Today I sat down with Jeff Gargas from Teach Better Team who co-owns a very different business than most we’ve talked to over the years, but shares very similar tactics and strategies that can help you grow a sustainable business. We discuss the art and science of incorporating an educational approach to your sales and marketing efforts and how that can lead to a healthy pipeline of opportunities for your business.
Jeff Gargas is the COO and Co-founder of the Teach Better Team (Creators of Teach Better, The Grid Method, and Teach Further) and co-author of the book, “Teach Better.” He works with educators to increase student engagement and improve student success. He also offers 1-on-1 coaching for teachers who have a product or idea they want to share with others to better education.
Learn more about Jeff at: www.teachbetter.com
Jason Yormark: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the anti-agency podcast stories of doing business differently. I’m excited with our guests today. We have Jeff Gargas from the Teach Better team. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff Gargas: Thanks. Thanks for having me on man. Excited to be here.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Well, let’s do it. Let’s jump right in. Tell me a little bit about yourself, your story, and your company.
Jeff Gargas: Sure. So, I always like to lead the fact that I don’t do short well, so I’ll apologize for that right now. But I’ve got kind of a twist and turn and backstory. I’ve done a lot of stuff. I mean just about to be 40, which is weird to say. But I’ve been starting. I had been starting businesses and running businesses for the last about 20 years. So, since I was 19-20 and I’ve done been a wide variety of things. I had owned a record, started my own record label for a while, promotions company and started a concert club starting to restaurant with some guys and a whole bunch of other stuff in between there. Previously owned and was building a marketing agency doing online, online marketing website, social media, all that type of stuff. And then for the last seven years have been building this, this thing that we call Teach Better, Teach Better team where we work with, what we do is we work with school districts and school teachers to help them continually be better by, and also be supported and feel connected and feel supported so that they can continue to be better for their kids so their students can reach their full potential. And we do that in a variety of ways. We do a lot of support, a lot of content, a lot of live streaming and we have podcasts and all these other things, but where our service to the school districts is ongoing training for the teachers. So, we work with the teachers directly, not the students providing workshops, providing consultation. We do a lot of strategic planning with the districts partnering with them for, you know, multiple years and working, building that partnership with them. And so, I operate as our COO as one of the two founders of the company seven years ago. And so, I’m in the operations side. Now, as you know, when you’re building, you wear a hundred different hats still, but that’s my actual title is the COO and I get to do a lot of a wide variety of things every day.
Jason Yormark: Gotcha. So, what brought you to this type of business? I mean, you kind of mentioned your original path, but I’m kind of curious what led you to deciding to go down this path in this direction.
Jeff Gargas: Yeah, so that’s, so what’s really interesting I didn’t mention is actually I’m a four-time college dropout and now I’m an education and I work with, I have an incredible team of very highly educated, brilliant educators that work with us. And so, it’s weird to think back on how I end up here. I was an adjunct professor at Kent state university for a couple years, but like I did that without a college degree, which is a whole another story. That’s a whole another day. But actually, you know, I mentioned the record label, so it’s an interesting how we got there is my co-founder Chad Ostrowski was actually a drummer in a band that I managed. And so that’s how we initially connected. After the label went away, I coached high school soccer for a while. Chad played college soccer. So, I had him work with my goalie. So, we became friends then, right. And he went off and became a teacher. I went off and started an online marketing firm and he created something that we now call the grid method, which is a proprietary framework we use for helping teachers implement mastery learning in their classrooms. And when Chad started doing this in his classroom as just the way that he’s changed the way he was teaching, teachers in his district started to take note the success he was having with students, he just started catching on and he came to me and said, Hey, I think maybe I need to do like an eBook or something to put this out here. And he came to me because he knew I was in the online marketing world. I had done some eBooks and stuff like that. So, he figured I might be able to help him. And over a bucket of wings at a Buffalo wild wing, we talked about it, and I said Well inside our team are kind of joking, my famous words were, dude, we’re not just doing an eBook. And I convinced him to do a course with me and to start building the website and off we went. So, it was kind of an interesting way that I got here. Oddly enough, when I very first enrolled in college way back in 2001, it was to be a teacher. So, it’s kind of an interesting, I don’t know if you call that a full circle or whatever that might be or a figure eight circle, I don’t know that I got back here. So, it’s an interesting, interesting ride. But so, it was kind of almost, I don’t know if you want to call that fate, you want to call that whatever you want, but yeah, it was an interesting journey.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. There’s an interesting connection for thread, for me around all of this. I much like yourself kind of jumped around. I was in marketing; I was doing web design and stuff like that. And then I started to coach high school girls volleyball. And I was really good at it and it really kind of steamrolled. I started as a freshman coach and then became the varsity coach and started to build a program. And I’m like, holy crap, I’m good at this. And I like this, I should be a teacher. So, I go to get my master’s degree and then kind of power through that much like yourself. I was not the best student in the world, but powered through that, got into the classroom to student teach and then was just hit right in the face of holy crap, coaching and teaching are not the same thing.
