Andrew: Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I’ve always said, I do these interviews for an audience of real entrepreneurs, they listen to what’s being said in these interviews, they learn, they build their companies along the way. And today, we’ve got a great example of that. This is an entrepreneur who I’ve known for, I’m going to say, eight years at this point, and I know because I went back to find his email for this interview and I found emails going back to 2010 between two of us. Do you believe that?
Ross: I did not know it was eight years. Wow, a long time, man.
Andrew: Yeah, man.
Ross: Yeah, I’ve been following you a long time, appreciate you having me on, and yeah, it’s funny. I think a long time ago as I said I’ll send Andrew an email, just try and generally be useful to him. Maybe, who knows? It could also be great to be connected to you and eight years down the line playing long game.
Andrew: And we exchanged a lot of emails over the years including frankly one where you said, “Hey, this guest that you had on is a client of ours. We don’t talk about it. Would you mind making an adjustment to the link?” And I said, “Sure, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the links. Take whatever link you want.” And so we adjusted the link, but I thought, “Whoa, interesting.” This guy is a client, I’m not going to say it because I know that it was private, you sent it to me, but it does give me a sense of the size of the businesses you are working with. I had no idea, though, the Ross’ voice you just heard built the business that was big as it is today. I had no idea until I was ready for this interview. I sat down, I looked to decide, I said, “Okay, I got a picture of it,” then I looked at my notes I go, “What the hell is he been up to all these years?” This is really impressive. So his name is Ross Hudgens. Did I pronounce your name right?
Ross: You did.
Andrew: I’ve been seeing it for years and I pronounce it differently in my head.
Ross: That’s right. Ross Hudgens, you got it.
Andrew: What happened? Your audio just freaked out. Did I lose you?
Ross: You got it. No.
Andrew: There we go. Can you hear me okay?
Ross: Yeah, Ross Hudgens is perfect.
Andrew: Yeah. He is a founder of Siege Media. It’s a content marketing agency with a specialty in SEO. Again, here’s the thing that blew my mind about your story, and I didn’t realize it until I started prepping. I thought these agencies could only grow so big.
Ross: Yeah. I mean, I do think we’re big. It’s weird maybe it’s being an entrepreneur. What’s the word? Like insecurity, I don’t feel like we’re that big. I guess we are getting pretty big.
Andrew: You’re bigger than I’d imagine an agency could get. And frankly, I think also the cool thing is the part that took me by surprised. I’ve known you forever. You’re like the guy who blogged about all kinds of stuff online who we’ve been chatting. I just didn’t realize that so much was going on, and we’re going to find out how big this was, and I understand the idea that the sense that you also want to get much bigger. I always feel that.
This interview is sponsored by two companies, and the first is going to host your website right, it is called HostGator. We had an issue with HostGator. I’m going to talk about how we solved it. And the second is a company called Toptal. And I’ll tell you and everyone about both of those sponsored later in the interview. First, let me start off with, since I kind of talked about this size. If we don’t address it, people are going to start imagining that you got a billion dollar company or something in their heads. Revenue 2017, what was it?
Ross: It was about 3.2.
Andrew: Now, you know that this pre-interview that you did, at this point was like six months ago when I was looking at numbers from 2016, and 2016 was considerably less. What was 2016’s revenue?
Ross: I think that was 2.1.
Andrew: Impressive growth. So we’re talking about 50% year over year growth, which frankly, an agency that depends so much on people is tough. Give me an example of a typical client job that you do so that we get a sense of what you’ve built, and then we’ll go back in time and see how you got to here and what worked for you.
Ross: Yeah. So our normal client is getting a lot of their business through search in some way, so we’re helping them create and promote content that helps search. So a lot of what we do is link generation, top middle funnel content that we are good and specializing creating rankings for that also can help them rank for something in addition to that.
Andrew: And what you do is you create the content on their blog, you create the content for their . . . Like, give me a client and an example of what you’ve created because it’s not just blog content, it’s more.
Ross: Yeah. An example just bring it for Siege specifically, a topic like “How to increase website traffic in your business?” You’re googling that search, we’re building a super in depth guy, there’s an infographic in there where we’re talking about our expertise, we’re good at generating a tons of links to that, and also get in to rank for that topic, which in turn might also help us rank for content marketing agency, content marketing services, and that kind of full process allows us to rank for those terms and also the top middle funnel term of how to increase website traffic and that kind of rinse and repeat thing, we do for a lot of different clients on the web.
Andrew: I see. I noticed that you didn’t feel comfortable talking specifically about your clients so you shifted it to you, but that gives me a sense of it. Will you feel comfortable saying the name of the clients that you’ve gotten? I see them on your website so I think you should say that.
Ross: Yeah, sure. We’ve been doing a lot of videos recently and I tend to note some of our biggest ones over and over, so I need to figure out and I . . .
Andrew: Dude, I’ve never seen your video, so hit it.
