I Interview my co-host on the WP-Tonic show, Kurt von Ahnen of MananaNoMas

Step behind the scenes of the WP-Tonic show as I delve into this interview with my co-host, Kurt von Ahnen of MananaNoMas. Gain unique insights into his journey in WordPress and online entrepreneurship while uncovering valuable tips and strategies for success. This is your chance to tap into Kurt’s expertise – don’t miss out.

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The Show Main Interview Notes & Links

[00:00:00.000] – Jonathan Denwood

. Welcome back, folks, to the WP-Tonic This Week in WordPress and SaaS. It’s Episode 889. It’s going to be a bit of a particular show. I’m going to be interviewing my great colleague, Kurt. We’re going to be delving into his background a bit and how he got into WordPress. Kurt, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers of the show?

[00:00:41.040] – Kurt von Ahnen

Sure thing, Jonathan, thanks. My name is Kurt von Ahnen. I own an agency called MananaNoMas, and we focus primarily on membership and learning websites. I also work directly with WP-Tonic and Lifter LMS.

[00:00:53.720] – Jonathan Denwood

That’s fantastic. In this show, Kurt has a background in working with some of the largest organizations in motorsports on the executive level, and he talks about how he had to transfer his knowledge and experience into running a WordPress agency. He has worked in the training side of Motorsport, and I’ll also be discussing with him how, if you’re a WordPress agency, you might be able to present yourself to larger organizations and be treated seriously as a severe option. He’s got a wealth of knowledge. I just thought it was time to delve into that knowledge and find out more about Kirk and his background. It should be a fantastic show. But before we go into the meat and potatoes, I’ve got a couple of messages from our major sponsors. We will be back in a few moments, folks.

[00:05:29.340] – Kurt von Ahnen

Well, I can blame my addiction to motorsports on my father. My parents had split up when I was only six years old, and I think the way that my dad really ticked off my mother was he got me a motorcycle, and she hated it.

[00:05:46.960] – Jonathan Denwood

It could be worse, V, it could be worse. It could be worse things.

[00:05:51.560] – Kurt von Ahnen

It was so cool. I can still remember that it’s a… Jonathan, if you’ve ever ridden an air-cooled motorcycle before, there’s a certain feeling and a particular smell that happens when you use something like that. To this day, I can remember being six or seven years old and going to this private property, riding this motorcycle with my friends, and just feeling free. That same feeling still happens to me today. If I get on a scooter, a race bike, a dirt bike, it doesn’t matter. Two wheels and an engine, and I am just so happy on the… I giggled and laughed like a little child. So that was the start. And then I stuck with it. I was the only kid in high school that had a motorcycle. I couldn’t afford a car and car insurance. And back then, motorcycles were cheap. So I bought a Honda 400. Insurance was $60 for a year. And I wrote that thing, Rain, Snow, Sleet, hail, growing up in Philadelphia. I wrote it year-round. It’s unfortunate, but the motorcycle industry changed significantly through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium. What used to be affordable, what used to be old-school pickup trucks and fun, has turned into a rather expensive distraction.

[00:07:15.560] – Kurt von Ahnen

Now, being in the industry is not like an end to this thing. It’s almost like it’s become so expensive that you have to make other decisions. With that, you just stick with the sport. But I got going all the way through it. I road raced toward the country for about 20 years, dragging my knee around corners and having fun. I eventually started working in the car industry, along with motorcycle dealerships and then marine dealerships, and even worked in aviation for a while. I just got hooked on working in things that dealt with transportation and vehicles.

[00:07:54.230] – Jonathan Denwood

How did you start getting into the managerial side of motorsport? Because I know you’ve worked for Ducati, you’ve worked for Suzuki, you’ve worked with some of the significant motorsport brands and organizations. How did you all meet your work in the more managerial side stuff?

[00:08:16.750] – Kurt von Ahnen

This gets into a thing that some people might describe as a life hack. This is like, I should make a course and sell this.

[00:08:23.940] – Jonathan Denwood

I- You should.

[00:08:25.820] – Kurt von Ahnen

I bypassed college. My family situation was such that I even had scholarship offers coming out of high school, and I just didn’t go to college. I was working and almost instantly got into the automotive service industry and aviation and just worked the hours and boots on the ground doing the hard work, working with customers, and getting cars fixed. I had that experience at the dealer level. But when I got tired of that, I wrote a book, and that’s The Life Hack. I wrote and published a book. It’s called Service Writing in black and white. It was just a mental exercise for me. I didn’t realize it was going to sell, but then it started to sell. And Ducati bought the book, read the book, and then reached out to me. Jonathan, when the phone rang, I thought it was a prank call from one of my friends. They were like, Hey, this is Ducati North America. Is Kurt Van Oren available? I was like, Yeah, right. Whatever. It was that. They said that they read the book and liked it, and they asked if I would write a course for them to train service writers and service managers on how to increase parts and labor sales for dealerships.


[00:09:32.780] – Kurt von Ahnen

I thought, Well, I like to teach. I was already a motorcycle safety foundation coach, so I taught that course. I had my own road racing school and taught people how to race motorcycles. I thought, I like to teach. I like to write. I’ll do it. I wrote it. Jonathan, I didn’t even know how to sell it. I called him up and I said, I wrote the course. What do you guys want to do? Do you want to pay for this? Do you want to buy this? Do you want to rent it? I don’t even know how to do this. Then and it just grew into, they said, Well, we don’t have anyone to teach it. Would you teach it? We don’t have anyone to facilitate the meetings. Would you facilitate the meetings in Las Vegas? It just grew and grew and grew, and they became my biggest contract. By this time, I had left the automotive industry and working at dealerships, and that’s when I had started my WordPress agency. I was making websites for all kinds of businesses in Albuquerque and struggling because I wasn’t selling things at a high enough entry point. Then Ducati came along, hired me as a contractor, and they became my biggest client.


