Today I’ve got a story for you of a man who didn’t like the corporate life, so he decided to build a consulting company.
Two questions we’ll cover in this interview: How does a consulting company get clients? And if a big client leaves, how does a consulting company survive?
Jeff Ferguson is the founder of Fang Digital Marketing. Have you noticed how companies that are big often don’t know how to buy their own online ads? Jeff’s company specializes in doing internet marketing for big brands like eHarmony, inuvo, and JustFab.
Jeff Ferguson, Fang Digital Marketing
Jeff Ferguson is the CEO and founder of Fang Digital Marketing, an internet marketing consulting group that offers services in SEM.
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am your host and the founder of Mixergy.com, which is, of course, home of the ambitious upstart. And today I’ve got a story for you of a man who didn’t like the corporate life, so he decided to build a consulting company.
Now, how does a consulting company get clients? And if a big client leaves, how does a consulting company survive?
Jeff Ferguson is the founder of Fang Digital Marketing. Have you noticed how companies that are big often don’t know how to buy their own online ads? Well, Jeff’s company specializes in doing internet marketing for big brands. That includes, but is not limited to, buying search ads, running affiliate programs, doing search engine optimization, and so much more, as you’ll see in this interview.
If you are in his situation and you need to figure out clients, I want this interview to be especially helpful for you. And so later on, we’re going to break down his process. How he got his first client, how he got the next group of clients, and so on.
And this whole thing is sponsored by… you know him already. I don’t even know why he continues to pay me, because you guys already know him. Scott Edward Walker, his company right here, Walker Corporate Law. They specialize in helping start-ups. If you are an entrepreneur and need a lawyer, don’t go to your dad and ask him for the guy who’s helped him for years. Go to WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
All right. Jeff, it’s so good to have you on here.
Jeff: It’s great to be here.
Andrew: Thank you. Before we started, you told me about a time that you worked for a company, and you guys turned things around, everything was good, and then they did what?
Jeff: You know, they made a mistake that I’ve actually seen over and over again. I mean, this is one company that we’re talking about, but I’ve seen it at least three times. And I’m sure tons of other people have.
And we, as a company, had turned things around. We’d gotten profitable for the first time in their history. We’ve had plenty of instances where that has happened, and it could be from getting more cost-efficient, it could be from growing revenue. It could be from anything.
But instead of saying, great, we’re in a great place, let’s mend our nets. Things are good. Let’s really just take advantage of this idea and maybe pay down debt, or a bunch of other stuff. They actually turned around and did the goofy thing, which is, hey, great, let’s move into a brand-new building, and buy a bunch of new furniture, and hire a bunch of new middle management, and we’ll… just a bunch of really goofy stuff that…
Sure enough, when the house of cards that any business could be at any given moment starts to buckle, the first thing that they have to do is go through and disassemble that, where they’re laying people off.
And then that was the other side of that equation we didn’t talk about, was that the mistakes continued on, which was rather than even lay people off in a smart way, or even looking at things and saying, hey, look, this is the part of the organization that isn’t working, or isn’t making us money, or isn’t cost-efficient in a lot of ways. They do that classic where they’re like, great, we’re just going to have to cut 10 to 15% of the work force, and it’s just across the board, and it doesn’t… there’s no rhyme, there’s no reason to it, in a lot of ways. And they end up…
You’re kind of going, these people you’re cutting are the ones that are actually making money, or that. I’ve had that happen multiple times, to the point where after you get over the initial shock of it kind of happening, especially if you’re part of that layoff group or whatever it is, you probably take a breath and you kind of go, eh, it’s probably for the best. You know, companies that…
Andrew: You know, with many companies, you have no influence over where the company is going. It’s just a train going in its own direction. If that direction is a wall, you’re often just powerless, and you’re a passenger. And I don’t think you and I and the persons listening to us grew up wanting to be a passenger in life.
In fact, no. One thing I know about you is you grew up in East L.A. So you’d already come a long way, and this wasn’t the end. I can see why you’d want to continue and start your own company. But you grew up in East L.A. What was it like to grow up there?
Jeff: It was different. I mean, it was… we were in kind of an interesting part of it. I would kind of say, it’s over where all the rap songs come from. And it’s, you know, we were a part of town called Paramount, but there was… we also lived in Gardena and Northern Beach and a couple of other things over the years.
And you get this really interesting thing where you can see every day people making decisions, whether they realize it or not, on how their lives are going to go.
Andrew: What do you mean? What kind of decisions did you see?
Jeff: You know, sometimes it’s just a decision of, hey, I’m going to get into the gang culture, versus I’m going to join the marching band, or stuff like that. It’s those little just twitch decisions that happen on a daily basis in one way or another. You know, I’ve had it multiple times, where that was happening as I was a kid, and you’d see people, guys you grew up with, that you say, “I know this dude. He’s a good friend.” He’s whatever. And suddenly he’s a gangbanger that day, or something’s whatever. And, you know, it’s…
Andrew: Is it aspirational? Is it because there is something that they wanted out of life, and that was the only way they knew how to get it? Or was it just the momentum of the environment, and you’re just carried along with it?
Jeff: I think it could be either. I mean, I think that’s really a good way to put it, is there’s a lot of it that’s momentum, and there’s a lot of it where… I think it’s almost like a self-confidence thing, in a lot of ways. And while I’m usually the first one to question my own self-confidence in a lot of moments, which is probably a good thing, I think…
Andrew: Why is it a good thing, by the way?
Jeff: Because I think if… it’s kind of like being the handsome guy, or the gorgeous woman, in a lot of ways. If you actually know you’re that, in a lot of ways, you’re a pain in the neck, usually. But it’s one of the things where I think if you’re a do-er, and you’re actually getting stuff done, and a lot of stuff, you’re constantly questioning yourself whether or not, you know, can I do this, is this possible, is whatever it is. But you keep trying, in a lot of ways. I think that gives you a drive that isn’t there, in a lot of ways. And…
Andrew: Did you have that drive growing up in East L.A.?
Jeff: I did. You know, to the point where I used to get called a Renaissance Man, in a lot of ways, where I’d be doing things where I’d be in music, or I’d be in the band, but I also was one of the first guys to get into computer programming back in the ’80s, back when we had an Atari. It wasn’t the Atari game system, it was the Atari PC that existed back then, when people had Commodores and stuff like that.
And so I was touching little pieces of life all around me at different moments, and not really kind of sitting at this whole, you know, hey, I’m just a musician, or, hey, I’m just this. It was all over. And I think…
Andrew: Was your family encouraging of it?
Jeff: To a point. I mean, I think they did the best they could in a lot of things. They were from humble beginnings, as well, and I think the only thing that really slowed them down as far as encouraging me more was maybe a lack of understanding on how to, in a lot of ways. You know, it was…
Jeff: You know, I remember, always tell the story where I get at the point where I was almost… I was about ready to graduate from high school, and had no college aspirations whatsoever. Just, it wasn’t in the cards. We didn’t have the money to do it, or whatever it is. And I think it was very last-minute that somebody popped up and said, oh, by the way, your grandfather actually left you some money to go to school.
And it’s one of the things where I don’t think everybody realized that, you know, you should be taking your entire senior year to really kind of be focusing on where you’re going to go, and taking the tests, and studying, and doing all kinds of stuff. And I ended up having to cram that into, like, the last months of semester, when most people had already been accepted to schools.