Ross: Yeah. So we’ve got . . . Some of our clients are Shutterfly, Provide Commerce, which is FTD, ProFlowers, we work with Intuit, we work with a lot of like middle sized businesses that are VC backed in some way that are growing at that stage. And yeah, I’ve worked with Zillow in the past, lots of . . .
Andrew: TripAdvisor, Airbnb, ZipRecruiter, Intuit, Software Advice, SeaWorld. And we’ll talk about SeaWorld and how you got them. And so if I . . . So I flew somebody from the Mixergy audience to San Francisco because he won a contest recently. We got together and I thought, you know, “Next time I fly somebody in, I’m going to find a list of things for them to do in San Francisco that are not business related,” because I know people want to get a sense of the sites. But I don’t give a rat’s ass about the sites. I don’t know what it is. So I did a Google search and I came up with top 25 things to do in San Francisco. That’s the type of thing that you would create on behalf of a client, let’s not say specifically, but on behalf of a client like TripAdvisor or Airbnb, because that gets them more traffic from searches. Am I about right?
Ross: Exactly. Exactly.
Andrew: Okay, great. All right. Let’s talk about how you got there because there’s something that you told our producer it that I don’t understand. You said, look, I grew up in the East Bay, that’s part of the San Francisco Bay Area. I wasn’t super entrepreneurial. The closest thing I’ve got to entrepreneurial experience was e-wrestling. What is e-wrestling, dude? What is that?
Ross: E-wrestling is basically, it’s pretty nerdy. It’s fake wrestling where you do . . . Do you watch wrestling? Are you a wrestler?
Andrew: I used to, yes.
Ross: Yeah. So they do those side promos where they interview the wrestlers and they’re doing a little bit to create hype for the matches. So what you would do online is you would write up these promos and do creative writing pretending to be a wrestler talking shit about the other guy. I mean, whoever wrote those better won the match, and someone would actually write up the match at the end of the week and basically just find the winner. So what this did, at least from my point of view, it helped train me become a creative more florid writer, which I didn’t know at the time, but I think has helped me become a better creative writer and also just generate clients now from hopefully being a better articulator, maybe not verbally of what we do in our service system, things like that.
Andrew: Okay, and so you just kept writing this stuff and you did it just for props, just for the right to say, “I beat the other person at describing what was coming up with this fake interview.”
Ross: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: I get it.
Ross: But I was like . . . just to be clear, I was young teenager probably 12, 13 nerdy kid, and basically this is what I’ve spend my time. And kind of infancy of computers coming up, and there wasn’t that much, but you could get on like AOL forums and there are small little sub-communities and things like that like this.
Andrew: So 2010, when you and I first talked, and one of the things I like about your emails are, you know how to keep things short but actually clear. Boy, if somebody’s got to go back to the school teachers and say, “Don’t teach people how to write long letters anymore, teach them how to sum up their idea with the message in a sentence or two with a clear call to action.” Anyway, you’re good at that. When we started talking 2010, what were you doing back then? What were you doing for work?
Ross: I think my first job, and when I reached out to you at that time, I was working for Sujan Patel who former guest on your show.
Andrew: Yeah. So by then you already got a job at Single Grain, and you got it, this is after the pharmaceutical company that you were working with.
Andrew: What were you doing at the pharmaceutical company?
Ross: So that was right out of college, just scanning documents for them, and the owner was really nice just said, “Ross, you’re a marketing major, market our website.” So I started doing some Googling, found this SEO thing, did a horrible job for the website. Sure it got no traffic that led me to get an internship which I did for free. And at the time, I immediately leveraged that to find a part time job.
Andrew: Let me pause there. The internship was where?
Ross: The internship was . . . Actually, I forget the name of the company now.
Andrew: What did you do?
Ross: It was just an SEO company on some beach town, small four or five people.
Andrew: I see. So this was you saying, “Hey, you know what? I’m pretty bad at doing this for the pharmaceutical company, but who cares? They’re just looking to get anyone to try it out. I want to get good at this, and the best way to get good is to go work for someone for free.”
Andrew: And you worked for them for free. Did you learn anything?
Ross: Not a ton to be honest, but enough.
Ross: But I knew and it was kind of interesting. There’s one thing I learned from “The Dip” from Seth Gordon, maybe you’ve heard of that book.
Ross: It’s just really good about when knowing when to quit and things like that. I feel like that’s been useful in my career, just once I had that internship on my resume, I was now immediately able to find a real job. So very quickly, I started looking for another job which led me to Single Grain and working for Sujan as an SEO analyst in a paid position.
Andrew: Okay. I see it. And so you just started working with him. I’m imagining you learned a lot from him as you were the first employee at his company, right?
Ross: Yeah. So for people who don’t know Sujan, really smart business guys and now well known in business and SEO and has gone in that direction, but I learned a lot from him just knowing he was only a year older than I am, and I worked out of his apartment, but had already dropped out of college, done a ton of hustle on the side to build his own business, and it showed me what was possible, how to network, how to learn SEO. And he also gave me the reins really early that probably helped me learn some entrepreneurial skills in terms of developing our SEO processes at Single Grain and things like that.