[00:10:34.550] – Jonathan Denwood

Right. How long did that relation… It hasn’t ended. I don’t think you’ve let you burn bridges with them. It’s just been changed. People move on. But how long did that involvement last for?


[00:10:52.190] – Kurt von Ahnen

I contracted with them for about three and a half, four years, and then they had an internal position open up for training. They hired me away from myself, Jonathan. They made the offer. At first they said, You have a thriving business. We didn’t think you’d want to come to work for us. I said, You make the offer, and I’ll tell you if it’s good enough or not. They made the offer. I talked it over with my wife. We packed the car and moved to California. That was my first OEM-level position, right? I was full-time. I was in-.


[00:11:25.240] – Jonathan Denwood

It must have been a bit of a culture shock for you.


[00:11:30.200] – Kurt von Ahnen

Huge culture shock. People don’t understand the differences sometimes from the outside looking in. People think Ducati is this huge company, this huge corporation, and their brand is huge, but their operations are not. There was only 30 or 35 people in the office. It was a pretty small office in Cupertino, California. It has since moved. It was really interesting for me. The culture of being run by an attorney- Can I?


[00:11:59.760] – Jonathan Denwood

I don’t want to interrupt, but I just want to get a feeling. Is the car to USA a totally independent company organization to the parent company, which I have very limited knowledge, but I know the car to is now part of the Volkswagen group. I don’t know if the car to its corporate presence is still based in Italy and it must have some supervision of Volkswagen over it. But is the US an independent company, or is it just linked to the Italian-.


[00:12:41.790] – Kurt von Ahnen

My understanding is it’s a subsidiary. There’s Ducati North America, and that does Canada, United States, and Mexico, and then DMH is Ducati Motor Holdings, which is out of Bologna, Italy. They’re under direct supervision, but my understanding is they do a lot of things independently as well.


[00:13:00.270] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, because I think this is quite a common structure. Am I correct about that?


[00:13:05.390] – Kurt von Ahnen

Yes. Most people, when they think of an OEM in the United States like Suzuki, Triumphe, you just go through all the brands, they’re not really manufacturers in the true sense of being a manufacturer, they’re distributors. They import the product to the United States and then they distribute it. Realistically, and this might rub people the wrong way, but some of them aren’t even enthusiasts for the sport. They could sell toasters. They could sell waterbeds. They don’t care, right? They’re moving product. And then, of course, they have the dealer network to maintain.


[00:13:41.840] – Jonathan Denwood

Their business is business. Their business, they come from either business school background, traditionally doing the NBA at one of the higher MBA schools, or they’re from accountancy background or MBA background. They’re about the management of management and figures, which are very important aspects, but they normally don’t have really a deep knowledge or culture understanding of the particular industry that they’re involved in. A lot of them don’t even want to know. But I think myself that is a mistake. But on the other hand, I just don’t want to come out with this nonsense or they’re just suits. I think finance is important. I think understanding the fundamentals of the financial drivers of a business is really very important, and having somebody that has a deeper knowledge of business is also important. I think it’s a blend. I think it’s all important. That’s why it’s not easy, because I think it’s all important. You started working with Ducati, which is a legend, is a pretty legend in the motor sport. If you got that on your resume in the motor sport, motorcycle, it’s a bit like saying you work with Rolls-Royce. Then there was move to Suzuki, which in some ways was even a higher, I’d just sense, your interaction with the parent company and the culture was even a bigger jump in some ways than the Ducati.


[00:15:45.390] – Jonathan Denwood

How did the jump from the Ducati? I presume there was a direct jump from the Ducati to Suzuki, but am I correct about that?


[00:15:54.250] – Kurt von Ahnen

Yeah, I took a week or two off. That’s when I got John Maxwell certified, during the break between the two. That’s I got the leadership certification. But I should point out, like Ducati is by far the most plugged in, passionate power sports company I’ve ever been connected to at all levels. Even the current management that’s in North America now, I would still say that they are as passionate as they were when I was there. It’s a phenomenally strong brand and passionate company. When you went… When you go from a company like Ducati and that Italian passion, and you go to a company like Suzuki, the culture is completely different. You’re dealing with volumes that are that dwarf Ducati. They sell.


[00:16:45.680] – Jonathan Denwood

More DSXRs. Tell me if I’m interrupting, but the other factor is obviously Ducati is part, in some ways, I’m not correct about this, because Ducati is part of Volkswagen, but I sense that they give Ducati is a really very separate company and Volkswagen, I wouldn’t say just leaves them to their own devices, that would be simplistic, but it is a really separate brand in entity. With Suzuki, the motorcycle and the motorspool, I’m only presuming that I was going to see if you’re probably right here, this is a very large company that had to give up the motor car element in the US, but has a worldwide, has a very quite large presence in motor cars, in the marine, in various aspects, very similar to Yamaha and onda. They’ve got a lot of fingers and a lot of pies. It’s a major Japanese-based manufacturer. I just wanted you to point that out to the listeners and viewers.


[00:18:03.890] – Kurt von Ahnen

People in America really don’t have a grasp on how big Suzuki is. It is immense. They run something like 60% of the market in India with their product. Suzuki’s modus operandi is to introduce their entry-level cars to burgeoning markets. So when a country is starting to climb out of poverty and people are starting to get cars, Suzuki shows up with all these entry-level cars and they seize the market. They just flood it with their product at a very good entry point.


[00:18:39.480] – Jonathan Denwood

Price point.