Jeff Gargas: Whole different Day to day.
Jason Yormark: So, I made a very expensive misstep, if you will. And then ultimately you know, didn’t end up becoming a teacher and redirected and ended up working for Microsoft and then went down with the path I got me where I’m at today. But the whole point of that is that I enjoy teaching, I enjoy helping others. There’s this, you know, it’s within me. And even though I didn’t use my degree in the way that it was intended to be used, almost a high percentage of what I do and throughout my career has been teaching. And I do think that at its core, that’s been a big part of my ability to be successful in the business world. So, I don’t see that time and investment as a loss per se because it didn’t translate to that career. I feel like it’s translated into me being a very successful business owner and leveraging what I’ve learned along the way as a teacher to kind of help grow and build the business.
Jeff Gargas: I Mean, so much of what you’d probably do with your clients is educating them sometimes right on why you’re suggesting certain things, why we’re looking at, what is the data mean? Whatever it is that you’re looking at. So that’s a crazy story yourself there, man. What the master’s degree and then yeah, that’s a big pivot.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. Yeah. It was. But you know, for a while I can’t believe I spent all this money on this, but then I think when you really dig down and understand, well, all of your experiences matter in some way. As long as you learn from them and certainly see it as a foundational piece. So, I’m yeah, I guess in terms of, in your opinion obviously so, well actually let’s get a little bit more context around your business. So obviously I understand, but help me, like who do you service and who are your customers? How do they find you and what are they purchasing from you? I want to get a little bit more context about that to be able to see how that translates to the agency world.
Jeff Gargas: Great question. So, the people that write our cheques are going to be your school district. Typically, you know, someone who’s got a leadership title I put in parenthesis, because we believe everyone’s a leader, but those administrators. So that could be a building principle if they had the autonomy and ability to bring us in, it could be a curriculum director, even a, you know, instructional coach or a technology coach or a gifted coordinator might bring it in a lot of times, somewhere in there, it’s either the curriculum director that’s making the decision or potentially like the superintendent, assistant superintendent all depends on the structure of the school. So those are, those are people who are, who become the clients that we are servicing, the way in which they get to us is actually sort of, I use this example a lot. I got to find a better one because they’re out of business that Toys “R” Us, right. So, if you think about Toys “R” Us, toys of us, the people that paid toys of us, who they wanted as clients, customers was parents, right. People who had the money, but they targeted kids, right. So that the kids would tug on mom and dads you know, [08:13 inaudible], in our world teachers are the kids in that particular scenario. So, the majority of our marketing efforts and the community that we build are, is geared towards classroom teachers. And the way that we do that is, we build them a community. We build a community, we provide them with tools and resource stuff with the hopes that, and it’s worked out that they fall in love with our brand and then recommend us to admins, admins also find as well. So that’s sort of, it’s both. So, we serve the teachers in a lot of different ways too, but the actual ones that like the, the biggest part of our revenue is the sales and work that we do with districts. And that can look like anything from a, like a 60 to 90 minute, just introductory section, a session where we’re introducing a staff to a new idea or a concept or diving a little bit deeper into something to a one or two day workshop where we’re getting really deep and working through very specific either integration of a new resource or tool or change in the way we, you know, we think about grading assessment or whatever it might be up until also what we do a lot of is actually more long term, whether it’s a year, three years, five years of ongoing support, where we work with the leadership team to figure out and strategically plan the plan for where our teacher’s at now, which is always based off of how our students doing right. And then to where are we trying to get them? And we work with them to figure out the best plan for that. One thing that we do a lot of is we do a lot of throughout the school year, we are in districts and in buildings all the time visiting cause what we don’t like doing what is too often found or what we found too often in education is that we come in, you deliver an amazing workshop or whatever, whether it’s a day or two, whatever, and teachers are excited, they’re they want to, they want to get into it. Then they go back to their classrooms where they have 5 million things that change every day, and they turn around and the support is 1-800 number somewhere. We wanted to be there. So, we’re in districts all the time. So that’s what, where we do the majority of our work is where we might deliver the initial training and that, but then we’re there supporting the teachers and leaders throughout the entire year, ideally for multiple years. And that’s sort of the products there. Now we also have, we do have some direct to teacher stuff. So, we do have an online academy with online courses and there’s a membership model there as well. We sell some swags stuff like that. We do webinars. We have a conference that we put on in 2019 and we put it on again this fall as well. So, we do a lot of those things as well, but the 95 plus percent of the revenue is from those, those services that we provide to the districts.