Andrew: He was very . . . I remember the interview that I did with him, he was very, very process oriented. He would have this set of steps that anyone could take and then go request links back when link building was kind of a new thing, right?
Ross: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Or effective, super effective.
Ross: Yeah. It was more process oriented that you could do more gray hat things, and now it’s not the case. But back then, we definitely did a lot of gray hat stuff.
Andrew: Meaning things like, ask people for links on their sites. What else?
Ross: More actually, in that time, there was a lot of link buying, so exchanges of links for money in a lot of times.
Andrew: And so you had a process for getting people to contact sites and say, “We’ll pay you for a link.”
Ross: Exactly. And there were brokerages like that, you might have heard of like Text Link Ads, Blogsvertise at the time. A lot of SEOs use this even though it was clear as day who was on that inventory for Google to see, but that was a big part. We like spun articles, you take an article and make it 5% different and posted on article directories. That was how high quality SEO was.
Andrew: I remember going into the message boards, I think it was on SEOmoz at the time, where these people who own these businesses were freaking out when Google came after them. And then you’re right, it was so out in the open. They would give talks about it, they would be directories like you said where you can find people to do this stuff. And they were shocked that they were getting butchered by Google.
Ross: Yeah, it’s kind of . . . Not to go down another rabbit hole, but it feels like crypto in a lot of ways recently, everyone feels like it’s going to go forever until it doesn’t go forever.
Ross: And suddenly, you come back down to earth a little bit.
Andrew: You get away with something and you feel like, “Okay, I’m okay.” Frankly, I’ll never forget this interview that I did with an author who said that whenever you don’t get in trouble for doing something wrong, it reinforces that it’s right. And the example he gave me was texting while driving. So every time you text while driving you teach your subconscious mind that it’s okay to text while you’re driving and you teach yourself to stop paying attention. And it becomes this thing that is more likely to cause an accident and the same thing happens or did in link building back then. I think in crypto, people get away with stuff, get away with stuff, and that teaches them to get bolder and bolder instead of reminding them, “Hey, this is still dangerous. This is still a problem.”
I know one guy who was basically promoting ICOs. You can’t promote stock the way that he’s promoting ICOs. And he could say, “Hey, I’m actually not promoting it. I’ve got all these different rules for how I talk about it to make sure it’s not promotion. That doesn’t fly in the stock market, that doesn’t fly for anything where you . . . You can’t even just promote tea in a way that he’s promoting ICOs.
Ross: But somehow getting away with it.
Andrew: But you’re right. We are getting side tracked. Sujan Patel at the time was living in the Bay Area. He convinced you to come here. Why did he need you in person if you’re doing SEO services, search engine optimization?
Ross: That’s a good question. He was actually in Southern California at the time, and he convinced me to move with him. So I think he just wanted to continue to grow Single Grain. I forget the exact impetus for moving there, but we were in Irvine area in Southern California, obviously not nearly what Silicon Valley is from a client perspective. Sujan is also always been a guy who’s moved around and d that lifestyle, which I kind of developed as well. But yeah, I think he just wanted to grow his business and kind of took me with him and gave me a good pitch to move up there. And he had shown me so much already and I was early in my career that it was easy to say yes to him.
Andrew: I’m pretty sure that when I moved here to San Francisco, I was looking for a place to live and I asked around and he said, “You know what? I’m moving out of San Francisco. Do you want to take over my apartment?” And my wife said, “No more apartments. I just need a real house.” And so we weren’t able to do it, but I got the sense from there that he was a guy who was willing to move a lot. And so you picked up a lot from him. Teach me one thing that you learned from him that felt like a super power.
Ross: That’s a good question. I think kind of his networking ability. He is very good at connecting with people and getting to know them. And I’ve learned a lot of just reaching out to people and also just personal branding. Like he put himself out there very early and made me feel like I could do it, and also built me a confidence in me that I could have gotten stuck in some job that I was just crawling up the architecture of the company and here I was employee one at a successful business working with Cafe Press and massive businesses, and it makes you feel that, yes, you can do anything. As your first job out of college, this is a really great skill to have.
Andrew: Yeah, that these guys aren’t so out of reach that some bigger company with more suits and ties could get them, but even Sujan Patel could get them. What about networking? What did he teach about networking that you’re able to apply today?
Ross: Just kind of like developing relationships in different ways, and he’s always been tangibly . . . It’s not going to a networking event and just shaking hands with people. I think being on Twitter, iFound [SP] and things like that, it’s just like actively connecting with people on Twitter and then once you bring in it to the physical world, suddenly that networking is a lot easier and that’s when it becomes concrete, versus I’m just going to go to a networking event and hand out my business card to all these people.
Andrew: Is there someone that you did that with?
