the budget that I’m going to spend, and I need to decide right now, in the point in time and space where they, literally, know the least about what’s going to happen throughout the next year, they still need to decide that in July, 2023, they’re going to run a Google ads campaign about that specific topic. And, even though I’m glad when I can have some longer-term vision to what’s going to happen with my clients, and this is still important; unfortunately, the digital marketing, everything is moving so fast that if you decide everything in advance, you are assured to fail.
Because number one, there’s absolutely no way to know it all from the get-go. And secondly, you will be kind of stuck in this section of everything that you’ve planned that, more often than not, you will never take the time to go back and look about how did that campaign work? Okay. Because it’s something that, really, probably, the thing that I like the most about the US, is the culture difference about how we perceive failure. Failure in Europe, it’s a very, very bad thing.
We cannot have failure, that is completely forbidden, if you fail a campaign, oh my God, that would mean that you’re a bad marketer, which is, obviously, not true. The more American way of seeing failure, that failure is experience, failure is how you grow, failure is how you learn, and, actually, everything we learn throughout our lives, from walking, to speaking, to dancing, to whatever, to painting, to building some Lego set. Whatever we learn to do, we learn by doing mistakes, but for some strange way, a digital marketing director could not fail.
I believe the opposite; I believe that our goal as digital marketers is to fail as early and as fast as possible. Let’s fail, okay. Let’s accept that we can fail, and that that’s okay, because we are going to set up processes and a mindset that will, first, enable us to fail as fast as possible, so that we consume the least resources as needed. We’re not going to realize two years from now that we’ve been spending 5K a month on Google ads in a campaign that does not convert, okay. Some very realistic examples that I’ve seen way too many times.
Oh, you do run Google ads. Oh, yes, of course. And how did that [perform – 18:45]? I don’t know, I haven’t logged into the account since. And it’s just like, okay, let’s change that. And, actually, I’ve realized while realizing this myself, because I was doing the job for my clients and the results were not there, and we were trying to put massive strategies in place and plan everything out, and it just didn’t work out. There’s always some emergency, some scopes creeping on us; personally, I was miserable.
My clients results weren’t any good, and I was barely making any money, so it’s, kind of, funny, to get out of that very bad cycle I was in, and that’s when I discovered that the software industry was in, what I believe is, the exact same situation that the marketing is, kind of, today. And that is through the creation of all the agile methodologies, the agile mindset, where the developers, at the time, were doing the exact same thing; let’s plan what we are going to develop three years from now, okay.
We’re going to plan every single, we’re going to do those massive gain charts when we have everything planned out, and I’ve never met a developer that told me that those gain charts turned out to be realistic or turned out to be true. Because, of course, something broke, of course, something unexpected happened, of course, the client simply changed his mind, and that’s okay; as long as you do not put yourself in such rigid format, where the minute where you get out of the line, well, everything goes to pieces.
Andrew Palmer: I think that’s key. Sorry to interrupt you, but I think that’s key to everybody, I think that the subtext to this is, really, what you’ve managed to do with the sprints, you’ve managed to build in flexibility, and that’s what a lot of clients forget. And when you are dealing with corporates, particularly, they do have to have a budget, they have to scope out that for the next year, for instance, Mars Confectionary, plans Christmas at Easter, and Easter in July, so they’re way ahead of the curve. And when I was working for a printing company, we were, literally, getting artworks for Christmas at Easter time, but that didn’t allow them any flexibility; if their competitors were a little bit more agile or a little bit more flexible or their agencies were flexible and built-in that flexibility, people would steal a march on them. So, I think that’s the underscoring of what your talk is about and what your philosophy is now.
Laurent Maillard: And if you allow me to go a bit, let’s go into how to do it.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, we need to go for our break, actually, and then we’ll continue.
Laurent Maillard: Of course.
Jonathan Denwood: After we go for a break. So, folks, it’s been a fascinating discussion, I’ve been really interested in it, hopefully, you are. We’re going to go for our break, have some other sponsors messages. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. I just want to point out, I do a great newsletter. It’s all about the stories that we discuss on the Friday roundtable show. I write a scouress editorial, which I send out that’s made me notorious in the WordPress community, but there we go. You have to take it on your back, haven’t you? If you want this, just go over to wp-tonic. Andrew’s giving me a look. Wp-tonic/newsletter, and you can sign up for this newsletter and it’ll be in your inbox, around, every Monday morning. What more could you ask for?
Andrew Palmer: What a great way to wake up on a Monday morning to your scourless text in your newsletter? My God.
Jonathan Denwood: It’s made me so popular, but there we go. So, you were at WordCamp Europe, that’s where we met. You did a fabulous job, but you’re.
Laurent Maillard: Thank you.