Jason Yormark: Got it. Well, I love so there’s something in there. So, for those of you listening, and I always say this to the guests that we have on, I always, I never come up with the title or the theme of these episodes until usually about the middle of these conversations. And then there’s an aha moment and I just had it with you in terms of, oh, now I know what the title of this is, and now I know what this is going to be. So, I want to kind of dive into that. It’s really about how being, you know, it’s this whole idea of like how being a teacher can lead to success in your business. And so, I think that way, and I think a lot of what you’re doing and how you do what you do is similar to what we do as an agency. And to kind of clarify, like we put out a ton of content, right? We write blog posts and not garbage. Like we try to be helpful. You know, we built a tool called how much does social media cost? And we built this calculator and we built this, did a bunch of research. And so, we tried to put out a lot of stuff that helps people make informed decisions about how they navigate their social media, whether they’re going to hire an agency or whether they’re trying to figure it out on their own. And I always believe like lead with being helpful, you know, put a lot of free stuff out there, you know, build a community and the opportunities will find their way to you. And I think that that’s a critical component that a lot of businesses don’t have the patience for to really build that out and trust that process. I mean, you can throw money at ads all day, every day, but it’s just, you know, it’s just getting more and more competitive and more expensive. Yeah. And if you go out and you’re
authentic and you lead and you teach and you provide value, you know opportunities will organically come your way. So, I’m curious if you can touch a little bit more on, what do you guys do in that regard, in your world to kind of provide that kind of value that ultimately leads to getting, you know, paying clients.
Jeff Gargas: Yeah. So, you are totally speaking my language with that. And so, our whole thing, we talk a lot about the help [12:25 inaudible] mentality and that comes from a good friend of mine, Matt white. And also, if you think about, it’s also known very similar, like the content ink model, if you know, John Belushi and stuff, which for me, and you touched on right at the end that a lot of people don’t have the patience for. And like, when I talk about this, anytime I do, I always talk about like the mistakes I see. So, like for me, this idea of giving away free content to get people to come and get to know you, that’s not really anything new, that’s the foundation of content marketing. And that’s been happening since home depots started doing help videos on YouTube way back when, and like, so like that’s been around, that’s not the new, I think where most people make mistakes is because of the patient’s issue or because they don’t truly believe in it is they treat that as a tactic or a strategy versus the way in which you do things. And I think for us, like, so when Chad and I first met over that bucket of wings, I think I said plate early. It was a bucket. And talking about this, I told him, I’m like, you know, we’re going to change the world. I said, all these big things. And I’m like, but we’re going to, and he is like, well, how are we going to do that? I’m like, we’re going to give it all away for free. And Chad was like, well, that sounds great. Except for the whole no money thing. And I told him, I said, well, what I want todo is build a site, do a course, eBooks, and we’ll just start doing blogs and videos. I want someone to teach, come to our site, take the free course, download some blogs, ask some questions, connect with us a little bit and then be able to effectively run the grid method, which is the framework I talked about in his or her classroom without ever paying us a dime. I said, if we do that the right way, enough times people will want to work with us either because they go, hey, I can do this without Chad and Jeff, but it’d be really great or better with them. Or because they say, hey, I can’t quite do this, but you taught me how to do what I can now let me help teach everyone. Or the best in my opinion is where they say, I can do this without you, but I really like you. And I appreciate you, so I want to pay you. And it’s amazing to me, how many people we have that have come to us with where they went and gotten grant money, or they’ve allocated money in their funds. And they come to us, and they say, hey, we’ve got X thousand dollars, whatever they have to work with you. And we’re like, well, great. What do you think about doing? They’re like, oh, we don’t know. We just know we wanted to work with you. So, what do you think we should do? And I’m like, that’s the best sales call ever, it’s