Ross: Well, it’s funny. I mean, even in our kind of . . . Not that we haven’t met in person before, but even example you I kind of connected electronically with you, and yes, it took eight years to actually end up meeting you virtually in person, but kind of making that soft connection, reaching out, saying, “Hey, I’m impressed by your work, I like your work.” And then occasionally, authentically reaching out to them and connecting with them has resulted in a lot of positive things. Like I reached out . . . For example, I met Rand at the first MozCon ever attended and then like . . .
Andrew: He’s the founder of Moz.
Ross: Yeah, Rand Fishkin. And he . . . I don’t know how that related but got to know that community eventually got asked to speak at MozCon which . . .
Andrew: Let’s take a pause. Don’t say what happened there because I want the story to unfold. But what you said earlier was, “Build your personal brand.” I’ve always known you as someone who is good at building your personal brand. Let me take a look going back into the archives December 30th, 2010. Let’s see what you had up on rosshudgens.com. Well, it’s taking a little while for the way back machine to come up. So you tell me, what do you remember about the early part of your online promotion, self-promotion is not really the word, but of building your reputation by writing?
Ross: Yeah. I think I kind of always knew that if I started working on this, something positive would come from it. So I thought, and I recommend for everyone is kind of like trying, if you can get your first and last name as your domain name and then you’re figuring out your career, you can hopefully, that will always be a value to you. I need to update my site now. But one of my lessons from early in my career, so I would just started blogging, and I think it was exploratory in terms of what I actually like, but I would just talk about miscellaneous stuff and I got no traction really whatsoever until I turned it to SEO specifically. And not a shocker, you focus on something and you focus on the niche that you’re probably actually good at and practicing and suddenly you actually attract an audience versus just being a 23-year-old, why would anyone follow me talking about random things as I did early.
Andrew: And you happened to mention to our producer that some of the things that you talked about at the time, you were a little embarrassed about, like, how to find a narcissist on Twitter. That’s the kind of thing that if I understand you right, it’s insulting to some people but more than that, it’s just not on message. If you say, I am this guy who’s going to teach you about how to market online using content, using search engine optimization, it keeps building your brand, building your reputation and gives people a reason to come back. Am I right? That’s what you took away from that.
Ross: Yeah, exactly. I do think in some ways being kind of no bullshit, some people do love that in a way. I doubt that post specifically. Yeah, I randomly called people out there actually in my same industry today. So hopefully they don’t go look at that and realize I made fun of them, but I was kind of embarrassed by that post. That’s definitely the worst one where I just call out specific people in kind of a joking fashion, but yeah, not on brand, and now I’m super focused about not doing things like that. I probably, almost too much almost robotic I feel sometimes.
Andrew: And what do you feel about that? The content to some degree is losing its soul because it’s all about marketing.
Ross: Yeah, I think there’s truth to that. And I think the perfect fit is like a 10% personality. It’s like 90% on message, 10% something that shows you’re human, you’re likable and that’s the perfect fit. I find, even when I’m talking about SEO content marketing, if I even go to entrepreneurship, my engagement just like tanks, which is crazy, but you’d think a lot of people might be interested in that, but just as the percentage of my following base it just shows that the second you go off message people just, if you’re not Kim Kardashian, no one cares.
Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. And so I do see that you found your voice, and so the subhead on the website had been Authentic Marketing. Let me see. It went to . . . Oh, it stuck with Authentic Marketing and today it’s Content Marketing. So you’ve been pretty consistent as I go over the last, the better part of the decade.
Here’s an interesting article. When you said, “I called some people out and I’m a little embarrassed.” I said, “Maybe he said something about me,” which frankly, I don’t care. Say negative stuff about me, it’s fine. I don’t have a thin skin about it. But look at this, what you said was actually very positive, and even though I don’t have thin skin about the negative, I do get very puffed up about the positive. So eight important voices in tech, you have Jason Fried down there, you have Jason Calacanis, you have Aaron Wall from SEO Book, Robert Scoble, and right there, Andrew Warner from Mixergy is in that list. So I am very . . .
Andrew: . . . puffed up even . . . And look at that. The old logo is on there, the old photos from my site.
Ross: I still remember that post. Yeah, I need to get a reread of that stuff.
Andrew: It’s a good article. I think Aaron Wall is someone . . . I wonder what he looks like because I think when I interviewed him in Argentina, he didn’t even want to go on camera. I’m pretty sure he didn’t.
Ross: Yeah, he was originally a big SEO guy, and anyone who’s new to SEO, I suggest go into SEO Book and reading some of his old articles, definitely a really smart guy, and I think he’s kind of completely stopped being active online and always has been kind of hesitant to promote himself. I think he has a lot of his own sites and things like that and there is a general like, don’t scare the Google monkey or . . .
Andrew: I see, that he has been using the SEO stuff that’s helped him to build these sites. The SEO stuff is not working as much as it used to but the sites still are, and so he doesn’t want to be the SEO guy when he could just run these sites. Am I right? Is that what you’re saying?