Jonathan Denwood: You’re a digital marketer at a very focused, developer-centric event, you’re joining the [kulak – 24:55], you’re the member of the WordPress tribe.
Laurent Maillard: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: So, how important is WordPress to you and your clients? And, obviously, because of Gutenberg, the situation with WordPress has been in flux, let’s just put it that way, for the past couple of years. So, is your commitment to WordPress still as strong or because of this flux, have you been looking at other alternatives?
Laurent Maillard: Okay. Okay. The answer to the second part of the question, it’s plain and simple, not so far. So far, I’ve not been looking for any alternatives. Myself and my clients are really, really happy with what we are able to build within the WordPress ecosystem and with the facility and all the tools it gets on the table to help us manage our campaigns. Now, if I go back some nine years back in time, actually, this entire company started with WordPress.
I was going to say thanks to WordPress, but I was, actually, employed in a marketing agency or a traditional marketing agency, and they were outsourcing the creation of the website, they were using a French, nothing against the French, there was a French CRM system, very small, very crappy, it was terrible; having two columns was an absolute nightmare. And it was terrible for the clients, and that’s when I, as an account manager in that company, I started digging in and said, couldn’t we use some better software.
And that’s how I started playing with WordPress. And when I started my company, building WordPress website for, relatively, small businesses was what I was doing all day. And that’s, also, how I realized that, yeah, we were building websites on a one-time, kind of, mission and then we were disappearing. And my clients would not get the results that they could expect from their website, because they would pay, a very small company, at the time, a one-man show company, at the time, to build the website, and I’ve always tried to do it the best way I could, but there was no follow up.
Now, regarding Gutenberg and everything; personally, in our company, we do not do some heavy custom developments, because that’s not our work, that’s not our expertise. Our job is to think about and implement strategies and tactics to acquire traffic, to convert it and to retain it, okay. That’s the simplest way I can define everything we do. And so far, not all, but most of my clients, we’ve decided to use WordPress to build their website and the marketing part of their website.
And for that, it has been working pretty well, if I’m being honest; at the beginning of Gutenberg, when we were not building custom things, we were using some other builders, some visual builders. My favorite always has been Beaver Builder.
Jonathan Denwood: All right.
Laurent Maillard: I’ve been a big Beaver Builder user for years, because I was very glad about the, the performance loss was, really, not that bad, really, didn’t have any impact on everything that we did, and it used to simplify our lives, and it enabled me to furnish my clients with tools where they could gain some independence. So, it has been working pretty well, and to be honest, we are kind of more and more going back to Gutenberg as we are getting better code, we are now gaining some more detailed options of how we can use those custom blocks, et cetera.
And it, really, helps me and my clients, that by the years, I’ve been going a bit bigger, it helps and them to keep consistent design, consistent structure, and for that, I’m, kind of, happy with it. Even though.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, I thought I would ask you, because you see a lot of on YouTube, you see a lot of people comparing WordPress to other SaaS-based, either in the DIY or in the more professional agency market. And there are a number of YouTube videos that seem to be preaching that WordPress isn’t still one of the most effective agency tools. I don’t know, if that’s their honest opinion, I think all these things; it’s a little bit complicated. That’s great, over to you, Andrew.
Andrew Palmer: Well, it depends whether or not you’re a good agency; if you can work with any tools, it doesn’t really matter what the tools are. If you think that your workflow is better with a particular CMS or a particular web building tool, you can go to Webflow, I know some very successful agencies that are simply Shopify. Yeah. Webflow is excellent, but the Shopify partners are charging a minimum of 10 grand a pop; that’s their starting price, and they’ve been very successful. WordPress is excellent for DIYs and professionals, and it’s adaptable, you know?
So, it depends on your skill level, or you seem to have decided that you don’t want to be the coders; you want to be the marketers. Yeah, you will build your website.
Laurent Maillard: Exactly. And having played along and around with WordPress for so many years, my team and I are so comfortable with this tool that we know it will always be a good foundation for whatever future need that the client can ask. And I’m saying all.
Andrew Palmer: Exactly. One of the things I wanted to ask you is, you’re the boss now, right? So, you started off as the individual freelancer; you decided you were in corporate or you were working for another agency, which is kind of corporate, you’re working for the man, now you’re the man. How did that transition affect you mentally, in as much as how you held yourself, the way you have to now employ staff? We noticed at the beginning of the interview before we went live that you had brought a cup of coffee.
Laurent Maillard: Yeah, yeah, yeah, lovely to have a drink.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m so confused.
Andrew Palmer: That’s the kind of transition we all like; people can bring us a cup of coffee; it’s great. But how did that affect you, and how’s your attitude toward your staff? Are you coworkers, or are you the boss? What’s going on with your agency? How do you work together?