[00:18:40.570] – Kurt von Ahnen

And they just have market share like crazy. That’s part of the reason Toyota joined them and does business with them because they’re sharing their hybrid technology with Suzuki for the future. Suzuki is helping to introduce some of Toyota’s models to these markets that they have these giant holds on. It’s an amazing, when you get down to it, it’s really an amazing thing. To answer your question about the Volkswagen thing, to steal words directly from the people I worked with at Volkswagen, they believe in a thing called brand sanctity. That was their phrase. I really enjoyed working for their organization. If I could roll back the time a little bit, I’d almost love to do a little more with them. They have Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche, all these brands. Volkswagen will give you anything you need. They’ll give you all the tools you need for your own success. But as long as you’re experiencing success and growth, they stay out of your backyard and they let you maintain your culture, maintain your production methods, but they’re there to help you when you need that boost. It’s the perfect business combination to me of how you let people experience success.


[00:19:56.070] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, I would agree with you. You move to Suzuki and you’re a better offer. But then I think with the couple of conversations and the couple of hints, I think you found the corporate culture there difficult to deal with. Because you always got hired to develop and this is how you’ve ended up helping me, helping Lifta, running your own agency because they hired you for training to build on, to find a training platform. That’s how you got introduced to WordPress because you were looking at all types of platforms and they hired you to develop internal training for their dealers. I’m probably gone about this, but you tell the.


[00:20:52.410] – Kurt von Ahnen

Story, gone. They had a Scorn-based proprietary learning platform, and it was built years and years and years ago. The user had a great user experience, but us on the back end trying to manage it and build it, it was a little bit of a nightmare. A modern Scorn platform, you load up your zip file, and it takes that course, and it expands it and makes it run online. This particular platform, we couldn’t load up zip files. We had to send them to the vendor. The vendor would break apart the package and stitch it back together in this platform. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. It would take us weeks to get material online for our learners. Besides being not very functional for what I wanted, it was hugely expensive. Huge, like a lot of money. I’m not going to share numbers, but it was a lot of money. I thought with my work in WordPress and the stuff I had done as an agency previous to my OEM work, there’s got to be a better answer to this. I did the research. I looked at LearnDash, I looked at Tutor LMS, I looked at Lifter LMS.


[00:22:01.780] – Kurt von Ahnen

I started working on some of my own projects in Lifter LMS, and I really like the company culture at Lifter. I proposed building this thing for Suzuki and Lifter, and they turned it down. They said they weren’t ready for that change at that space and time. I remember that’s right around when I was on your show the first time we were talking about that when I first left Suzuki. I ended up building a package for them in the Marine Division to help with dealers. So the thing to remember is Suzuki is a big company, but each of those elements is a big company in its own right. They have Suzuki Marine, Suzuki PowerSports, Suzuki Automotive. I ended up building a project for the Marine Division on Lifter LMS. I really liked the way that it came out, and I really liked the bottom line. From a corporate position to look at something that could have been over six figures to something that costs less than 10 grand to implement, it’s like, I hate to say it’s a no-brainer because I think that insults people that make other decisions, but I could not wrap my head around why a corporation wouldn’t want to save 90%.


[00:23:12.370] – Jonathan Denwood

Because I wanted to talk… Because I think you brought up a really interesting element and it’s linked to the next question, really, and we can… What are some of the major lessons you’ve learnt connected to running your WordPress agency? I just want to put this, I think when you’re dealing up, this is my observation, when you’re dealing with larger organizations, let’s say over 50 people, let’s say—I’m just pulling this out of the e-fer, really. Over the 1-5 million gross turnover per year and from 1-50 person. When you’re dealing with large organizations, I think their mindset is totally different. Obviously, they don’t want to be totally ripped off, but their really concern is not solely price-driven to some extent. It’s about, will the FIN do what it says and will the support be ongoing and will we integrate with our other systems? That’s their mindset. Am I wrong about that? Because you’ve got more experience in some ways. I have done work for larger organizations, but I’ve not actually worked on executive level in an organization like that. What I’ve just outlined, is there any truth to it, Kurt?


[00:24:52.620] – Kurt von Ahnen

There’s truth to that, but there’s so many other layers that go into it, Jonathan. You got to remember, at most corporate entities that are larger, the people that got to the vice president’s desk or the president’s desk, they’ve been there for a while in most cases. Some of those dudes are just trying to get to the end. That’s one of the saddest things about my corporate experience, is that you’ll see people that are, You have potential. We could change this. We could really ramp this up. We could make this better for the people. They’re like, Now we’re not ready for that change yet. Let’s just stay the course. Because they just want to squeak to the end of their term so they can get the retirement and get out.


[00:25:39.450] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, it’s risk management, isn’t it?


[00:25:42.050] – Kurt von Ahnen

It’s absolute risk management. The other side of the coin, and I know this for a fact. When I was talking to my vice president at Suzuki, the reason I looked at other platforms besides the WordPress and making Lifter myself for the company, they flat out said, You work for us. We don’t want to put all these cookies in your cookie jar. What happens if you leave? What happens if this? What happens if that? We had to start looking at other vendors like Bridge, LearnUpon, SumTotal, and some other options for LMS providers at the corporate level so that the corporation wouldn’t be dependent upon me to maintain this thing internally.


[00:26:23.540] – Jonathan Denwood

Which in some ways is an understandable position, isn’t it? Yeah. You can understand the logic of it, Corney. Oh, I do.


[00:26:30.130] – Kurt von Ahnen

Absolutely. Yeah. But even when you look at those pricey things, those would have been great savings to that company at that time, but they just didn’t want to make the change. You run into that a lot when you get into corporate. When you hear other entrepreneurs talk about how corporations are slow to make decisions or slow to make changes, it’s not always based on a spreadsheet. It’s not always based on a lot of it’s just, what’s the survival technique to get to the end of that career mark and leave it for someone else to take care of? That sounds like a horrible thing to say about people, but that’s just the truth of it.