And so it’s little weird decisions like that, where you say, great, it looks like I’m going to Cal State. I’m not going to the UC, or I’m doing this versus that. And I think that’s it.
But you don’t blame them for it. It’s more along the lines of they honestly did the best they could in a lot of ways. And, you know, it’s kind of where it ends up. I think nobody could be prouder on that end, because I think they realized that just everything that kind of fell in front of us during that time frame, and there was plenty that didn’t, in a lot of ways, so…
Andrew: Then you made it into the corporate life.
Andrew: And you got laid off how many times?
Jeff: I’ve been laid off probably… what is it? I think it was three different times, over the years. And they could either be because we went through terrible economic strife. I mean, the first time I ever got laid off, I was at Hilton Hotels, and it was right after 9/11, and the travel industry had gone to hell, obviously, for very obvious reasons. And there was… you understood it, you know? They cut off 25% of the business. Although that was one of those times where you looked around and basically said, hey, [??] was making this company money. We could prove it. We could show it in a lot of ways. But there were plenty of other parts of that business that hadn’t in years, but I think they were almost doing it out of tradition, in a lot of ways.
But then, you know, it happened a couple different times over that, where you’d see a layoff after… when I was at Napster and shortly after they’d gotten acquired by Best Buy, they went through and laid a bunch of people off, because Best Buy had its worst quarter in years right after that time frame. And it’s like, it wasn’t anything we did as a company…
Andrew: You know what, Jeff? In retrospect, you can say, “It wasn’t anything I did,” and take comfort from that. At the time, as a guy who’s really aware of where his self-confidence, how did it impact your value? Your personal value?
Jeff: You know, it’s funny. So that first time, when it happened at Hilton Hotels, I took it extremely personal. It was one of those things where, you know, you really felt like you must have done something wrong. Even though it was a layoff and there was economic hardship for everybody, I mean, the whole world was in chaos, you felt like clearly I just didn’t make it know how valuable I was to that company at lot of ways in the end…
Andrew: Like myself I didn’t make it known to them. I wasn’t speaking up.
Jeff: It’s really where it came down to. It took a long time to shake that out from it, but the funny thing was I agonized about it and I went crazy. I was searching for a job and I didn’t think I was ever going to get another job. I made some rash decisions about what my next gig would be. And it was a good company, but it was one of these things where it was hard to move and a bunch of other stuff that I probably wouldn’t have done.
Andrew: Plus your sell-confidence was so low. You said, “Well, I better take this job because that’s the only one that’s going to be available.
Jeff: Right. That’s exactly what it was.
Andrew: In the moment were you aware that that’s what it was? Were you aware that your self-confidence was low and that you weren’t valuing yourself well or were you saying, “No, this is who I am and just accepting it and taking it for granted without any analysis.”
Jeff: No, I think the dialogue I was having in my head was like I’d better take this because I don’t know when the next one is going to come along. But it’s funny in hindsight this is where it gets comical and you, as you get to know yourself over the years, especially when it comes to the corporate, your professional life or whatever it was, that period was less than two weeks. It’s one thing…
Andrew: [??] at the time…
Jeff: Totally. It felt like I was out of work for years. And then the next time it didn’t happen. That time it was a disaster. It was another company that got shut down. They just went away, but when that happened you almost smile but shook it off to where you kind of went, “I should be okay. Last time this happened to me I was out of work for all of two weeks. And sure enough that was true where I did a little consulting and I found another gig, and it just rolled right into it. And so it feels like crap in the moment. The last time it happened it felt like crap. You just drop a big F bomb in your boss’s office and…
Andrew: You did that?
Jeff: Oh yeah. It wasn’t at him, you just say a few words. It was mostly in the lines of, “Well…” and then you walk out of there, you go get a drink and then you get your crap together and, yeah, move on to the next thing. I think the difference was in the last time that it happened was basically when I basically went just, “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of all those types of decisions, all kinds of things making decisions where my life goes in a lot of ways.
Andrew: You know what? I was talking to James [??] about what he calls time traveling. He says, “Stop thinking about the past. Stop thinking about the future. You’re here in the moment. If you want to be confident, that’s what you should do.” I disagreed with him, and I think you’re giving another example of why time travel does work.
When you looked back the second time you got laid off and said, “Well, the first time I exaggerated the significance of it, and I allowed myself to get carried away. This time I’m not going to?” Did you keep going back and saying, “Well, if I can do well there, then I can do well now in trying something useful, then it’s good.” Or if you can do the same thing into the future and say, “You will get through this because in a year from now you’ll be in a job where you’re happy” and use that as a reminder of the strength. And I think it’s useful.
Jeff: Oh totally. I think it’s learning from the past and never letting it hold you back. That’s was the difference is in the end. I think some of the funniest things have been the interviews themselves where you go in, you’re super nervous, and you’re losing your mind because you figure I’ve got to be interviewed.
I remember when I went to work at the Hilton. That was the biggest company that I had ever worked for at this time. It was a panel interview, and it took days. And it was just a nightmare scenario. You’ve got to do it, and you kind of went, “All right. Cool.” But at the end you went, “These are the people, these guys know what they’re doing” and then you realize it’s the same kind of people you’ve worked before.
Jeff: And then after that I went to Kimberly-Clark. After that you’re kind of going, “These are the people. These have to be the people.” Kimberly-Clark is 130 years old. It’s one of the longest. It’s Kleenex, Huggies, and all this kind of stuff, but it’s really a major brand. You get in there and it’s some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. But they still make the same goofy mistakes that you make in any corporation that you’ve ever worked at. After a while you really get into this kind of funny rhythm where it’s not a cynicism it’s more of like an understanding and a way to basically say, “Hey, look, these things are not that fierce to get in the way because I know it’s not true in a lot of ways.
Andrew: You guys say thank you to marketing, and we’re going to get into it later on in the interview. You talked to real major customers. You have them as customers. My audience is going to recognize when we mention their names. Do you ever get intimidated by them, and then slash back and say, “But those guys were intimidating who I used to work for at Hilton, they’re human beings. I can remember here, these guys are human beings too, and we can sell them, and we can fix their problems.”
Jeff: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that understanding in a lot of ways is, I’ve pulled that fear out of the equation. I mean, you still sweat it a little bit, because it’s business, it’s revenue, it’s the opportunity in a lot of ways. But what you’re not afraid of is that, somehow you’ve lapsed into the company of geniuses in the world. And you just realize, no, they’re just people like anybody else. Maybe they’ve got a better looking education or something at little bit different. But for the most part you’re going, “No, it’s really…if they’re really that good, I wouldn’t be able to step into this environment and clean everything up, and make them so much more money.”
Andrew: And I can see that one little change that you made, made one of your clients just open a spigot of traffic. But we’ll get into that in a moment. First I want to understand how you ended up a consultant? It was because people were asking you, basically, to do this? Who were these people who were asking you to be a consultant, or suggesting that you go in this direction?
Jeff: You know, it’s funny, I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I’ve pretty much made it through this career. And next year by 19 years I’ve been doing this. But I haven’t really ticked anybody off along the way. I haven’t stepped on anybody. You’re always bound to make a few people that are grumbling at you, but for the most part, you’ve got a lot of really great backers. Just people that are really going to go, “No, he’s a good dude,” and whatever it is. And sometimes it’s without even asking, that they will come to you to where they’re going, “Hey, we need to get this done. Do you do that? Do you know somebody that does that?” So, you’ve already set yourself up in the world as a source of information.