Ross: Yeah, probably. I mean, there’s not a lot of incentive to be this public personality if you can leverage it in some way. And some people still do that just because they like the feeling of that, but I think he’s clearly showing that he doesn’t really care and as long as his sites are making money, he’s fine with that. And he had a community that he used to monetize a lot. I’m not sure how much he does that today in SEO Book.
Andrew: Okay. So here’s where I’m going to pick it up on before we go into the sponsorship message, which you’re saying is, look, number one I learned, get those online relationships as much as possible but take it private beyond that. So you can tweet, you can Facebook message, etc., but take it private. And what you do is, at least with me, you emailed me and we stayed in touch and your emails going back over the years I could see are always helpful.
Like, here’s one from April 6, 2010, “Mixergy, SEO opportunity.” Not a sales pitch, just recommendations. That’s a subject line. And so that’s the kind of stuff that you did. And here’s another one from a little later in the year with an issue with our site, which I took to the tech support people and they helped fix it. So that’s the kind of stuff you’re doing. Sujan Patel took it a step further and he does in-person dinners and stuff like that. Do you do any of that?
Ross: I have started doing that a little bit with people I’m getting to know, reach out to lunches. We just did one at a recent MozCon, I did one with a friend in the industry and trying to explore there too.
Andrew: We should talk about how you do that because that’s important to me, and I think everyone should be doing that, especially as we go more and more online, taking it offline if you do it right it can be incredibly powerful. So you do that. Next thing is, get your online reputation really clearly focused and get a website where ideally, where you have your own name in the domain and where people can come in and find out more. All right, we’re going to go to the next level how you got your first big customer, why you reach out on your own and so on how you grew. But first, I’ve got to talk about my first sponsor, it’s HostGator. So here’s the deal. Check this out. Do you know Copyblogger? You must, right?
Ross: Yeah, for sure.
Andrew: So I’ve got a chatbot business where we teach people how to set up chatbots and companies hire our graduates to build chatbots for them. And I’ve been showing this to Brian Clark of Copyblogger for say about a year or so, and he finally said, “Hey, come on, teach it to our audience.” I taught it to his audience, and then in this session I said, “Guys, if you want to sign up and learn more, go to this URL.” I gave the URL, botacademy.com/something rather. His audience is phenomenally engaged. They clicked that link at a level that you wouldn’t believe. They didn’t take down our site, but then I had this other little webinar for my audience, little meaning like 600 people. Boom, they attacked both and crushed my site.
And so I went directly to Michael who runs our site and I said this in the site, “Look, people are sending me messages that the site is crashing. We did something with Copyblogger, and now us it’s just insane. Fix it.” The very next day, he shifted us from one hosting package on HostGator to like the most expensive on HostGator. And it took just overnight. It wasn’t simple like that way you snap your fingers, but it was an easy transition. I said, “We need more capacity, we need more . . . ” And they took care of us. I love that about HostGator.
So yes, they have cheap packages. In the moment I’ll give everyone listening to me an opportunity to go sign up for the cheap package, but you should know, as you scale up, call them up, tell them you have more bandwidth needs. Don’t do what I did. I should have actually, as soon as I partnered up with Copyblogger to do this one session to teach their people, I should have said, “Hey, you know what? We’re now up with the big boys. It’s Copyblogger, it’s Social Media Marketing World. It’s all these different events, I need more.” All right. You use HostGator too. How do you use HostGator, if you don’t mind talking about it?
Ross: Yeah, I originally when I said at my personal blog, I was on GoDaddy, and they had similar problems hosting issues, and eventually probably might have heard of them on Mixergy, maybe, and transferred over there, have been happy with them and put all of our own websites on HostGator. And similarly, we have slowly upgraded packages and have hadn’t any downtime issues with them, so I’ve been super happy with GoDaddy today.
Andrew: All right. And hopefully we’ll give you an opportunity to talk about some of your side sites and how they’re working and why they’re working so well. But anyone who’s listening to the sound of my voice, listen, we talked about how Ross has his own domain, his own site. Yes, Medium is fantastic, but Medium keeps changing the rules, keep changing the whole experience for how to publish. Yes, there’s all these, I shouldn’t talk about competitor, but screw it, I will. You’ve got your Squarespaces of the world, but they all limit you to what you can do. There is a reason why 30% of the internet runs on WordPress, because WordPress gives you such flexibility and you don’t have to build anything yourself.
And if you want that, build it on HostGator where you can start super cheap, and as you see, as you get bigger and bigger, you can scale up and get more and more features from them. So if you want to sign up for the hosting package that I use, I started a brand new site, Bot Academy, I needed a hosting company, I went and I signed up for them to experience it. If you want to do what’s work for me and be able to scale up with me, go to hostgator.com/mixergy to get your own personal site. When you have an idea, put up a site for that.