closed before you even answered the phone. And so, we’ve been able to build what we’ve built over the last seven years without, with nothing. You know, talk about anti kind of being anti sales in a lot of ways, and without you talk about running ads, like we don’t run ads, we never run ads. We do very, almost zero cold anything. We do some cold email stuff. It’s warm leads, it’s referrals and stuff. And I think the key is we were very patient, you know, and I know, you know, this cause congrats on the book. I know the milestone that you hit. It’s one that we’ve hit over the last 12 months too. So, I I’m with you. I was listening to when you were talking about, when the book was coming out finishing up and stuff like the patience that that takes people, like, you know, it’s this overnight success thing that takes seven years. And for the first, you know, four years where I still worked a full-time job elsewhere building another business of our own and stuff because we believed in this method so much. And I think that’s the key day. It’s got to be the way you do everything, and you got to be willing to sometimes, sometimes that means you’re going to leave money on the table or lose a sale. And that’s, it’s got to be okay, because it’s got to be what you follow through.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. That’s a great point too, around when you take that type of approach, when you put good things out in the world and you do that consistently, there’s a level of patience that you got to with that. If you’re looking to build a business, you really have to understand that, you know, it’s not a get rich quick kind of thing. I mean, you really have to kind of plant the seeds and set the foundation for things and commit to doing that over an extended period of time. And we’ve certainly benefited from that much like yourself. You know, we’re pretty much an inbound agency. We don’t do a tremendous amount of cold outreach. And we’re fortunate in that because we’ve committed to this type of approach for an extended period of time, we’ve built kind of a, you know, a pipeline of opportunities that come our way because of those efforts. So, it definitely takes time for that to kind of flush out. Just from a strictly, from a business standpoint, what you know, what have been some of, how long you guys, I think I had caught that you’ve been doing this now for seven years.
Jeff Gargas: Yeah, we just hit seven years in March was technically the seven years. Yeah.
Jason Yormark: Okay. What have been some of the biggest challenges or learnings along the way and what you’ve been able to build?
Jeff Gargas: I think, I think oh geez, wow. A lot. You know, one thing for us was, a big thing was listening to our audience whether or how big or small it was. And I think it’s a lot, it can be harder to listen to audience when there’s not a lot of audience there, cause your kind of like, oh, that’s not really, that’s just like a couple people, not really what the industry thinks, but they’re your audience. If they’re connected to you and they’re willing to be connected to you and then if they expect, then they become part of your community again, whether how small it is or
not listen to that. So, you know, we actually, when we started the business, the business was called the grid method. Like, because that was all we did. It started with that thing. And we did a brand change in summer of 2018 to teach better because we had started doing so many other things that the grid method didn’t make sense. And Chad and I really struggled with it cause we’re like, why doesn’t this make sense to
you guys? Of course, it’s a good method, but we do other things and we had to really listen and take ourselves out of and go, okay, people are, have struggling understand what we do, what we stand for and why it’s called the grid method because they’re not just connecting us for that very specific thing we do. They’re connecting to us because of the community we’re building, the way we support them, all the free stuff we do. And so, we made the brand change. So that was a big piece of just listening. We’ve done everything since. And so we’ve tried really hard after learning some hard lessons of doing things cause we thought, well, this is a great idea we just had versus only doing things for our business and only making big pivots or investing a lot of time, energy and money into things when our audience was very clearly asking for it, not when we thought, well now’s when we want to do this. And I think that’s hard to do right. Cause we think we know we’re obviously if you start a business, you probably either an expert or pretty thinking close to an expert in what you do, you have a passion for it. You’re excited about it. It’s really easy to just think you know exactly what they want, and kind of fight the potential listening of, oh, this isn’t what I thought I’ve got to make a change. And you feel like you’ve given up on your vision and your mission, whatever, versus listen to your audience. I think that’s a big piece. And I think for me also, it is just you know, going back to the [18:53 inaudible] stuff, just staying true to what you believe in with the patients and not letting the [19:00 inaudible], for lack of better term of more revenue or a bigger client deter you from being the company and the person or the team that you wanted to be. And so, I think those are two huge ones that we’ve taken away.