Andrew: What kind of information? When you say they would come to you and say, “Do you know how to do that?” What was “that” for you, at the time?
Jeff: I mean, I still get a lot of them, so usually a lot of questions about search engine optimization, or paid search or display. Anything we do on a regular basis now at Fang, but a lot of times they would just show up on our door and they’d say, “Hey, look. We know we need SEO help, but I ain’t able to frickin’ start.” It just doesn’t make any sense, and I think it’s the fact that I usually portray with this idea of like, “Hey, look. Just hold on. People are going to screw you by doing X, Y and Z. Just be really careful of this,” whatever. And being very honest and open, and really kind of showing them the ways that people could take advantage of them, and the ways to approach this so they don’t get taken advantage of. And I think that kind of truth and that kind of approach just makes you approachable.
Andrew: Why do they talk to you? Is it because you are Fit and [Apster] and Lower My Bills, and Local.com, and so they said, “Okay. He works with these internet companies. He must know the internet,” meaning everything. And that’s why they would come to you?
Jeff: In a lot of ways. I’ve taken a lot of stuff over the years, to make myself a knowledge leader.
Andrew: It worked back then and I know that, and that’s one of the things that I want when I dig in, in certain areas of an interview, I do it methodically. With you, it’s how you got your customers and built your reputation. And we will. But back then, how did they know to come to you, before you launched your consulting company? Why did they say, “I’m going to go to Jeff”?
Jeff: A lot of them worked with me already, in one way or the other. Some of our largest customers now, they worked with me. They worked for me. One of our largest companies is a guy that worked for me at some point, and we taught each other a lot during that process, even though it was a boss-employee kind of situation. But it’s one of the things where from that, you make it very clear that you know what you’re doing.
Andrew: I see.
Jeff: But the coolest thing from there is that I think that starts the fire. That one guy who brought us our biggest source of business in the early days on top of it, he’s turned around. He’s also become our best source of referrals in a lot of ways. And then, those other people that have come in the door, those are referring other people. And it just keeps getting more and more, and it’s sort of [inaudible].
Andrew: We talked about the frustration of working a corporate job, of working for someone else where your hands are tied in some areas. You’re on their train. But the upside of it is, you got to meet your future customers, the start of your business, by taking on these jobs. Right?
Andrew: And I see that again and again, when I talk to entrepreneurs who work in business to business based companies. Business to business is based more on relationships than consumer to business, or business to consumer. And those relationships often happen on the job, and often the job is one of the leads for your startup.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean it’s funny. We tell our kids now, because we have similar life experience growing up. It’s because we intentionally worked retail, or intentionally worked a crap job, so we’ve got an understanding of what it’s really like for everybody else to do it. But it also was our biggest inspiration to finish school.
It’s one of the things where once you get into that corporate atmosphere, I actually think that’s your best inspiration for continuing down the entrepreneurial path, because you will learn so much on whether it’s what to do, what not to do, in a lot of ways. You’ve seen so many mistakes laid out in front of you. You get used to the dynamics. You get used to being around people, in a lot of ways.
You see the entrepreneurs that are usually fresh out of school, and in all different levels of success. Some of them are just wildly successful. Some of them are not. But I think in a lot of cases, the ones that aren’t, you’ll notice that what they’re missing is that ability to work with people, just because they really haven’t had the experience. They had the idea, they had the coding knowledge, they had whatever kind of stuff to actually get that stuff done. But when it came to, hey, I’ve got to work with other people to grow this business or make it bigger, whatever, but you’ve somehow alienated everybody around you because you’re a jerk all the time, you’re anti-social, or you just think that you’re the one guy in the room that knows everything or whatever it is, then I think you really kind of screw it up.
So I think that’s helped. And, you know, it’s a great way to make leads later on, I guess.
Andrew: That is a tough thing to learn. How to deal with people. No school taught me how to do it. Jobs kind of did, but not enough. It was reading Dale Carnegie’s book and then going and volunteering at Dale Carnegie’s office in Manhattan. I just knocked on their door and said, I loved this book, and I need more. And then they helped me out by taking me on as a volunteer.
Andrew: So your first client. Who was that?
Jeff: It was actually eHarmony.
Andrew: How did you get eHarmony as a client?
Jeff: That was another one where I had worked with the contact over there at another job. It was actually at [??], we had worked together. And she had gone over there. And it’s funny. I don’t know if you know the area over in Santa Monica and the west side and everything in LA over here, the silicon beach kind of area.
Jeff: It’s a very incestuous kind of like, everybody seems to move around in the same paths, a lot of things, where you can see people just kind of cha-cha from one business to the next in a lot of ways. And once you’re kind of in that cycle, you’ll see people jumping over there. So after [??], there was a ton of people that made it over to eHarmony, a ton of people that made it over to classes. It’s just one thing after the other. It was pretty funny.
Jeff: So she had ended up over there, and had been there for a good click of time. And she was actually one of those first that, before I had even left my corporate job, was already talking to me about, like, “Hey, do you do consulting? Is this something you can actually work out?” And it was something where I’d kind of told her, I said, “You know, I’m not really going down that path just yet. I’ve got a job and everything like that.”
But then the timing was amazing, to where the other job folded underneath me, and I was able to kind of go literally that same day, where I was going, “Hey, remember that you were asking about consulting? I totally do that now.” And I think that actually took on a lot of the cushion, as far as that impact blow after losing that gig, was that you immediately went right into another one. And I think that and, you know, your severance and other stuff, it was almost like a perfect storm as far as getting started again.
Andrew: So I said at the top of the interview that we’re going to understand how a consulting company gets clients. We have a hint of it, being in this network, and by staying friends with people you worked with, you ended up getting work. But is there a way, if that work didn’t come to you, for you to have gone after it? For you to have emailed them? For you to have talked to them?
Jeff: I’ve never been much of a cold caller, actually.
Jeff: I can’t stand it, in a lot of ways. And I think if I was in that position where I had come out to a blank slate and didn’t have any of those types of contacts, or whatever it is, I would have gone down the speaking route, or I would have joined a networking group, or something along those lines, where I just would have forced myself into a new environment. But it’s…
Andrew: But you wouldn’t have just worked the phones?
Jeff: No. I’ve never found that to be particularly effective. That’s why… you hear tons of stories about guys like, “Yeah, man, I just got on the phones, and I got on email, and I just was out there, and I was persistent, and I asked this guy for this business, and I asked, and we were like that.” And the reason those are such good stories are because they worked that time, right? But you don’t hear about the fact that he made thousands of calls before he got to the… or sent off thousands of emails, or a bunch of other stuff where it just didn’t work.
It’s like all the stuff with growth hacker that you read on a regular basis, where it’s like, “Man, this really worked like a charm! This is that!” Yeah, I don’t think it was the hack as much as it was the fact that you actually had a great product that people wanted to see in the first place, you know what I mean? So it’s…
Andrew: I saw Noah Kagan put out a tweet, something like, “How many growth hackers does it take to get people to use a shitty product,” or something like that. So I want to understand, then, the next group of customers were more intentional. Later on it was more intentional. But first before we move onto how you got the others, eHarmony. Who was handling their SEO or their marketing before you? What department in that company?
