The Leap: On building an intentional brand with agency owner Demetri Morris

Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.

In this episode, Rachel sat down with Demetri Morris, founder of MORR, a creative agency focused on connecting strategy and building experiences that inspire action. The agency produces work that consists of strategy, creative, marketing, and technology. ⁠MORR has generated over $10M in sales for their clients and has served over 100 brands & businesses since the company’s start including Adidas, Uber, Chick-fil-A, U.S. Foods, and more. ⁠

Watch the full interview here or read below to learn more about how saying “yes” helped Demetri get him where he is today, how his agency approaches humanizing a brand, and his advice for how freelancers can grow their businesses. 

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

RR: How did your journey to freelance and agency ownership come to be and how has that evolved over time?

DM: My story is similar to a lot of people I know in the agency space, which is they did not do it on purpose. For me, it started at church actually. I was an intern and they needed help with social media. I was probably 15 at the time and, you know, I was creating cool content — it wasn’t what people would consider “quality content” in 2022, but it was good enough for my age and I gathered confidence through that. 

And [I grew] just by meeting mentors. People always want to give you opportunities if you ask good questions. So I would literally just take people out to coffee and ask about their journey, ask about how they started their business, and that would lead to doing random video projects.

I started with video production and the first project I had was for a tennis club that needed a branding video to get new members. I didn’t have any camera equipment but I was like, uh, yeah, I can do it. So I found a videographer, and we showed up on a shoot date that we agreed on, and then from there, I guess I directed — I didn’t know what directing was at that point. And that’s kind of how it all began. That video was really helpful for his brand, and then organically over time, I started getting opportunities because of that.

RR: In terms of your approach around humanizing brands, can you share what kinds of clients typically come to you? How much do they approach you [with an] understanding that they have an obvious problem versus how much is it something that you help them uncover throughout your discovery process?

AF: Initially I was working with a lot of nonprofits and people who were just starting businesses like startups. But as I matured in the journey, we began focusing on B2B businesses that are serving like, weird industries.

One of our biggest clients sells printers, so I like to call them “boring” clients. More recently we’ve moved towards the education space, and that has been a really cool evolution. We believe in the next generation of people that are able to do good things. Ed-tech and education brands have been really powerful for us to work with. 

For the second half of the question, people typically have no idea what the whole phrase “humanizing brands” is. A lot of what we’re coming to the table with is just educating [them] on what does that even mean? What does that even look like? There’s a lot of education that we’re doing with the brands that are coming to us.

The reality is most of these founders or sales leaders that are coming to these organizations, they’re just focused on meeting their quota. They don’t care about building a brand and they don’t even see any value in that. So I think it’s been fun to educate and prove [them wrong]. Like, hey, like your biggest vendors are gonna love the fact that you’re making content and that you have a face to the brand instead of [being] just another brand that’s selling.

RR: A lot of people hear “brand” and they immediately think of a logo or colors — they think of the visual side but don’t always understand the value of brand and strategy. How do you help clients understand what brand really means?

DM: The way we position it is by getting onboarded and working with us as a client, we’re gonna build you a playbook.

This playbook is the strategy, so people are paying us for the strategy before we even step into execution. And the way we position is through virtual workshops. So they’re gonna get a deliverable that they can read and look at and reference when we’re in the execution phase.

We basically productize [brand strategy]. You can’t like just sell strategy, you know? There has to be some end goal behind it. The way I look at strategies — and how I think freelancers should look at it, cause freelancers just give away way too much of their time for free — is strategy is just a way for people to date you as a client. It’s almost like a trial period. Once we’ve actually executed and we actually have data to look at, it’s like, okay, let’s look at this initial strategy that we built. You know, demographics, everything you can think of, we’re thinking about it in the strategy phase, and then we’re going back and evolving on that, and then the strategy just expands. So it’s basically like the North Star for engaging with us. Purpose-driven brand building is my mentality behind it all. 

RR: I know you have a framework that you use when you talk about helping your client humanize their brand, which is: familiarity plus trust equals authority. Can you expand on this idea? Have you used it yourself?