[00:27:07.960] – Jonathan Denwood

No, because I do a lot of… Increasingly, I’ve been doing more and more business-to-business outreach. One of the criteria I utilize LinkedIn is I look for job change. There’s a criteria to touch base with them because that’s when there’s the possibility of change being in the connected. It’s cruel. What are some of the other lessons you’ve learned by running a WordPress agency?


[00:27:39.800] – Kurt von Ahnen

If I think back to the beginning of it, Jonathan, I think the best advice to give people thinking about doing it themselves would be you have to know your niche. You have to know who are you serving and what your offer going to be. Because when I came out, Jonathan, I was helping startups. I was referred to a lot of customers through the Economic Development Center in South Albuquerque. I have a lot of incoming new businesses, and they didn’t have budgets. I ended up thinking about a ton of mediocre websites, getting them up just four or five-page sites, just getting them up. The problem is you end up with hundreds of websites. When you look at your bank account, you’re like, I don’t even know if I can pay rent. You’re just working, working, working. I think at some level, you have to start to recognize, What’s my skill set? What is my offer? And how does this thing scale or grow?


[00:28:40.490] – Jonathan Denwood

I think a lot of people in the WordPress freelance, then if they want to go their age, a lot of freelancers do not want to go down the agency route because they do not want to have to manage people, which is totally understandable. I’ve chose to have a… I hire freelancers and then I try and build a relationship with a small team of people that I have relationships with ongoing. But a lot of people don’t even want to do that. They just want a freelancer. But I think everybody who’s been there, that you just take on the work that is available. But what you’ve got to attempt to do is exactly what you’ve outlined. You’ve got to find what type of customer, what type of industry, what type of scenario you seem to click with. That varies with each freelancer, developer, a quasi-agency owner. It just varies. But the sooner you can find that niche, the better I think it’s going to be. I think question three, I think we touched on upon it in around question two, really, because it was a rep… What you did in touch was, because I think your relationship with Suzuki ended because they basically decided that training wasn’t that important.


[00:30:19.460] – Jonathan Denwood

It could be removed completely and passed on to the dealer network and let them do whatever they wanted to do. I think you said they just got rid of the whole department.


[00:30:32.530] – Kurt von Ahnen

Yeah. I can’t exactly say it like just leave it up to the dealer and they’ll figure it out, right? They still have training material that they make somehow, some way. But I used to run a team of five people, and I had someone that was a eLearning specialist and then a guy that wrote technical journals because we had to do all the service manuals and journals and emails and all that too. That whole department got shut down. In 2020, right before COVID, they closed a bunch of things. They closed down product development, they closed down training, they closed down the internal customer service lines. Man, they just shut down a bunch of stuff. When I left Suzuki, I wasn’t angry. Business is business.


[00:31:20.220] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, it’s a flicker that you never know what’s coming. Yeah.


[00:31:24.630] – Kurt von Ahnen

I wasn’t angry, but I said, Okay, am I going to get another corporate job? Because now I’ve done corporate for 10 years. Am I getting another corporate job? Or am I going to relaunch Mounyana No Mass and go after this thing with a Fever pitch? I tried both. I tried getting work and I tried relaunching the agency. During COVID, getting work was not happening. I just kept taking every deal I could get with Mounyana No Mass. Here we are. I’m your co-host. I work directly with Lifter LMS, and I’ve got a couple of really great projects under my belt.


[00:31:59.220] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah. I like working with other people. I know some people that are highly intelligent, but for various reasons they are incapable of working in a group scenario. I don’t think I’m one of those. I am an independent spirit. But actually, I believe that there should be honest discussion in a group of people and in a collective decision made and outside that decision, you shouldn’t rubbish the people that made the decision, but there should be honest discussion in private and there should be collective decision making. And then there should be agreement about how criteria should be how we measure is our decision making based on reality. I think in the other system is the tutorial and delusionary based. But I’m amazed about how many organizations, business don’t run on those basic principles. They say they are run on those principles, but they’re not.


[00:33:08.710] – Kurt von Ahnen

I don’t know if- Practice many aren’t, yeah. There’s a big difference between what’s said, what’s printed, and what’s done.


[00:33:15.640] – Jonathan Denwood

But I think leadership is essential, somebody… But that leadership should come… It should be the basis of the British political system, cabinet government. You have a Prime Minister, but you’re supposed to have a cabinet and there should be a discussion of all policies and the Prime Minister and the people around him are the front of the cabinet, the people that explain. But that’s all broken down for various reasons that no longer exists in Britain. But I don’t think it exists in a lot of companies now. I’m not going to go in, but it’s just my observation. We’re going to go for our break. Hopefully, I wasn’t boring you there, listeners and viewers. I was whaffling a little bit, but I think I’ve kept it on topic. We’re going to go for our break. It’s been a fascinating discussion so far. I’ve got some other great questions for Gert. We will be back in a few moments, folks. This podcast episode is brought to you by Lifter LMS, the leading learning management system and a solution for WordPress. If you or your client are creating any online course, training-based, membership website, or any type of eLearning project, Lifter LMS is the most secure, stable, well-supported solution on the market.


[00:34:47.710] – Jonathan Denwood

Go to LifterLMS. Com and save 20 % at checkout with coupon code, podcast 20. That’s podcast two zero. Enjoy the rest of your show. We’re coming back, folks. We’ve had a great discussion about working for large international organizations about Kirk’s moving to WordPress or coming back to WordPress, what he’s learned, I think it’s been fab. I just want to point out, if you want to support the show, be a real member of the tribe, why don’t you think about hosting your clients’ websites with WP Engine? Basically, we specialize in buddyboss, Lifter, LMS, LearnDash, larger membership websites, community-focused websites. We provide really great hosting that won’t stress you out on these prices, plus a suite of plug-ins that you can utilize on your customer projects, plus a customized interface so you can actually manage your projects yourself. It’s a great setup. To find out more and we love you to become part of the tribe, is go over to wp-tonic. Com/partners, w-tonic/partners and have a look at what we got offer and have a chat with me and we see if we’re a good fit. On we go. What are some of the lessons? I think you mentioned, I call it niche-fine.