Jeff: It was spread out, which is very typical. It was very committee-driven in a lot of ways, where there was, you know clearly they got people together where there was somebody in marketing, there was somebody in IT, there was somebody in whatever, that had come together and basically said, “All right. We know we need to fix this. We know this is an issue, or this is something we need to really address.” And I got the feeling almost immediately they really just didn’t know where to start, which they were one of the reasons we actually came up with the way we do business, which is we do a lot of audits, and we do a lot of education. So when it comes to SEO, we don’t do link-building. We don’t do content development or anything like that. We basically tell them everything that’s busted, where the strategy’s busted, where they need to approach things. And that way it’s a big document that they can take and run with from that point. And we kind of advise them, but for the most part it’s an instruction manual how to move forward. And then we go back and teach them to fish, like we say. And even though from a business standpoint, it’s not the best way to make recurring revenue when it comes to SEO, but we’re actually okay with that. We’ve actually found that because we did it that way, it actually creates a really great bond, a great trust between us and our clients, to where they turn around and when they actually need something that does have recurring revenue, like paid search or display or whatever it is, we’re usually pretty top-of-mind.
Andrew: What was busted for eHarmony?
Jeff: The way they were set up is that they didn’t have a ton of content. That was probably their biggest problem at the time. And in reality, their site as far as the world knew, was really one page. It was a splash page, and that’s all their was to it. And they had done some experiments where they had had some blogs and some other content stuff that was on another domain that was a little bit buried, and a few other things. But it was one of those things where, you know when it comes to SEO, there’s three things. It’s content. It’s the site architecture. And it’s the inbound links. And if you’re missing one or more of those type of things, then that’s the reason why you’re not showing up. It’s not personal. Google’s not out to get you. Nobody’s picking on you or whatever it is. You’re actually just not providing a really good quality site that would be of interest to anybody. And they missed those kind of things right out of the chute to where you can basically say, “Hey, look. You fix this. You know, everybody already loves you guys. You guys got plenty of links. You got. . .”
Andrew: I know here, because it’s on my notes here, in my research. Can we talk about what this is? I think we can, because it’s fairly openly available. Can I say it?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. Go ahead.
Jeff: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: What was the issue there?
Jeff: Yeah, that was a big one, and we actually see that a lot, in a lot of ways, where just the way that the robots.txt file is set up causes more damage than good. You know, somebody’s come along and either they’ve set it up as a way to keep the bots out or because they were getting overrun by people that were doing horrible things to them in a lot of ways. Or it’s just because, you know I’ve seen that happen because they moved to a brand new server, of all the crazy things in the world. And when they did, a default robots.txt got put in place that systematically blocked the entire site except for the home page afterwards.
Jeff: And so they’re basically going, “Hey, we’re not indexed, or we don’t even show up at all,” or whatever it is, to the point where that’s actually become one of the first things we look at, just to make sure that it’s not that crazy as far as what it is. And [??] to where we can do it as we. . .I mean, we always find something one way or the other, and it’s usually tons of something. At any given moment, that’s just the way it works. We look at that one first, and a lot of times if we’re on the phone during the early client process, and that’s the first thing we look at and basically say, “Hey, look, here’s a freebie. It’s this.” Right? This is probably what’s keeping you guys out of it. There’s probably dozens more after that fact that’s causing it, but oddly enough that’s usually the only thing we have to give away during that process, is whether or not that’s in place. And rather than. . .
Andrew: I can’t laugh, because frankly ours was full of mistakes, and it wasn’t until someone in the audience just typed in mixergy.com/robots.txt and found some issues that we started to get on top of it and correct it. And now I’m wondering, should we even exclude /?page_id=? [??] we should. Right? Because those are just pages, and they’re available through other searches.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean if they’ve got content on it, there’s usually no good reason not to keep them out of the mix, when it comes down to it. Only ever time we ever tell people to really use robots to block anything now is if you’ve got something that’s intentionally behind a pay wall, or that’s actually nothing but code, or something that really doesn’t need to be looked at by human beings for some reason or the other, or doesn’t ever need to be indexed, or whatever, and all it’s doing is slowing Google and all the other people down when they come to index your site, then yeah, then you can use it.
But for the most part, yeah. Let it flow. Get everything out there. I mean, people don’t have enough content on their site to start with. That’s usually one of the big problems we notice. And blocking it because you think you’ve somehow got the secret sauce that’s hidden away on your site somewhere, that’s ridiculous. And then it’s…
Andrew: You know, I remember talking to Neil Patel, who was the hot SEO guy at the time, and made a big name for himself.
Andrew: And I said, what are you doing for people? Because I interview my friends just like I interview here on Mixergy. And the more he told me what he did, the more I said, this is fairly basic stuff. He said, yes, but people don’t know it. They don’t have the patience for it.
Andrew: And if he can go in and tell them that, then he’s impressive. And then if he could do it for them, then he’s solved all their problems.
All right. Let me, before I ask you about the next batch of customers, because then things got a little terrifying, I want to, of course, thank my friend Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He’s from Southern California. You know him? I see a thumbs-up.
Jeff: I think I’ve met him, I think, once, at a mixer event one time, and knew him because of your show, I think is what it was. But yeah.
Andrew: You know what? There are two people who I remember in Southern California who just broke the mold. It was Mark Suster and Scott Edward Walker. Mark Suster was different because the venture capitalists in Southern California had these beautiful offices, beautiful environments, and they stayed in them.
Andrew: Mark used to come out to the mixers. Mark Suster used to talk to entrepreneurs. Mark Suster, I remember when I was engaged, said, “How’s the engagement going? Is it weird to call her a fiancee?” We just chatted about his wife, about their background. He was just a regular person in the community.
Same thing with Scott. Scott was not one of these lawyers who was like an old man in his office, ready to pounce on you when you made a mistake, or pretending that he was going to introduce you to everybody so that he could then get… not pretending, but hoping to introduce you to people so he could get a pat on the back, instead of trying to help you out.
Andrew: He was part of the community, really there to help. And that’s how I actually got to meet him. I had an issue where I was trying to figure out how a sponsorship worked, years and years ago. I said, “Scott, can you help me out? Why are you buying ads here? Why are you with this and that?” And he walked me through the hard process. A real mensch about it. No reason to ever help me out there, nothing that we could ever do together, I don’t think. He even paid for lunch. And then we stayed in touch, and then when I started selling ads on Mixergy, he’s the guy who bought as many as he could.
Jeff: Nice guy.
Andrew: Anyway, I tell you guys all this because I want you to know that I’m not just promoting Scott because he’s a paying customer. I’m promoting Scott because he’s a mensch. He’s part of the community. He’s someone who gets this environment. And you want someone who gets this environment, who understands what your investors are going to look for when it’s time for you to raise money, what your buyers are going to look for when it’s time for you to sell, and everything before and after that. WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Okay. That’s the first customer. It seems like things should be rolling. But you told Jeremy Weiss in the pre-interview that the first year was actually terrifying. Why was the first year terrifying?
Jeff: We had… I think it was the way that I had thought we needed to exist, in a lot of ways, as a consultancy, but even eventually when we became a full-blown agency. There was a… I think my thinking was more along the lines of like, hey, I just need to get this one, and I need that one so it can cover my nut, or I need to get a couple of them that can cover that. And that’s just…
Jeff: And that was the goal. I just needed enough to cover the nut. And with that in mind, we — me, basically, at that point — we got that customer, we actually got a couple of clients right out of the shoot. EHarmony came in. We had another one that came on right after, that was actually a friend of an old boss that had come in. We had a couple of small projects that on. And we were kind of going, all right, this might actually work. This is something. I think we’ve got some good momentum here.