Whatever you need, look at this. I don’t know how these guys keep doing it. They keep lowering their prices. Now it starts with $2.64 a month because frankly, basic hosting is not a problem. What I think they’re doing is they’re hoping that you start in there and as your business grows, you’ll see that they’re good and you’ll want to do what I did, which is pick up the phone and say, “Hey, upgrade me. I’m getting bigger.” And you can go bigger and bigger and bigger with them. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. You will get up to 62% off. They will not give a 60% off, they got to get the extra 2%. Up to 62% off the price that everyone else pays. And frankly, you get to say you come from Mixergy, and that means that when there’s an issue, you can come to us and we’ll connect you with somebody there.
I don’t think that’s happening anymore, but I want you to know that whenever there’s an issue with any of our sponsors, I want to know about it and it helps that you say, “Hey, I came from Mixergy,” because they’ll take care of you better, and I’ll take care of you better. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy.
I talk too fast. Ross, I had this professional camera crew come in here to record a Facebook ad, think about that. They were so intimidated by how fast I talked when I met them, and I shove them in a room and I said, “Let’s get going.” That when I talked fast on camera, these guys didn’t slow me down. They didn’t say, “Hey, Andrew take a breath. This is a recording. This isn’t us.” So I looked at the recording. It was beautifully done, except for Andrew talking too freaking fast.
Andrew: All right. So why did you decide to go off on your own? You were doing great with Sujan.
Ross: Yeah. I kind of jumping a step, but I ended up . . . Sujan continued to help me out, and that was another thing that actually Sujan taught me about. I had stuck with me, it’s just mentorship. He’s been super helpful and I’ve tried to pass that on and help our own team grow. But he helped me get a job in Seattle with Edward Yim who’s a well-known venture capital . . . Not well known, he’s under radar venture capitalist that also owned his own properties as well, and I help those companies grow from scratch. So it was a helpful learning incubation period of building these websites from nothing in insurance and mortgage and things like that.
Andrew: He had websites for insurance and mortgage?
Andrew: He’s in private equity and in addition he has . . . What do you mean by insurance and mortgage sites? What kind?
Ross: So one is the mortgagereports.com. I don’t know how much he would be happy about us revealing, but the mortgagereports.com is a well-known one that they own and generate a lot of leads for mortgage companies. I’m sure now they have lots of other properties like that. And I think he just knew . . . I think they have some in travel nursing, things like that, where they just work with these different people and then sell them leads. And the barrier to entry is kind of developing their relationships through the banks, insurance and things like that. And he’s just a really smart entrepreneur with his own lesson.
But the whole time I was kind of doing my personal blog on the side and writing about SEO just because I knew that was a positive thing and something could come from that, and not necessarily thinking I would start my own business eventually, but just knowing that I could leverage that. And I did at times, it helped me, I’m sure, get that job, a speaking gigs. And I had started getting some clients on the side.
And actually Google Penguin hit, which for anyone who’s not familiar is like a big algorithm update that I think it was 2012 which as we talked about earlier, was kind of shady link building focused. And I had actually done a lot of that. And that kind of affected us a little bit in the lead gen side where it’s harder for lead gen companies, I think, to generate real value with their websites. So I was kind of thinking, how sustainable is this business, even though they’ve grown a lot. So I was clearly wrong about that, but I was also on the other side generating a lot of leads.
I had a manager at the time that I honestly started micromanaging me a little bit, and that probably just set the trigger that I could quit and give this a shot for a while and see how things would go. And I did. So I quit, and pretty quickly wrote a blog post on my personal site and said, “I’m taking clients,” and it kind of started from there.
Andrew: The first client is still on your website. Who were they? And how did they respond?
Ross: First client . . . I think the first client was SeaWorld. So SeaWorld reached out to us very early and just, I think, had seen as blogging and said, “We have . . . ” I think at the time I’d probably fine saying this, “We have $5,000 of budget.” And I probably was trying to sell them on like $1,200 because I was just a panic and scared entrepreneur. And then I was just like, “Oh, 5,000, of course.” I was like so ecstatic about this 5,000 number, and I was like, “Oh, I’m almost basically paying what I was making at in-house at that time.”
Andrew: Do you remember what you were getting paid at the time?
Ross: Roughly six figures around there.
Andrew: Okay. So this was maybe half of what you were getting paid from just one client.
Ross: To be fair, I had other clients as well. So I had [WooMoo 00:32:21] Dev which you might have heard of, is a WordPress development site that I had just developed. I think I had some other clients, but those are definitely the most memorable ones, is WooMoo Dev, SeaWorld. So I had a few clients, but SeaWorld was like the big first name.
Andrew: Got it.
Ross: That was exciting.
Andrew: So who at SeaWorld would be reading your blog about SEO and content marketing? What’s the kind of person there and what’s their role?
Ross: That person was an in-house SEO as well.
Andrew: Okay. And even though his job is to do in-house SEO, when you came on the market, they said, “I’m going to hire him.”
Ross: Yeah. I think he just had budget, maybe he didn’t realize I could be hired, even though I was writing on the side, I did say I’m coming from this other business, and I could see how just positioning-wise, I wasn’t positioning myself as a consultant, and now I finally was, therefore, it created that.