[00:36:29.020] – Jonathan Denwood

I don’t think there’s actually a word niche-ifying, this niche, but I created nicheifying and I just love the sound of it and I’ve done that consistently, make my own words. I call it nicheifying. What I was reflecting back a little bit, because it’s the time of year to do that type of thing, over the… You’ve been my co-host for almost 12 months now, which is unbelievable how time flies. You’ve dealt with my madness. I think one of my strengths, you can have honest discussion with me. I might be deluded there, but hopefully you agree with that. I can change my position if faced with facts, can’t I? But what are some of the things you’ve learned over the 12, 18 months so far that you might not have considered that’s coming your focus a bit?


[00:37:29.090] – Kurt von Ahnen

I think if we really focus on 12-18 months, Jonathan, I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned, especially in the WordPress space, is not to get too distracted with that shiny object syndrome. We’ve had full site editing rollout, full steam ahead with the 6.3 launch of WordPress. Ai is the buzzword that everyone talks about. You want to be knowledgeable about these things, but you can’t be by them if you’re trying to grow and scale an agency. I personally feel if I focus on my relationships and I focus on the customer groups that I’m trying to approach or infiltrate, if I focus on the relationships and I Excel at the basics. For my basics, it’s all my projects are on time and under budget. That’s my niche if I had one, would be on time and under budget. I don’t mess with my clients like that. So if I focus on those basics and I don’t get overly distracted by these shiny objects, I’m able to grow and scale at a pretty steady rate.


[00:38:39.610] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, I think one of the things that I’ve learned is that there is a semi-culture and it’s totally understandable of blaming because there are a lot of clients. There’s what I call semi-crazy and there’s full-crazy. The full-crazies do come on your radar and if you take them on, good luck to you. They are out there and you might take them on because financially you’ve got no choice or you don’t… You’re dealing with somebody and then I’ve dealt with somebody initially and then after the contract signed, I’ve just been passed over to the crazy. You always need to know who you’re going to be working because that’s happened to me and it’s not a great experience. The other thing is, but the fact you’ve got to take into account, I’ve learnt this the hard way, if you’re listening to this and you’re a freelancer and agency owner, if you’re agency owner, you should know this, but I’m probably talking more to the freelancer. If there’s a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled. What I mean, if you do not have a contract and a clear internal process, the vacuum will be taken up by the customer.


[00:40:15.000] – Jonathan Denwood

The customer, the client, doesn’t know what they’re doing. You should know. They should be processed from the beginning, from every part of the process of building out a solution to a business. You need process. If there’s no process, that process will be filled by the client’s process. What are your views on what I’ve just outlined, Kurt?


[00:40:46.390] – Kurt von Ahnen

I’m thinking that you read the inside cover to my leadership book I just published. In Action Leadership from the Edge, that’s exactly what I talk about. I talk about leadership being an action item, and that if you don’t embrace your natural call to leadership, you create that vacuum. You create that leadership void. The universe hates voids. They get filled. It’s the same with work, exactly what you said. If you don’t forecast milestones or tasks throughout a project, if you’re not managing the project, Scope Creek takes over, and next thing you know, the customer’s doubled, tripled, quadrupled your workload, and you really don’t have much to stand on other than to get the project done and get out from underneath it, which in some cases is very difficult to do.


[00:41:34.230] – Jonathan Denwood

Yes, especially the medium-sized projects. They become extremely messy and they become real, true financial loss leaders. Obviously, a smaller project, you can still take a financial hit, but it’s only going to be marginal and you hope future work. But when you get into the medium-sized projects, they can be a substantial financial hit if you get substantial creep creep, which will happen in a vacuum, you’re deluded. Because you’ve got to understand, and I just want to put this to you to see if you agree with me or you think I’m not being incorrect. There is a diet. We’ve got to be realistic here, and if you’re listening to this podcast, I love your feedback about this, listeners and those are yours. We don’t get enough feedback in this podcast from you. I love you to outreach to Kirk and myself about what guests, what subjects you would like us to discuss into 2024 because we just do not get enough feedback from you, tribe. We need to get more feedback from you. But I think between the 3,000 to 10,000 mark, I think the type of clientele that come to most WordPress agencies, they’re looking for a solution and they’ve got to feel that you have the ability to do the solution.


[00:43:14.200] – Jonathan Denwood

But they’re also looking to get the maximized value from you. We got to be brutally frank about this. They’re looking to get the best deal for their buck possible. They’re shopping, but they’re always making a judgment call. We’re shopping, but can that individual, that agency produce what they say they’re going to produce at the quality that we’re looking for? But they’re always shopping and they’re always looking for what I call maximum value. Larger jobs, it’s more ongoing relationship, ongoing other factors. In that matrix that I’ve just outlined, if you have a void, that void will be filled in with extra value requests. They will just pour in. What’s your response to what I just said? Is there any truth or what’s your own take on what was outlined?


[00:44:16.640] – Kurt von Ahnen

You nailed that in the real world pretty well, Jonathan. I mean, if people read between your words, they should understand. There needs to be a little bit more of a panic in the discovery process. People, I think, skip a lot of the discovery process and don’t get the nitty-gritty questions answered. They’re in such a hurry to close the deal and get a deposit or swipe a credit card.