But the thing was that once that momentum went, I kind of rocked back on my heels a little bit, and just did the work, and really didn’t make it part of my …
Jeff: …responsible to actually continue to go out and find the next one on top of it. And whether or not it’s staying active at the shows, or networking, or whatever it is, or even just reaching out to all those friends and basically making them aware that this is what we’re doing now. That was actually the biggest thing in the world. It had nothing to do with selling them on it. It was really just kind of saying, “Hey, look, I do this now, in a lot of ways.” And the funny thing was that it all led up to it. And it was actually that first year, I was getting married in October of my first year that I was doing businesses. And we’re walking up to it. And, you know, you’re already stressed out. It’s one of the more stressful things you can probably do.
Jeff: And rolling up on that. People are coming into town. Stuff’s paid for. You know, the cake is picked, all this kind of stuff to it. To the point where that one customer that actually was like our nut, actually literally canceled out. They decided they were going to just not use anything anymore, basically. They rolled up in October. Like, the first of October. So days before the wedding, and suddenly the guy that was really covering the nut and everything like that was just gone. Just completely out of it.
And you turn around, you’ve got nothing in the hopper. You’ve got nothing that’s coming up on top of it. So you throw yourself into this idea where you’re going, all right, now I’ve got to find somebody else. I’ve got to really do this. And start doing it.
But nothing’s ever instantaneous. I think that’s the thing that I learned the most from the time. So I went through October, November, December still out there looking for new clients, taking a few scraps here and there just to get by, just kind of making the difference to it.
I remember we went on our honeymoon, and I was just… you were broke. It’s like you were just lucky enough that that was paid for already. But you barely had any cash, you really couldn’t go nuts and really do it. So you actually felt… you know, I was 39, 40, and I was walking around like we were 20-year-olds who just got out of school and didn’t have any money. We were in.
But we made the best of it, we had a good time. But it was one of the things where I’m suddenly going, it shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be where I’m scraping. It shouldn’t be whatever. Like, there should have been stuff that’s coming.
And, oddly enough, because I had been moving around trying to find new stuff, however, when January came, there was the flood. It was basically suddenly people are popping up, and all those people who talked to you, it’s like, hey, we do this, whatever. And then they just pop up and say, hey, it turns out we actually do need somebody…
Andrew: Because you do nothing but filling the hopper at that point.
Andrew: Do nothing but talking to people. Now, you’re a guy who said earlier in the interview, you don’t like cold calling.
Andrew: So what was your process for letting people know that they could work with you?
Jeff: You know, it was far… I tried to keep it as far from cold calling as possible. I wasn’t out there going, hey, do you have any work for me. It was more along the lines of, hey, this is what I do these days, in a lot of ways. And I had already got to a certain point where I was very active on the speaking circuit. I had been doing that since back when I worked at Napster, and had just gotten really popular in that. So I had a lot more contacts that way.
We’re still doing that, and I’ve basically stepped it up to going… I’ve gotten to the point where I had actually stepped out of that for a little bit, saying, you know, I just travel too much, and I’ve got a new wife and a bunch of other stuff. But now I said, well, clearly this is part of the gig, was just keeping yourself aware.
But again, it was really this idea of, hey, we do this, this is going on, whatever it is. And most of the time they come back and go, yeah, we really don’t need anything right now, but it’s good to know that. Good to know you’re out there. Good luck. Whatever it is. It’s, cool. And you leave it at that. It’s almost like you’re really checking in with another friend, more than anything else.
But from that, suddenly the next time that friend needs something, or a friend of a friend needs something, or whatever it is, and then they turn around, and you’re already top of their mind, and you’ve made that kind of difference. So it’s…
Andrew: Was this a phone call saying, calling up to see what you’re doing.
Andrew: By the way, I’m also doing online marketing. I helped out eHarmony.
Andrew: Found one quick mistake for them that really saved them a lot… or got them a lot of traffic, because it opened them up to people in search results. If you know anyone who needs this, let me know and I’d be happy to talk to them about that. It was that kind of thing.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, even… yeah. And it’s funny, it wasn’t even… a lot of times they’ll ask you. If you think about it, the last time you caught up with a friend, usually your lead with that conversation, hey, what’s going on, how’s things going, or whatever it is. And they’ll turn around and ask you right back. You say, yeah, well, I’m great, we’re doing this consulting thing these days, or whatever. And they’ve really got stuff going. So it’s like they’re interviewing you and don’t even realize that’s what’s happening. And I think those are the best way to do it in a lot of ways.
Andrew: I see. So you talked about how you got eHarmony.
Andrew: You talked about how you started to get people after the wedding, after you were making these calls. But somewhere in between those two areas, you got another group of customers. You said, “I got eHarmony, and then I got a few other small companies.” Who are these? How’d you get these small companies right out of the gate?
Jeff: I mean, they were friends of friends. The one that was kind of our sustenance for most of that first year was actually a company that one of my old bosses at local, he had run into them because they were part of the Young Presidents Club, or something like that, because they had known them through that. And when that guy basically reached out and said, hey, look, I think it’s time that we actually get a marketing guy in here and actually do some stuff, whatever, I was just the first thing to come to mind for that other one, and so he passed it that way. And then there were two or three others that were just like that.
It’s funny, and I think it’s important to make this point, is we had instances where I’m sitting there going, should I be advertising? Should I actually be doing that? Should I be doing it this way, or whatever it is? But oddly enough, the people that came in that door were awful. There were people that were really…
Andrew: When you were buying ads online, you were getting bad customers.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. It’s just like, just the quality wasn’t there, in a lot of ways. It’s one of those things where, like, they’d show up, and they’d want the world out of you, in a lot of ways, where they’re going. But they’d be this big, they’d have next to nothing on budget, but they’d turn around and go, we want you to treat us like we’re this big. And you kind of go, look, it’s a matter of hours. I’ve got to have value to my time, and this kind of stuff.
And then they’d actually never do anything. Like, they’d just give us a lot of talk, and a lot of those things, and you realize you’re just throwing yourself into it, and it’s horrible, you know?
Andrew: I did some research on you, and I didn’t see that you guys get much traffic.
Andrew: Your site is low. It doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
Andrew: You don’t buy any ads, right? But what you do do is you did speakings, you said.
Andrew: Now, how do you get speaking opportunities, as a guy who’s doing search engine optimization? Or all marketing? Is it… are we talking about the local meet-ups first, and then you build up to bigger conferences? Or what’s the deal?
Jeff: So I lucked out really early. I had a friend of mine who had been doing the speaking circuit for a long time, Kevin Ryan, and he’d gotten really big in it. And actually, he was the one where I basically lifted that strategy from early on, to where…
Andrew: Yeah, I want to know that strategy, too. What’s the strategy. I want my listeners…
Jeff: Well, the speaking thing, basically. It was like, he kind of put that as, hey, I’m going to make myself as famous as possible for being this expert, in a lot of ways. His goal was to become a thought leader, and he did it through speaking, he did it through writing for a lot of organizations. And he still does, to the point now, we’re writing the same things, and a lot of times competing for the same spot, a lot of times on the same panel.
But he had actually, because we were friends, he had made a couple of recommendations early on, where somebody was putting a panel together, or something along those lines, and they go, hey, you should really add Jeff, he’s over at Napster now, he’s, whatever it is. And that really kick-started, in a lot of ways, where in the early days, you either get people asking you to approach you, because you’d been known, or you saw at this panel, and I want you to do another one. And sometimes you’d get on these shows where you were pretty much set for the next year, where you start off at West, you end up at East, you do Chicago, you do whatever, and you do the international circuit, and it just keeps going, and you really haven’t lifted a finger as far as having to propose anything. But…
Andrew: But is that because once you become known as the guy, then everyone else wants the guy, too? Or once you become known as a guy who speaks well on this topic. You don’t even have to be the guy.