Laurent Maillard: Okay. Okay. I’ll say my main goal is to have an auto-organized team and whatever we do throughout the different methodology that we set up and that we define and are trying to improve over time. One of the main goals is to have an independent team that can make decisions and is auto-organized okay. Because I never wanted, and I’m trying not to be as much as I can, I don’t want to micromanage a team; it simply just doesn’t work.
I’ve done that with my first employee, but it did not work well at all; it has been a very difficult situation for her. It was a great person, but the work between us wasn’t working and was, probably, my fault for a big part.
Andrew Palmer: For sure.
Laurent Maillard: But since then, I’ve kind of grown, I think that, for me, developing this company, it’s pleasure before anything else, and I, honestly, believe, I don’t want to be too philosophical about it, but I think that you cannot develop a company if you do not get pleasure out of it. If this is not something that gives you the greatest motivation to get out of bed in the morning and get inside the office with a big smile every day, then you need to change some stuff. Now.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, well.
Laurent Maillard: Of course, with a team, now, a team of nine people, it’s a big team, well; it’s small compared to others, but, for me.
Andrew Palmer: It’s big enough. It’s big enough.
Laurent Maillard: I needed to learn and learn by doing it; I made loads of mistakes. Thankfully for me, I have a very forgetful and very understanding team that, even though Julian brought me my coffee before being a great cupbearer, he’s a great designer.
Jonathan Denwood: So, just to go to our last question, before we wrap up the podcast, and then we’re going to have some bonus content, I have the last question. So, you’ve integrated and adapted this sprint methodology to scrum methodology.
Laurent Maillard: Yeah. Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Everything’s an ongoing process; what are some of the critical things that you and your team, you feel that you have to really work on to improve how you get results for your clients?
Laurent Maillard: I’d say, as of today, we are working internally on, kind of; the improvements are twofold. The first one is about maintaining long-term vision, alright? When you’re working sprint over the sprint, you are consistently planning for the next two weeks of work, and, sometimes, you tend to forget about some significant milestones or minor milestones that are going to happen in the future but that you still need to prepare and you still need to fix and to plan.
So, for that, we’ve been implementing some quarterly half-day workshops with all of our clients, where we go on-site, have some more workshops, and do some brainstorming exercises with the clients to figure everything out. And we also implemented, depending on the client, we also implemented a one- or two-day onsite workshop per year, where we will define the strategies and do that; since the beginning of the year, it has been a long-lasting process, but we are integrating OKRs.
The OKRs, Methodology, Objectives, and Key Results methodology to help our clients set up better goals and define how we’re going to measure them, okay? Because that has been something that has been, kind of, difficult. And the second fold. It has been more of a technical tool problem, where we wanted the project management tool that we were using, Asana, it’s a great tool, but it wasn’t fitting our need anymore as the client base grew.
And for that, we switched to Notion, and this has been, also, a few months process to switch everything to Notion, and we are really happy with the results, and I; actually, I did, as a follow up of the WordCamp Europe, a keynote I gave, I’ve done a follow up to show people how we set up everything into Notion. And when my video guy gets some time to polish that up, we’re going to get it live for everyone.
Jonathan Denwood: Awesome. Oh, that’s great. That’s great. That’s great. I think we’re going to wrap up the podcast part, the show now, and we’re going to go into bonus content, which you’ll be able to watch the whole interview on the WP-Tonic, YouTube channel; please subscribe to it. It does really encourage both me and Andrew to get these fantastic guests. So Lauren, how can, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and your agency and your faults on what you’re up to?
Laurent Maillard: Okay. So, I’ll say that, to be completely honest, I don’t have anything to sell yet about everything we’ve been talking about, so the best way to follow up is simply to say hi on my LinkedIn account; that’s where I’m the most active. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate hit me up, I’ll be delighted to offer you a few minutes of my time, and I will, personally, answer all of your questions.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I think it’s really fantastic you made that offer because I do feel that the more traditional agency models are really broken, and I was, really, impressed with your presentation and you.
Laurent Maillard: Thank you again.
Jonathan Denwood: Looking at it in a different way. So, Andrew, what’s the best way for people to learn more about you, your thoughts, and what you’re up to?
Andrew Palmer: thisisandrewpalmer.com, Bertha.ai, and, of course, @arniepalmer on Twitter. And I tend to rabbit on about WordPress and maybe a few other posts, but they’re all mine.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Andrew Palmer: I’m responsible for them.
Jonathan Denwood: Never rabbit, I would never say that. It’s been a great interview; as I said, please go to the YouTube channel, and sign up there. We’ll be back next week with another fantastic guest. We’ll see you soon, folks. Bye.
Outro: Hey, thanks for listening; we really do appreciate it. Why not visit the mastermind Facebook group and also to keep up with the latest news, click wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
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