[00:44:40.620] – Jonathan Denwood

They think- Well, yeah. I’m sorry to interrupt. I wasn’t being… I’m not being rude, but the only problem with what I’m saying is that a lot of customers do not know.


[00:44:54.650] – Kurt von Ahnen

They don’t even know what they want.


[00:44:55.930] – Jonathan Denwood

They don’t even know what they want. Even if you’re on the bigger jobs folks at WPtonic, we do charge for paid discovery. We do offer discounts if the project is… We try and be fair to clientele, but we do insist because it… But the probably even… There’s a lot of people that have sold courses and sold solution to agency owners that paid discovery will solve all the problems. It doesn’t, listen-owners, tribe members, it doesn’t, because it doesn’t deal with a lot of clients that don’t know what they need. They have no idea. It only occurs to them in the middle part of the project, and then that leads to what I call honest go creep. There’s dishonest where they always had a gender, which they never told you about. That’s dishonest scope creep about then. But the bulk of clientele, it’s not what I call dishonest scope creep. It’s that they never knew from day one. Can you see where I’m coming from, Kirk, or do you think I’m on the route?


[00:46:19.540] – Kurt von Ahnen

Oh, no, there’s definitely that. That’s why having project management in place and a way to track tasks and milestones is so important and it do updates along the way because that honest scope creep is real. And when they change the scope of the project in that process, say, you do a review and you say, This is where you add in the customer information. And then they go, Oh, we want to just upload that with a CSV file. And then you go, Okay, well, that’s different. That’s a different function. So if you want to automate this process, we can add that to the project because it wasn’t originally scoped as part of the project. So as long as you have these meetings and these changes with scope creep and you acknowledge that that scope creep or additional scope, then you can play with your deadlines and your budgets, or you can take away from part of the project in another area. But if you think you’re going to sign up a client and work on something for four months and give it to them and say it’s done at the end, the chances of them being happy is pretty slim because what they expect and what you built are probably three different things.


[00:47:27.360] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, you just touched on something else I want to put to you based on my experience. If a project in the website, I’m not talking about ongoing services like support, social media, copywriting, and what I classify now as digital PR services. I’m talking about web development design projects, folks. If you’re looking at anything that cannot be finished between three and six months, I’ve had projects mostly driven by clients that have ghosted and that have disappeared for months. You really got to have that in your contract and have penalty payments written in your contract because I’ve let that go. This is in my past, folks. The project is extended for nine months to ten months. They never end well. They always are filled with scope creep and you always end up the client blaming you. They never accepted that they ghosted you for three, four, five months. Or what normally happens is they ghost you for six weeks and then there’s a panic and then they ghost you another six, seven weeks and then there’s another panic and it’s an ongoing pattern of microghosting, as I call it. That’s what I call it, I call it microgosting.


[00:49:06.940] – Jonathan Denwood

They always end up blaming the agency. Now, especially if you’re dealing with organizations that have committees or multiple decision-makers, the set 50-50 or the third-third-third setup do not work because you get into an extended build-up consultation scenario. You’re better off going with a retainer, that row-over retainer. What I mean is you have a set retainer every month and you keep a record of hours from your team and you allow the hours to row over to the next month and you agree they give you a layout of the project and you say, Well, that normally takes six months, well, that takes 12 months, and it’s done with a row over a retainer. That normally ends more favorably. But these fixed price projects, a fixed price project that goes over then six months, based on my experience, Kurt is doomed to failure. He’s doomed and clientele never… The clientele that my ProGhost never accepts their dysfunctionality. They always place the dysfunctionality upon the freelance and the agency owner. What’s your response to what I’ve just outlined?


[00:50:43.640] – Kurt von Ahnen

Well, you nailed that. As the agency owner, when you’re doing these update meetings, you constantly have to… This is so awkward. A lot of people think that as the agency, the customer is the project manager because the customer is going to be like.


[00:51:02.380] – Jonathan Denwood

We’re just not- If you think that, you’re really going to go down a bad right way.


[00:51:06.800] – Kurt von Ahnen

You’re totally out. If you are the agency, you are the project manager, and you can only build what you have content to build with. Either you’re getting paid to make the content, or the client is responsible to give you content to put into this structure.


[00:51:22.640] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, that used to be a very painful because a lot of the projects, especially the individuals below 10,000 that were looking for maximum value, always wanted to write the copy. Then if you wanted to hire anybody that was US-based, that had any idea, it got very expensive. That is not so bad. Using AI, you can get copy. It’s not going to be fantastically sales-orientated, but it will allow you to get the job done and the clientele can either modify it or we can hire somebody. I don’t think copywriters should be that worried. I think if you’re lower level, you’ve got things to worry about. But I think if you can add value to sales-orientated copy that actually works and advisory elements to your packages, I think you still got a decent way of making a living if you’re copy-focused. But that always used to be a extremely painful discussion between the $3,000 to $10,000 price point. But I think AI helps solve that to some degree. But I don’t want to over-emphasise. It’s not the holy grail, but at least it stops you. Because that was a very painful scenario because, Oh, we have produced the content.


[00:52:54.870] – Jonathan Denwood

Oh, we’re struggling. There are thousands and excuses there.


[00:53:02.590] – Kurt von Ahnen

Yeah, and that’s the stuff that you can build all the structure and have the automations in place and the templates, the containers where you want them. But if they don’t agree on the content and it goes over 30, 60, 90 days, you are on a pathway for disaster.


[00:53:19.410] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, the more time this project needs, the more vacuum there is, the more scope for scope creep.


[00:53:27.740] – Kurt von Ahnen

The more.