Jeff: Yeah, that helps it a lot. And you still have to prove yourself. I mean, you still… many times where I’ve seen a brand new speaker, and so there’s other people that have gotten up there, and they’ve just laid an egg on stage, and it’s… and they don’t get invited back. So you really do have to know what you’re doing, in a lot of ways.
But you can’t fake it. I think that’s the biggest difference to it. If you see there’s plenty of instances where people are buying their way into it because they’re sponsors, or whatever it is, and you get there and you go, oh, this is the same presentation I’ve seen six times, and he really hasn’t updated it, and it’s one long sales pitch, or whatever it is. But this is… I mean, this one’s, a lot of it’s different, where you’re kind of up there, you’re actually sharing knowledge, you’re actually teaching or whatever it is. And then you get asked back.
But yeah, you’ve still got to put the work into it. I mean, now especially that we’re on business, and I’m not a brand like I used to be, it takes a lot more to be actually out there pitching to be at different shows. You have to apply. You have to come up with great ideas before the things start. And a lot more conferences have become that way, where they’ve actually gotten out of the habit of just making it like a buddies club of people that we’re just getting at the same shows over and over again. And they do it just so they have a wide range of people that actually…
Andrew: They open it up, there are applications to be filled, and if you fill out an application, you have an opportunity to compete with everyone else. But it’s… give me one tip for someone who says, I want to start speaking, too. What do you advise them?
Jeff: Be prepared to give away part of the store. I mean, you don’t give it all away, the store. It’s one of the things where you’re up there for a very specific reason, and the knowledge you should be sharing should be this fantastic combination of . . . it shows the fact that you actually do know what you’re talking, about in a lot of ways. But it should be something that you don’t mind parting ways, in a lot of ways. And I think that’s made a big difference in how we’ve actually put this stuff together. If you can go up there and basically say, “Hey, look, I’m going to talk about this one product,” or, “I’m going to talk about it,” but you’ve got no case study or you’ve got no hard numbers; or you’ve got nothing in there that really shows, “Hey, we started with this. We’ve made this. This is what there is. Here’s the frickin’ equation. I’m going to give you this equation. This is how I came up with this in the first place.” They’re not going to give you the time of day, because they’ve got a dozen other people that can. And you have to be perfect for that audience in a lot of ways, and a lot of these ones that we actually speak at are other search professionals, or other people in display. And a lot of times, there are some opportunities for finding clients at these shows. But you’re really doing it as a way to just get your name out there, and be known and be almost respected in a lot of ways. We get more play off the idea that it’s not that people have seen me at the show. It’s that when we go and actually talk to clients that are new clients, that actually people don’t know me or whatever it is, and they turn around and say, “Oh, Jeff has spoken all around the world. And he’s in this many countries, and he’s on the Board of this…” or whatever is. It becomes that way, it’s like clearly you know enough that we can have this conversation.
Andrew: So, here we go. First, a customer comes to you because of a relationship that you had. Second group of customers come to you because you’re telling people who you knew, who know you, “I am now in this business,” and just chatting them up and letting them know where you are. Next, number three – third group of customers came from speaking opportunities. We talked about how you did that, right? And then the next one after that, is it blogging and social media?
Jeff: That helps a lot. I mean, we blog regularly on our site. We do a lot of social media. I do a lot of interaction on Cora. We’ve actually found that to be really helpful in a lot of ways, as opposed to establishing yourself as a thought media. But we’ve actually gotten clients directly from that, believe it or not – which is kind of fun actually, I think. Because it’s people that have clearly seen that you’re out there and you’re willing to help. You’re doing whatever, and they show up on your grade. “I’d like to pay you for more of that kind of help,” so that’s…
Andrew: I’ve seen you there. I see you on Mars.com where you blog. I see you on your own site. But you know what? I don’t think you get much traffic on your blog, right?
Jeff: Not a ton. I mean, we share it a little bit on there. We could probably put a lot more and do it in a lot of ways. There’s probably a dozen different ways we could use things.
Andrew: I didn’t even know that you found your voice in it, to be honest. You tell me?
Jeff: Yeah, I think we have in a very different way. I think one of the things that we had to make a decision with, when it comes to our blog, was that we’re sharing information. But we really had to basically say, “Well, hold on a second. Who’s the audience that we really want to talk to, here? Who is it that we really want to press upon this knowledge,” or whatever. And it’s people that could become our clients in a lot of ways. So, we changed it from the idea that you’ll see some of our competitors out there that have that kind of like, “Hey. We’ll give away the store,” kind of attitude in a lot of ways. But really, the people that end up reading their blog the most are their competitors, or other people that will probably never use them in a lot of ways, because they go, “Oh, great. You just told me what I wanted to learn.” And I don’t think that really gets them the leads that they really need, in a lot of ways. I think that just gets a lot of followers of people that are doing stuff. But meanwhile, I think the way we approach things where we go after, saying, “Hey, look. We know about this industry, and we know about this. And here are some things that are changing overall in the industry,” or whatever it is. But we’re not up there going, “Hey. Here’s an AdWord script that we’re going to do,” and whatever, like that. We’re more about the, “Hey, AdWord scripts exist, and they’re changing the way that the world works. And this is this,” and stuff.
Andrew: And if they want, they can contact you and work with you.
Jeff: Yeah. So, it’s like that.
Andrew: Also in social media, you’re linked to your Twitter account. Your Twitter account has 774 followers, and 863 people you are following. So, it’s not that active. Are you getting customers from social media? Or is it still small?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s still small. The corporate one is still very small, and it’s that and our Facebook one. We’ve actually made a lot of efforts lately, probably over the last year or something, to really grow that. But we still do it on a very organic way, to where they follow us at the shows, they follow us, whatever. And so, we’re not out there buying them. We’re not actually doing a lot of extra efforts on there. We do some interaction. We answer questions, and we do whatever. But it’s not been where we’re going to have it a lot of times. My personal one, which has a picture of myself, that one had got, you know, I think I’m just shy of 3,000 followers these days. And our clout’s way higher, and the interaction’s a lot better, and there’s a lot more going on in that one. And oddly enough, that’s the one where I tend to get the occasional lead of someone that’s actually looking for some work. Or looking to do some work, that is.
Andrew: Coming from @countxero.
Jeff: That’s right.
Andrew: Xero, X-E-R-O. How’d you get that name?
Jeff: “Count Zero” is the name of a book by William Gibson. It’s a science fiction book. And William Gibson wrote “Neuromancer” and a bunch of others. So “Count Zero” was the second book in the “Neuromancer” series of books on top of it. And usually in the early days of the net, when I was actually going out there and trying to get that name, “Count Zero” with a Z was taken, in a lot of ways, so I switched it to an X just to kind of be goofy about it, and it stuck. And now I actually have that on just about every site that I exist on. But it’s just the way it works.
And actually, I think it’s funny when somebody actually does recognize it, or does get it. I was talking to Matt Cutts from Google one time over Twitter, back and forth, and he made it a point, I guess. This whole, “By the way, I dig the name,” you know? Saying, hey, thanks. Now I know you’re that kind of geek. It was like… but it’s a…
Andrew: I named my dog Tucker. The idea that someone said to me [??] Tucker, right?