Jason Yormark: Okay. So, imagine a newer business owner, entrepreneur kind of listening to this and they kind of want to, kind of carve a path to kind of being an educator, being helpful, putting good things out in the world to kind of help grow their business. What are like a couple things that come to mind or tips, tricks, strategies, or things that you would advise a new business owner who’s just kind of starting out building a brand, what are some things that they should be thinking about or doing to kind of lead you know, being a teacher and educating and putting things out, that’s going to help kind of establish some authority and some trust with an audience that can lead to good things for the business.
Jeff Gargas: So, I think we already touched on patience, so I’ll leave that there. That’s just should always be there. But I think when you’re talking about building the authority, I think the authenticity is becoming an even more and that’s sort of a buzzword, but it’s becoming more and more and more and more important. Reading an article, I think it was Harvard business review just recently about the sort of the truths of marketing that have changed. And one of them was something like the old truth was that relationships were important. The new truth is that relationships are everything. And I think what we’re seeing, what we see so much of is that people, the internet is loud is that people are going to figure you out really quick if you’re not true. So, if you’re a new business owner, you don’t need to, it used to be fake until you make it right. I don’t know if you were, if that was like, when I first learned the things, I’m like, that’s what it was. You acted like you were already there before you were already there, like, you had your fake assistant that had her own email address, that it wasn’t anybody. It was just you. And for me, the thing is people figure that out eventually. And once they do, it’s going to hurt you more than it helps you to begin with. So just be you, be real, be authentic. You don’t have to know everything, just share what, you know, what you do know and what you love. I think also within the content building authority is, it goes back to that listening. Don’t write the things that you think people want to know. Write the things that they’re asking about, be active in whatever community you’re in. A huge thing is if you’re when you’re on social media listening. And I don’t know if you’re, if you’re a Gary Vanderchuck fan or not, when he talks about how he replied all of his Twitter DMS and everything like that, that’s hard to imagine when you have a whole bunch of followers, but that’s really easy to do when you’ve got 150 or 200 and you don’t necessarily have to reply to everything, whatever, and it doesn’t have to be Twitter, wherever you’re at, but get into the conversations and really listen to them so that you’re creating the content that they are actually asking for. Cause that’s what’s going to build you that authority when you’re actually answering the questions that they need. And I think when you’re first getting started, you know, you hear a lot about brand Brandon. And so often we think my logo, my colors, my website, all this stuff, which is all important, all important to look at all important to do. I would never recommend a brand change like we did. It was crazy, but it can be done, but like that’s not your brand. That’s the, the types of digital images and imagery that show off your brand. But what your brand actually is, is what people feel when they see those things. What people think when they hear your name or see your logo and stuff like that, that’s how you build your authority to, I think people think sometimes authority is expertise. Sometimes in our world, it’s not expertise. Like we are not the experts in everything that we do. Our authority in our space is that teachers know they can come to our world and our community. And if they’re going to be supported, they’re going to be welcomed and we’re going to help them in the way we can, regardless of whether they’re paying us anything. Districts know when they come into our community, that we’re not going to sell them anything unless they ask for it. And if they ask for the wrong thing, we’re not going to take it just because it might be the higher ticket item that we’re going to work with them, so they feel safe to come with us, cause that’s how we are. And so that to me is our authority in our, so you need to find what is that for you. And maybe you’re just the best at design and that’s your authority. But oftentimes it’s not that, it’s you of the business. That’s really the authority that you want to build. And I think the, I wish there was a better word than authority. I don’t know what that would be, but I think those are a few that I could think of right now.