[00:53:28.660] – Jonathan Denwood

The clientele. I’m paying this money out. I’m giving this guy, this woman, this team a load of money. We’ve got no website. It’s just bleeding us. They won’t accept that they never provided the copy to copy. They will never accept that they’re consistently micro-ghost. The agency, the freelancer, they won’t. None of that. If you bring it up, that’s when it gets heated because they won’t accept any of it. We have paid you. You’re the one that’s supposed to have produced the job. Then it gets Nancy, as I say, it gets ugly. I’m up for it, actually. You’ve seen me in operation, haven’t you? I’m prepared to spell it out if it’s necessary. I didn’t used to be that. I used to avoid it, but it does not work. What’s your response to that?


[00:54:22.040] – Kurt von Ahnen

My response is we were going to talk about how people would get their foot in the door with bigger projects. Now, in the last 10 minutes, we’ve scared people away from.


[00:54:32.700] – Jonathan Denwood

Wanting bigger projects. But I think we’re having an honest discussion, which a lot of podcasts, a lot of so-called experts, advising agencies, freelancers, they’re just full of shit. They’re just full of shit, folks. They’re just giving you. But if you have processes and you work on it, things will go easier for you. Let’s go on to the final question, because I don’t want it to be too negative. I don’t think it has actually. I think we just told people based on my honest and your honest experience what the realities are.


[00:55:09.970] – Kurt von Ahnen

Well, I think one statement that I hear from a lot of other agency owners, because we network with a lot of people, Jonathan, is almost everybody has experienced small customers, people with a lack of budget generally turned into a real pain in the rear end to finish and get done. And then it seems like the more people pay, the smoother the project goes. Every time I up my game and I get better quality clients and higher budgets, the projects are much easier to maintain. If anything else, hopefully that’s an inspiration for people that are looking for scale and growth to go, Oh, if I sell bigger packages.


[00:55:50.880] – Jonathan Denwood

Maybe they are. I see where you’re coming from, and then you hear that a lot. But I think it’s also about process. If you have concrete processes and you have proper contracts and you have… The only thing is there is a lot. There’s 2-3 people that consistently sell membership solutions to agencies that say paid discovery will solve all your problems and it’s a lie. It is important. We do it, I do it for larger… We have certain price triggers that if the person has to pay upfront, we don’t ask for discovery because they’re set packages, packageised services. But if it’s custom, fully custom projects, we have over certain price point, listeners, we have paid discovery. But it’s not a elixir that will solve all your problems because it doesn’t solve the problem with the client that honestly doesn’t know what they’re looking for. It just won’t. I’m not going to name them, but there’s about three people that regularly turn up that got a new course. It’s always about if paid discovery will solve all your problems, it won’t. On to the next thing. What business tools and services that you utilize daily, weekly, monthly that help you run your agency and help you do your work?


[00:57:29.060] – Jonathan Denwood

Can you name a few names and new things that come to your head?


[00:57:33.290] – Kurt von Ahnen

Well, one of the tools that I use that you might think is awkward to bring up is I got one of those remarkable two tablets that you can write on for your notes and stuff. I take really great notes from every business meeting that I have, and those notes are completely searchable.


[00:57:49.780] – Jonathan Denwood

All within that time. I don’t, because that’s down to my dyslexia. I’ve got a pretty good memory, but it’s not fallible as I get older and I’m old now.


[00:57:59.590] – Kurt von Ahnen

Yeah, I prefer to write and draw.


[00:58:03.080] – Jonathan Denwood

My notes rather than write. You should always do that. I wish I could do that. But AI has helped me enormously. I’ve invested a lot of money and learning. I think the last year, the AI tools that I invested are really paying off DiverDans to me. We might have a internal discussion in the new year about certain AI tools that I’ve utilized that’ve really made a difference in my agency. Give us some feedback, listen to the tribe members, if you want to hear that show. Otherwise, you’re not going to get it. The tablet, anything else?


[00:58:45.320] – Kurt von Ahnen

It’s the tools that we all use, but we take for granted now. Streamyard, we’re doing this right now. I run a ton of meetings on StreamYard. I run a ton in Zoom. And then I also do Whereby for meetings inside my own websites. Sometimes I want the meeting to be Zoom, somewhere like a big room of people, off-brand. Then other times, I really want to drive people to my site. So sometimes I put the meeting inside my site using Whereby. I also listen to a lot of ebooks to try and keep myself motivated and on target because I work remotely. Sometimes that lack of interaction in person with people, you just want to hear some other words, some other advice, some other ideas. I’ll listen to Audible and I’ll go through a lot of audiobooks while I’m doing stuff. Then I have my own podcast. The Manyana de Mas podcast is done on Spotify for podcasters, so I use that tool. Then LinkedIn. I meet a lot of folks through LinkedIn, and I’m not going to say I monetize LinkedIn. I hate when people say that, but.


[00:59:52.220] – Jonathan Denwood

I- It’s an easy reason, isn’t it?


[00:59:56.570] – Kurt von Ahnen

I do love much of the networking.


[00:59:58.590] – Jonathan Denwood



[00:59:59.480] – Kurt von Ahnen

And then obviously there’s the WordPress and the tech stack that you and I are both familiar with and how we build our products.


[01:00:06.020] – Jonathan Denwood

The thing is, I do specific industries and I’ve upped my LinkedIn game because you said you and I pay for premium. The past few months I’ve been up in my game, but it’s in particularly industry sectors. But the outreach, or what… I don’t mind many people approaching me through LinkedIn, what I hate is them trying to sell to me straight away. What I mean by that, I’m upfront with it, but I always try and offer some value. I try and offer free PDF or free resource. I think it’s totally fair to say I’m looking, do you want a discussion? This is how we can help you. But also here’s this free resource, because it might not be the right time. It’s all about timing. I don’t know about the management. There’s a.