Andrew: And started talking about that car maker, I knew we’d be buds.
Andrew: Next group of customers came from relationships with other agencies.
Andrew: It seems like this is where you got the bulk of the big name customers that you work with. Is that right?
Jeff: A lot of it.
Andrew: A lot.
Jeff: I mean, some of, I think, the more recognizable American brand names…
Andrew: For example?
Jeff: Belkin, and, you know, we’ve done some work for PetSmart, and a few others out there. And I think those came in from our partners, which have been irreplaceable in a lot of ways. I think… in the same way that you’re kind of walking through, that you can see every big, big step that we’ve taken, everything that comes on top of it, it’s kind of like we’ve got this from this, and this from this. And, you know, partnering up with these other agencies, that maybe they only do traditional media, and we’ve kind of become their digital arm. Or sometimes they’re actually another digital agency that doesn’t want to touch SEO, or something along those lines.
Andrew: So how do you find those relationships? The ones where they take a customer that’s trusted and they hand them to you, essentially. Or make the introduction that allows you, then, to partner up with them? It seems like that’s a great way to get customers.
Jeff: It’s a very similar way as we got the regular customers, in a lot of ways. We usually know these people. One of our biggest partners that we’ve been working with for over a year now, he and I grew up together. We actually… he’s been one of my best friends for over 20 years, at this point. When we were in a youth group, when we were kids, we both made state officer level at the same time, and stayed fast friends the whole time.
To the point that we actually thought it was funny, when we were in college, we actually had two different majors that had nothing to do with marketing or advertising, at that point. I was originally computer science. He was originally biotech engineering, or something along those lines. But we eventually moved into marketing. He went the agency route. I went the client route. And he had a full life of working for these really big agencies over the years, but always on the traditional side. Made his way to the top, and eventually started his own agency.
But meanwhile… and he had had it for maybe a year and a half, two years, before mine had started on top of it. But when it came time to get into that, where he had just over and over again, he had clients that were going, hey, do you do digital, do you do that stuff. You know, I was just the first guy that came to mind in that thing. So there wasn’t any difference on that.
We’ve had plenty of other ones where they, you know, because of that relationship that we’ve made with him, or I don’t know, maybe it’s a creative agency that never touched media at all, or whatever it is. And again, it’s that flash fire of just making the right connection to people that all come together and finally become your referral network, in a lot of ways.
Andrew: So if I want to duplicate that, I might want to go back and see which of my friends is working at an agency that could introduce me to clients.
Jeff: I mean, it’s not the craziest idea in the world. I think these relationships that you make with people, if they can survive the strain of working together, which is a big thing. It’s actually something that my buddy and I, we worry about constantly, because we always had that relationship where we could, at any given moment, be talking about music, or about comic books, or gaming, or whatever, because we’re that kind of people at this age, still. But that’s one of the things where we kind of had made a deal with each other, where we kind of had to make a deal with each other to where it’s, like, hey, look, we still have to do that. And it works. And most times, we grumble at each other, we do whatever… both of our wives say we sound like an old married couple a lot of times when we’re doing this kind of stuff. But I think a lot of times, the fact that we are friends and that we actually have that relationship has made the difference, where there’s instances where we probably have survived some hardships that usually a relationship that wasn’t built on that kind of thing just would have been cut. Like, somebody goofed up, or somebody that is on my team or whatever goofs up, or something along those lines, that you have somehow explain that sort of whatever it is.
And we’ve had clients that aren’t paying their bills or a variety of things. And if you didn’t know this person as well, on top of it, you could turn around and basically say, well, why don’t I cut and run. This isn’t my responsibility. I’ve done my work, and screw you. But you don’t. You actually kind of say, well, let’s do our best to actually fix this, and how can we move forward, and how can we help each other, and how can we all grow along those lines. And I think that’s investment in knowing the spirit that’s made the difference.
Andrew: You talked earlier about how some of your customers just start working with you, and then they leave. Others will continue on an ongoing basis. There is no lock-in the way that SaaS companies might have a lock-in with their customers. Because if I stop paying for my analytics package, then I lose all the old data, too, for example.
Andrew: There’s nothing like that with you, is there?
Jeff: Not entirely. I mean, you kind of blow the relationship in a lot of ways, but we… what we really want to have happen with our clients is that the reason they’re staying is because they love our work. And that, I think, is the best way to do it.
When I was building this company up and designing things like how we were going to do SEO, and how we were going to do paid search, or anything, I did it from the fact that I’d been a client for 15 years after that, and saw where so many SEO companies, they were treating their clients like… it was almost like a threat of leaving. It was like, hey, you can’t fire us. You’re going to lose all your rankings. Or, you can’t do this, or this is all going to go away.
I said, that’s no way to treat people, in a lot of ways. So…
Andrew: Continuity is still an issue for you. Continuity with clients.
Andrew: Can you talk about that? What is the problem there?
Jeff: So we’ve got plenty of instances where… something with, like, paid search, or display campaigns, or whatever it is, I think that’s where our continuity lives in a lot of ways. And sometimes we have to put things in place, do where we do have a minimum contract right out of the shoot, just to basically… we do that to say, look, you have to give us plenty of time to actually prove ourselves. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take changes. It’s going to be whatever.
Sometimes we blow them away right out of the chute. Sometimes it takes a little bit. But for the most part, you’ve got to say, hey, give us a little room. And then they hold on and they’ve become some of our biggest clients.
But when it comes to SEO, like I mentioned before, we’ve designed that in a way where we want them to not need us anymore. Which is, we’ve had a couple people say that’s a horrible business model. You’ve basically taught your customers to do your job, and now they’ve gone away. And again, we’ve gotten more new customers after that fact from that kind of activity, because we push it from an idea where we’ve made it something where they trust us. We’ve said, hey, look, we’re going to teach you guys how this works. We’re going to make it so you can do your business better in a lot of ways.
And almost instantaneously we’ll turn around and go, great, let’s talk paid search, or let’s… we’ve got a buddy of mine that’s actually just started this company. I want to make this introduction. Or whatever it is. And the fire starts from there.
But I think if we approached SEO from the way that a lot of different companies do, which is you get them on the tit, as they say, where it’s just recurring revenue for days, but the poor customers don’t actually even know what’s going on. So what are you actually doing? What’s the work? Where’s the results? Where’s this kind of stuff?
And I think they split, and they split angry. And they’re not the ones that become your best source of referrals. I just think people just are ticked with you in a lot of ways, and you can only do that for so long before you run yourself out of people to tick off.
Andrew: Tell people how we do… take them behind the scenes and tell them a little bit about how we work here at Mixergy. Because I’m looking at two pieces of research on my screen, Jeff. One is you telling me how much staff, or you telling Jeremy in pre-interview how many people work on your team. On the left, I see our internal research that says how many people we internally figure out work on your team.
Andrew: It’s one of our ways of seeing revenue size and company size and so on. So our research said six. You said seven. Obviously the one person difference is insignificant in this case. But the reason I want to stop and say this is because I want the audience to know, I watch and listen to other interviews, too. I see that very often will shovel the same crap, all of them will. No research, no work ahead of time and nothing but the excuse that I’m an interviewer and I just get to be curious like everyone else and I don’t have to do any research. And frankly, that’s ok for some things.