Jason Yormark: No, I love it. And I love that. I mean, I’ve talked about authenticity all the time. That’s a big part, a big thing with me with our business. A perfect example of that is you know, when I first started the agency, I thought, oh, you know, I got to, we got to look bigger than what we are. If anybody’s going to take us seriously and then going to hire us. And I had that mindset for a while and it wasn’t until I realized that sometimes your perceived weakness can be a strength, right? Like our size, our smallness is actually not a weakness. It’s a strength. It means we can move than a bigger agency can. We can be more nimble. We can be more flexible. There are strengths that lie in our size. And the minute that I embrace that, you know, we started to become a much more successful business. And to this day, you know, I still embrace that. I don’t want to be a big multi, you know, with 50 people and multiple layers of management because I think it goes against who we are. We want to have a level of intimacy with our clients and there’s only, you can only get so big to be able to do that. So that’s a great point in terms of authenticity, if you’re listening and you’re just starting out, don’t try to be something that you’re not, you don’t have to be. Embrace who you are. There are strengths and advantages that you can bring to the table when you’re in that situation versus others that are much farther down the road.
Jeff Gargas: Jason, that’s such an incredible point. This entire time you’ve been just talking, I feel like you just know me more than you think you do. And when I think our business is in similar to, I think, I feel like we have a lot of common thoughts cause it’s the same way with us. Like I thought, well, we had to build this big, massive company and as we’ve gone, it’s like, well, no, like I want to build bigger. I have some aspirations like we want to build, but like, I don’t want to be massive. One, I don’t want to deal with the HR headache because we have a team of 20 and that’s enough. Like that’s insane as it is. I also don’t want to deal with the public, The PR works whereas bigger you get, the more you have to deal with it and stuff. But to your point of like, we have so much latched onto that as, and so we still do now of the ability that we are very flexible, agile, we can adapt, we can make decisions quickly to take care of clients. So, we customize stuff all the time. You can’t do that when you’re massive or I mean you can, but it’s much harder to do. And so, I think your point of emphasizing that is, is so important. If you’re listening, you’re getting going, you don’t have to be massive. You can live a really good life with like, you know, a million-dollar business or a half a million, like, you know, like you don’t have to make a billion dollars a year and you probably don’t want to.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. I always say time is as worth, as much as money is. And as you get older, you start to realize that. Well, outstanding. Easy conversation. I love them when they’re easy. Good stuff. I think we both see the world in a lot of similar ways, and I love talking to people that have different businesses, but alignment and how we run them. So, thank you so much for carving out the time today and sharing your stories, really cool stuff. Where can people find you, your company learn more about all that good, great stuff that you guys are doing.
Jeff Gargas: Yes. Everything’s over at www.teachbetter.com. And the team is @teachbetterteam on all the social media sites. I’m at Jeff Gargas with G-A-R-GA-S on Twitter. That’s where I’m most active. Instagram, it’s Jeff_Gargas. And I’m on TikTok and things of that nature as well, but Twitter’s probably a place to go, but everything’s over at www.teachbetter.com.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Well thank you so much for being on the show. Really great to meet you and talk through all this stuff and really appreciate you carving out the time.
Jeff Gargas: Appreciate you have me on man. Love the show, congrats on the book and all the success. And one last thing, anyone who’s listening, if you ever need anything, if I can ever help, please reach out. I love having virtual cups of coffee and more conversations like this. So, I appreciate your brother.
Jason Yormark: Me too. Absolutely. We’ll put all your information in the show notes. So, if you’re listening, be sure to check them out. Also, like share, subscribe, all that good stuff. Thank you for listing. We’ll catch you at the next episode of anti-agency.