[01:00:58.590] – Kurt von Ahnen

Whole culture around LinkedIn. Sorry, go on. There’s a whole culture around LinkedIn and so many people are missing it. That cold email, in-mail thing that they offer that everyone spams you with, do you want PMP training or do you want to make 73 new appointments every month? Or that’s garbage.


[01:01:15.840] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, but I do a little bit of that. I offer PTF.


[01:01:20.130] – Kurt von Ahnen

I offer-.


[01:01:21.470] – Jonathan Denwood



[01:01:21.690] – Kurt von Ahnen

Offer value.


[01:01:22.610] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, I try and offer something to somebody and if it isn’t the right time, I’m not going to buzz you. You get these people that they don’t lay it. They don’t back off. You’re showing no interest and then it’s 15 messages later, isn’t it?


[01:01:38.580] – Kurt von Ahnen

You got to block them.


[01:01:39.850] – Jonathan Denwood

In the end, you block them, don’t you? It’s self-defeating. Also, I think LinkedIn, because they’re using automated systems and LinkedIn is really try to hit them hard because they got to because it will destroy LinkedIn as well. On to our last question. Obviously, you know I’m English, never guess would you? I’ve been living in America, but I lived in England for 40 years and I always see myself culturally as being very English. I’ve got no plans to go back to the UK, even though I’ve still got friends and family that I’m close to. It’s just the weather, folks. The weather in the winter is brutal, and anybody from England that tells you any different, they’re a liar. I’m a great fan of Dr. Who and the time machine. If you had your own time machine and you could go back for an hour and just have a beer, have a chat with yourself, would there be one or two things that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career that you understand now?

[01:02:58.170] – Kurt von Ahnen

Jonathan, I think there are one or two things, and this is probably more personal than the listeners are used to hearing, but I did not have enough confidence in myself as a young man. On the outside, I appeared gregarious and confident. But on the inside, in third grade, someone said, What do you want to do when you get older? I said I wanted to write a book. They literally laughed at me and said, You don’t even like English class, dude. Why would you write a book? Then if you remember the conversation we just had, publishing that book in 2007 is what led to my career in the OEM PowerSports world. If I would have dismissed the naysayers and the haters earlier in life, I probably would have.

[01:03:43.370] – Jonathan Denwood

Experienced- There’s a bloody lot of them, isn’t there? There is. Unfortunately, there are some great people in WordPress, but there are some real shits in WordPress. You’d slightly disagree, but there are, to be honest, there are some real keyboard warriors that are out in the WordPress community that just get delighted in just shitting on everything and everybody. It’s just depressing, but I’ve just chosen to… I’ve had a couple of rants, but you look at the totality of how I’ve responded, I’ve just used to lies that negative energy to refocus. Hopefully, you would agree on that. I know you’ve had to deal with a couple of shitty times with me where I’ve just ranted on. Chris Badgers, who’s a great friend, has listened a couple of times to my ranting. But in totality, I’ve been proud about it, but there is a particular group in the WordPress community that are total shits. They’re all thou people, and everybody knows them and tries to avoid them like the plague, but he is. But there are also some really fantastic people, isn’t it? Yeah, I know. I totally agree with you because I had a terrible educational experience as a reasonably intelligent dyslexic.

[01:05:06.640] – Jonathan Denwood

I was hated by my schools, hated by the establishment. That’s why I’ve always had compassion for outsiders and people who struggle because I’ve been there myself. Because if you don’t fit into the system, the system really makes it rough for you, doesn’t it?

[01:05:26.360] – Kurt von Ahnen

It does. Everyone’s got a different learning style, but the system doesn’t appreciate that.

[01:05:32.290] – Jonathan Denwood

Nor does it want to know.

[01:05:33.980] – Kurt von Ahnen

Does it? Yeah, doesn’t encourage it. When I look at things that were overcome and things that shaped my character, I wouldn’t necessarily change events, even the adverse events, because they’re part of what makes you who you are. But I’m 56 now, Jonathan, and it seems like I’m just now coming out of my shell and recognizing my expertise in power sports, leadership, project management, and more. But I did all these jobs for 40 years, and even as a 50-year-old person, I still felt like the child in the room.

[01:06:10.270] – Jonathan Denwood

Yes, it was pretty strange. Just listen to me and Kirk, if you’re a younger man or woman, find your niche, become a thought leader, build your tribe, build your community, or pay dividends. It’s the one thing that can never be taken from you, losing a corporate job or a significant client. Doug, I think it’s been a great Thanksgiving special. I think it’s been a fabulous discussion. What’s the best way for people to find… Now, find your podcast and more information about you in general, Kurt.

[01:06:49.970] – Kurt von Ahnen

The podcast is called Maniana Nomas. It’s on Apple, Spotify, Anchor, and all the big channels. I also publish all the episodes on my own site, out on MananaNoMas. I’ve got a pretty robust site there and a pretty strong offer. I’m on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great way to get in touch. Make the connection. I’ve got a LinkedIn strategy that does not spam you, so you’re safe to hit a connection link, and we’ll go that route.

[01:07:17.630] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, that’s the elephant. It automatically replies when you connect, and you get an automatic pitch. Oh, my God, that’s a losing strategy, isn’t it? You’re such a loser, isn’t it? Now, how can you support this show, folks? Well, basically, just contact me or Kirk, and there are loads of ways you can contact us on Twitter, leave a message on Twitter. You can contact us through LinkedIn and the W. P. Tonic YouTube channel. There are great ways of contacting us. We need your feedback and more feedback from you about what shows you, you, and me and Kirk want from us, what type of guests you want, and what type of subjects you want from us. Give us that feedback; it’d be much appreciated. We will be back next week with another great interview. We’ll see you soon. Bye. Hey, thanks for listening. We really do appreciate it. Why not visit the Mastermind Facebook group? Also, to keep up with the latest news, click wp-tonic—com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.


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