DM: It’s really about creating a tailored experience. You can’t just shoot from the hip. If you want to build something that lasts, you better resonate. 

So starting with the whole equation, familiarity [is about], are you getting in front of people? Do people know who you are? Is your content something that they would care about? Start to build an audience through that. And then trust, like are they engaging with it? Are you offering resources? Like what are you doing to resonate with them? And that question like, how are you resonating with them, is so much deeper. You should be going through workshops [to figure out] how to resonate with the customer and what they care about. Right now I’m building a brand for an ed tech brand and they’re focusing on Gen Z. So what are we doing? We’re pulling in a focus group of 18 to 22-year-olds and asking the questions because we don’t know the answers.

That leads to the last piece: authority. Because you’ve built trust because you’re not posting once a month, you’re consistent, you’re in front of people, boom — the authority is, you know, either them entering your ecosystem, whether it’s a subscription or paying a service fee every month, and it’s just them being able to create a relationship. That’s when the relationship really starts, you know? But through that you gotta figure out, okay, how to keep them there. Figure out how to create growth that keeps people engaged and keeps them interacting with your brand over a long period of time. I think more than ever, it’s really important for agency owners to study how software companies are built because they’re very focused on retention. That same kind of mental model kind of applies here because once you have trust, how long are they gonna stay?

RR: The life cycle of a freelancer is usually, you start out solo. Then over time, your business ends up growing and you’re trying to meet that demand. Then suddenly you’ve got more people involved until you finally like get into a place where you’re like, I think I’m running what one might call an agency. At your agency, it looks like there are four main leaders including yourself. Can you share how you got [to the agency level] operationally? How did you realize or understand who you needed to in-house with you as you were evolving?

DM: My strategy as a whole was, I said yes to things and then I was like, alright, I’ll figure it out after I close the deal. So organically saying yes to things is kinda how this has happened at this point, 

In terms of deciding who I needed, I really just decided that I need to have core experts that can be part of any kind of process. Just having people to bounce ideas with is the biggest thing. We hire contractors, but having somebody to wrangle contractors and work through that whole process with me has been helpful. So really it has been based on the needs of the agency. 

For now, I think the core leadership team we have is supporting the growth until we need to start thinking about account managers and all that kind of stuff. We’re a very small team but a lot of the stuff we’re doing is very centralized. 

RR: One of the biggest questions that freelancers have at every stage of business is, what should I charge? We even have a big database of community-sourced scope of work templates to help answer this question. Can you talk a little bit about your pricing strategy and how that’s evolved from the early days?

DM: First and foremost, pricing is very much so a mental thing. Like it’s all in your head. Initially, I was charging at cost. I didn’t want to scare people away because I wanted the experience. But now I think the strategy is focused on obviously protecting agency margins, so right now we’re running at 70% margins.

I think the biggest thing about pricing is just being able to continue to raise your prices. I think once you start to break down what you’re really doing for a client and what the true value is for them in the long-term, you kinda have to figure out, is this going to be a good return on investment? And then scale your numbers from there. 

As a freelancer, in order to move outside of that mindset, you have to just take leaps every time you get opportunities and just start charging $2,000 more for each client. Otherwise, you will stay in a lane where you’re trading your time for money, and ideally, as an agency owner, you need to be continuously focused on the bigger vision. Otherwise, you know, you’re literally a high-paid employee at a cool company.

RR: Any advice for folks who are looking to take the leap and start a freelance business?

DM: Learn the art of communication. That alone is what garners more business, just being able to communicate well. I think there are far too many freelancers who don’t know how to communicate their ideas and you don’t want to be that freelancer. You want to do the right thing. You want to do good work and you want to be a good person, and create good relationships throughout the process. Like, objectively do good work. 

If you’re not in a place where you’re comfortable putting yourself out there or you have hesitancy in the back of your head, it’s okay to pay for a mentor or buy a course. The most profitable thing I’ve ever done is invest in myself. If you get to a place where you objectively [produce] excellent work and that’s what will turn into an agency at the end of the day.

Ready to take the leap?