Classic City’s CEO, Chris LaFay sat down with Natalie Shahmri, founder of Dooder and host of The Amplified Agency Podcast, to talk about how Chris has evolved from a freelancer to an agency owner over the years–and what lessons he’s learned from that journey, which he calls a “Great ride.” Their conversation offers valuable insights into why we focus on relationships over projects, the core values that have enabled our growth, and when to say “no.”
How Chris Got Started
Chris got his start developing websites for people in his community during high school. After graduating from college he was able to combine this experience with his education to quickly land a full-time job as a web developer. During that time he still performed occasional freelance work, slowly developing his own client base on the side. As his own business grew, he realized that he would rather have multiple part-time jobs for clients instead of rely on a single employer for income. With that in mind, his goals shifted toward full-time contracting and once he had the client base to move away from his full-time position, he took the leap and started his own agency: Classic City Consulting.
Conducting Connections is at Our Core
Chris sees relationships as the center of everything Classic City does. Conducting connections with heart is the core value of our brand both internally and for clients. Chris notes that a big part of our rebranding was converting this creed into a visual brand, and that “connecting the dots” became the primary motif for our recent website redesign. We know that when we are creating and maintaining relationships with our clients, we are also developing and creating digital assets and content that help build a stronger relationship between them and their own audiences.
Throughout our history, new clients have predominantly come from word of mouth. This makes strong connections with our existing clients paramount to agency revenue and continued growth. As Chris says, “When you treat someone with kindness and respect, it goes a long way.” One of the most important ways we do this is by asking clients to give us live internal reviews of our timeliness, communications, and the quality of our product on a 1 to 10 scale. Of course, these numbers are subjective–but they let us know what impression we’re leaving. Identifying any errors we might be making before our contract ends allows us to have the opportunity to fix them. Chris tells Natalie, “If we don’t ask what we can do better, the client might not tell us and we’ll slowly degrade that connection.”
External Eyes For Better Growth
As Chris was working on further developing Classic City’s brand, he worked with his own personal brand advisor as well. They worked together to identify what one word defined Chris. They found that between Chris’ love of playing music, helping others reach their goals, and building strategies to make any goals obtainable, that Chris can be described in one word: Conductor. With that, Classic City sharpened its focus and continues to conduct connections with heart.
In 2020, Chris hit the ceiling for what he could accomplish as the effective lead of sales, web design and development. He was making sales, taking care of the projects, and then going back out to find prospects again. This model didn’t allow for an expansion of revenue, so he started expanding his agency. As he brought on new team members, he knew he needed some outside help to make sure Classic City was heading in the right direction. He eventually reached out to a long time friend, Tim Smith, due to his similar heart and business acumen. Adding Tim as an executive advisor helped Chris take the next steps.
Knowing who the right advisor is for you is a matter of personal exploration. For Chris, it was someone who could both teach him things he was missing and be a strong sounding board for new ideas within existing strengths–someone who could help him stay accountable. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” says Chris. Even when business is going well, having someone external to keep you on track can help any executive meet and exceed goals and has been critical to our success.
Learning to Say No to Better Serve the Client
We believe that every brand has its own set of needs. If those needs are not within our expertise then we’d rather see you find a better value for your investment. Chris explains that a critical part of Classic City’s growth has been learning to focus on strengths in order to deliver the best product–and we would rather see a potential client get exactly what they need if we are not the right fit.
Turning down projects feels counter-intuitive to us, as we genuinely want to help everyone who seeks our services. Saying “no” has often been challenging for Chris, however, sometimes the most help we can offer a prospective client is to recommend a better partner. Just like with our clients, we build and maintain relationships with other agencies and freelancers throughout Metro Atlanta. When we know we’re not right for a client, we usually know someone who is. If we say “no” to someone, we do our best to point them in the right direction.
We believe that when we pass on work to another agency we have another opportunity to strengthen a relationship. Rather than treat a referral as a “lost prospect,” we see an investment in our industry. When we send work to an industry partner, we can be confident that we will see that business come back to us when that partner faces a situation where our team is better suited for the work at hand.