When it comes to this topic, and specially when there’s so many other people doing it, I want to get it right. I’m an entrepreneur. I used to read all those business books that were written by people who had no substance, all they wanted to do was build a reputation for themselves so they could sell courses or sell, what was it, seminars, that was a big thing. Sell seminars, sell books, sell consulting to big companies. There was no substance.
I started Mixergy.com to fight against that and one of the ways that we fight against it is we only bring people who actually do the work. And second is we do our research, we have to do our own work. I’m so proud that we do the research, talk to you, we plan everything and then it’s there to back things up. And you wouldn’t be here, Jeff, if we hadn’t done research before and discovered that everything is good. This is a guy we can trust having on here.
I’m really proud of it. There is a whole process in place. I don’t even know how to show the audience every part of this process, except reveal little parts along the way like that we search to see how many employees can we find that work at Jeff’s company. We read other articles. I’ve research here where someone pulled up excerpts from other articles to make sure that I read them. For example, you told me about how you lost a customer? You told JohnLoomer.com in 20/12 ‘My anchor client pulled up stakes completely and left me scrambling for business in quarter 4, which is hard anyway.’ I did that research. I love that.
So all this is to say, guys, whatever business you’re in, frankly, work as hard as we do and we want to work harder. And second, if you’re looking to learn from anyone, I want you to pick Mixergy every time, because of the work that goes into it. It’s not because of the lighting, it’s not because of the mike, it’s not because of my hair, which I got a good haircut. It’s because, you do like it, right?
Jeff: Yes, it’s great.
Andrew: [??] length here but frankly I think if I cared a little bit more about my appearance, what I’d say is I’m graying right now, I should not have a beard to emphasize the gray. But I don’t care about that.
I care about one thing and one thing only, the substance of the interviews over and over. I would go through my transcripts with an expert, someone who comes in once a week and just reads the transcripts with me, question per question. We say: Did that work? Why did that work? Did I get the person to open up? [??] why not? and keep improving.
This is the place for quality, not the place for good hair days. It is a place for quality questions and quality substance. And if you want more, go to Mixergypremium.com and you will get hundreds of interviews all thoroughly researched, almost all. I’ve made my mistakes. I won’t pretend I’m perfect. Thoroughly researched with the care for the kinds of questions that a real entrepreneur is going to need, that someone’s who’s really in business is going to need the answers to. Not the stuff that wannabe’s want, not the stuff that just sounds fine but the real substance. How do you get your first client? [??] second client.
MixergyPremium.com. When you do, you get quality work and continue to fund this great operation here. It will allow us to build something that will outlive all of us. I still believe a hundred years from now people will be studying these stories and they’re not going to go over to these other jerks. They’re going to come to Mixergy where the substance is and they’ll say this is the place where we find out what really happened, who the pioneers were.
MixergyPremium.com. Go there for substance.
Hey, you were by the way, Jeff, a premium member, thank you, who signed up long time ago. Thank you for believing in me back when we were getting started. You signed up, though, with a name Powell Interactive. Today we’re talking about a different company. Sorry?
Jeff: It’s like a holding company in a lot of ways. [??] is like the larger company, Fang Digital is like a dba with a couple other companies over the years. [?] was the root, the LLC of the operating brand. [??] so it’s just kind of the way our design things to move around.
Andrew: I do that too. If you get one company that’s incorporated or LLC or formed as a structure, you can get all the dba’s that you want, right? It costs like a few bucks to register them and then you can do business under al those names. And so it allows you to have almost these different entities without having to keep track of those every different LLCs and paying the taxes for them every year or the fees for them every year and all that mess.
A book company?
Jeff: I toyed around with the idea like doing some books and we do eBooks now as kind of a promotional thing on the side. But I toyed around with the idea of doing some self-publishing and basically said this is the way I want to do this. And it was on entrepreneurship, it was on marketing, it was on search, it was on anything I could think of. And got a lot of notes, but never really got that far with it.
And then we had the ecommerce business, which was actually probably the biggest thing. That’s actually the one when I was actually about halfway through getting my MBA, I actually went through and actually executed one of the ideas that I had done as an assignment. It was an online novelty shop called The Gag. You know, rubber chickens and fake dog poop and stuff like that. But it was based on the novelty store that you can actually find on Main Street in Disneyland.
And so I said, “I want to create one of those.” And then we actually ran it out of my living room, out of my spare bedroom, for a while. And grew that, and eventually got to the point where we had other people doing fulfillment and a bunch of other stuff, and it had gotten very self… it wasn’t giant, it wasn’t anything big that I could retire on, but it was a nice little extra source of cash, and allowed us to get new computers on a regular basis, and…
Andrew: Speaking of cash, what kind of revenue are you guys doing now with Fang Digital Marketing?
Jeff: We’re not really saying just yet, but it’s one of the things where… we grew 300% last year, we’re probably growing another 150% this year. So, I mean…
Andrew: Is it over $1 million in sales? It’s got to be.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, it’s crossed that line on top of it.
Andrew: Does the bottom line have more than 350?
Jeff: Yeah. And I think a lot of that because we’ve kept it fairly tight. We’re a fairly virtual organization. It’s funny, the way I tend to do business is I just do it myself until I can’t anymore, until I’m about ready to lose my mind, and then I finally start getting help and whatever. And so it took forever to get to the point where I finally got some help on the finance front. It took forever before I started hiring other people. It took forever…
Andrew: You know what, though? I’ve done that, too.
Andrew: The problem I have doing that is when I’m just about out of my mind and I have to hire someone is when I have the least time to train them properly. The least time to set up all the structures so that they can have a good first day, and so that they can know what they’re doing for the first month. How do you solve that?
Jeff: It becomes a ride along kind of scenario. It’s really rare that I’ll basically say, hey, look, I’ve got everything in place, so I can actually kick this off right out of the chute at something. We’re both doing the same job for the first month until I take the training wheels off and let them that way. I mean, all the people that work paid search for me, that’s now… they had some experience with paid search before, but I basically said I wanted to do it my way, this is the way I designed it, this is the purpose. And then when they kind of get that level, I back off and say, great, you’ve got your own clients, you’ve got this, you can… I trust you on that. I’ll stop and do a call every now and then, but for the most part, I think you’ve got this handled.
Andrew: But it’s shadowing for a month.
Jeff: Yeah. At least. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. It really depends on what it really is. With the finance one, I’d been doing that for long enough that we were doing weekly calls, and we were doing everything, and it was just really interactive for a long time until I really felt like, okay, I can trust you, and you’ve got access to the money. That’s important, and so it’s going to take a little bit. But once it got there, it felt fine, so.
Andrew: All right. The website is FangDigital.com. You’ve got case studies on there. You’ve got events. I’ll click on the events. I didn’t click on the events before. Oh, these are events that you attended.
Jeff: Yeah. That I’ve spoken at. We don’t have anything scheduled for next year just yet.
Andrew: Yeah, looks like it, right. Congratulations on having some space, right? If people want to connect with you, what’s a good way for them to do it?
Jeff: You can get to me right through the website. You can @countzero on Twitter, is always a good way to kind of reach that out. I’ve got plenty of people to do that. But the usual suspects are out there. Jeff@FangDigital.com, and I don’t mind giving out my out email, so you can find it that way.
Andrew: You guys use it, of course, remember, start out with thanks, gratitude. I’m going to say it right now. Thank you so much for doing this interview, Jeff.
Jeff: You, too. It was a pleasure.
Andrew: Thank you all for watching and being a part of it. Bye, guys.
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