Andrew: I’m sorry. What I mean is, someone’s getting paid to do a job and then they hire you to come and do that same job. How does that fit in? How does an SEO person hire a content SEO person? What are they looking for? Is it just give us better advice for how to do things? Is it you do the work that I’m doing and I work on this other site? How do you work together with someone who’s doing your job at a company?
Ross: Yeah, that’s a good question. So it’s often a two-sided piece. So there’s like content. Content and link generation helps SEO so much, but it just takes so much execution manpower in order to do that. So there’s normally like an in-house technical person or strategic person who kind of says, “We need link building, we can fix the onsite issues, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to do the link generation side.” So that kind is how it started with SeaWorld. And now it’s kind of scaled as the industry has changed. We’re doing content creation as well. And back in the day, I was just doing straight link building for SeaWorld and some other clients that we generate as well. But now it’s like create a high quality content in order to do that and also generate all the brand and rankings benefits that you need for a site.
Andrew: Okay, that helps me understand. All right. And it’s interesting that all that writing that you were doing was starting to lead to customers when you started out. Was there a period when you were writing and you thought, “This is just kind of meaningless. There’s already Aaron doing this. There’s already Rand doing this or all these other people. Why am I even bothering to add?” Or did you always know that you were getting results from it?
Ross: At the beginning I kind of felt that way, but pretty quickly I did feel that I was adding value because I was paying attention in the industry and I really did care about what I was doing, and I would suggest that for anybody is like, if you’re really paying attention, you can find the intersection of what people aren’t saying. So that was kind of my eye ball moment to write a post was, here’s something I’ve not heard anyone say before, therefore, I should write that post. And as long as you’re paying close enough attention and don’t have a fear that someone’s going to call you out, which is kind of common in our industry, it worked pretty well and it has worked pretty well for us.
Andrew: Okay. You got to speak at MozCon, that’s SEOmoz’s conference. Back then they were doing more content and less software, and then they were switching towards software, but they were the big guys in the space. How did you stand out? Do you remember what your talk was about or what made . . . Why you?
Ross: Yeah. I think at that point, I’d been blogging, I think I just started Siege Media off my personal blog. So I started to build a presence there and had gotten speaking gigs at a few places. Another kind of just general tip is I got in and wrote a column for Search Engine Land, which is another well-known publication without having any speaking experience, and eventually they gave me one, I think, because I had been writing a column for them for so long, and that gave me momentum in terms of speaking engagements. So the SEO side plus speaking experience, and I was kind of a new voice, probably made Moz willing to reach out and ask to speak there.
Andrew: You get off the stage and you get clients from that too. Who were the clients who came in from there? Do you remember?
Ross: Yeah, two big clients came from there. Shutterfly, which is a big client of ours today, and Provide Commerce, ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries is amongst their portfolio, which many people have heard of. They saw me speak and kind of started the snowball effective of Siege Media’s growth and kind of have been with us ever since. Knock on wood.
Andrew: First client you were thinking, at least was SeaWorld, you said, “You know what? If I get $1,500 a month, that’s actually good.” They paid you 5,000. These other clients who came in from MozCon surprised you because they happened to mention that they have a budget of how much?
Ross: Well, honestly, they started pretty slow and I’m not a great salesman, so it was probably a similar amount, but the difference there that was unlike SeaWorld is that these companies can grow considerably. So we started with a similar budget and has grown considerably over time, just showing them what we can do.
Andrew: To, I’ve got $20,000 at one in the early days. I see a smile on your face. How do you feel about me bringing this up? Is that a smile of pride or is that a small of, Andrew, what are you doing? It’s off.
Ross: To exactly what the budget was?
Andrew: No, not the exact number, but it seems like that’s the direction that you are going in. You had this vision that people were willing to pay a certain amount, and they were shocking you because they had a bigger budget. They were willing to spend more than you thought for this.
Ross: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I mean, it did happen and it’s kind of that is a trend. I think probably was . . . I forgot exact which one of them, but they were like, “We’re doing this one post, so you going to be ready to take 20,000 a month, 20000 plus a month in two months if this goes well.” I was like, “Wow.”
Andrew: Now, the money doesn’t just go in your pocket even though you’re running a consulting company where they’re paying you to do work for them, it’s you and a team of people, right? And so you start to hire people to do what? What are the first few people that you were hiring or the first few roles that you filled?
Ross: Now, really, our business is two sided, so there’s a content marketing side who does outreach and writing, and then a design side, the content creation side. So half of our team almost is designers, and then the other half are people that do the email outreach and also the writing, and then a small percentage of photographers, videographers, front end developers who are kind of like helping with the content creation. So it’s kind of a 50/50.
Andrew: And this is today. Back then, do you remember the first few people that you hired? What did they do?
Ross: Yeah, first person was just another link builder just doing cold outreach to people. And another person, I was very lucky, I hired her as a writer, I just hired her as a content writer, and she just happened to be a WordPress developer. So we got a developer very early on and helped us do cool content that I don’t know at what stage I would have realized that I needed a developer, but we were super lucky . . .
Andrew: What do you mean? If you’re working for a client like FTD, ProFlowers, they’re going to let you mess with their WordPress site?
Ross: Well, most of the time they can just let you in the back end as an editor and you can create a post in the install.
Andrew: Okay. But then, you don’t need a developer to do that. Just a writer can do it.
Ross: Right, exactly.
Andrew: So what did having someone who’s also a developer and a writer allowed you to do?
Ross: A few things. One, you can create even cooler content. So if you wanted to create a wedding budget calculator, for example, that needs interactivity and more complex elements. And you kind of mentioned actually HostGator and WordPress, some new clients that come to us, they’re already on a medium blog that looks plain. So we actually pitched them on a blog design. So we do some blog design work that we code up from scratch because their blog looks so horrible that we just can’t do content marketing with it because you need a baseline of a nice looking site or a nice looking place to host your content in order for us to really have success from a content marketing or link generation perspective.
Andrew: Okay. So this wasn’t on these bigger client sites that you would need to do that kind of work, right? It seems like the bigger clients would already have a site that you can’t mess with. You’re not going to SeaWorld and saying, “Change your design.” Are you?
Ross: Well, there is often a place they host their content that we can make those changes.
Andrew: Apart from the SeaWorld site where I would buy tickets?
Ross: Right, exactly. So it could be off in the blog or the WordPress section will be hosted on just blog or some other URL structure, and that will be modifiable for our developers to put up more advanced content and not worry with the tickets or have to intercept or cause problems with the tickets side of the business.
Andrew: So one of the things that Sujan Patel. I’m sure the transcriber is going to call him Susan Patel, but maybe that’ll be good for SEO for the next time somebody searches for Susan Patel. Well, one of the things that he was doing was sending out an email, and then if the person does asking for a link, ask him to buy link and get a link, etc., if the person didn’t respond, his team would then send a follow-up email bumping this to the top of your inbox or whatever the phrase is, right? They get . . . You’re smiling. You recognize this stuff.
So this dude puts out a call on Twitter speaking of having a personality that people follow, saying, “I think somebody needs to create software that automates this. Why do I have to remember to follow up with this guy if he didn’t respond to me in a week? That’s a pain in the butt. Somebody needs to create it. Will somebody help me?” Apparently, I think I might have this story right. I’m pretty sure it’s right. Somebody responded and said, “All right, I’ll help it.” And so he got this thing built, he now owns it, it’s called Mailshake. Right?
Ross: Yeah. I think that’s the story. I don’t know for sure end to end, but about accurate.
Andrew: The problem with Mailshake was, he was a sponsor, and I would tell people go to mailshake.com/mixergy. Son of the bitch is charging way too little. Excuse my language. I love him. I’m saying like SOB in a nice way. He’s charging way too freaking little. And so as a result he buys an ad here and he says, “Everyone go to mailshake.com/mixergy and sign up.” There’s no room for discount because he’s charging so little. Who charges $20 for something that increases revenue?
Ross: Yeah. Yeah. I honestly haven’t worked too much on that tool. It is kind of similar to what we do, but a little different. I think he’s more B2B, but that sounds kind of accurate. I’ll give him your feedback. We actually, jump in ahead of the story, we share an office with him in Austin now.
Andrew: Tell him to charge more. I mean, honestly, don’t tell him because I said it. Just go to his website, look at his pricing, and then think about the products that you pay for as a business owner. Do you pay . . . What is he charging? Let me see, $20 a month. What is that? Who does that? Twenty bucks a month for SaaS software?
All right. I love the guy, but I feel like . . . You know what? He must be doing something right because he’s making good money, but I feel like sometimes he just likes to give it away. Like even the dinners. He will pay a thousand bucks to have people to dinner. There’s no . . . What’s the end goal with it? Who’s there? What are you getting out of it? Nothing.
Ross: I think he was trying to do that for recruiting for a rework, is what I heard.
Andrew: Oh, is that what it is?
Andrew: And so I just happened to have been sucked in even though I’m not necessarily going to help recruit, but I look around, it’s not even thousand, might even be more. Why is he paying for this dinner? It’s great. I get to know him, I love him, but I love him before the dinner.
Ross: Yeah. I’m sure there’s a little bit of your work there. I don’t want to get thrown out of the bus, but he gets the [inaudible 00:43:52] list.
Andrew: All right. Actually, you know what? The smart thing that he did was he went to the guy he was working for and he said, “Listen, if I organize these dinners is going to be great for you because I’m going to make these relationships that will then help your business. Will you pay for it?” And they paid for it. So there’s more going on than I recognize.
All right. Let me talk about my sponsor here, and then come back and ask you, why are people paying 20,000 bucks, and I’m sensing that because you’re directly related to revenues, you’re able to get more as a consultant versus somebody else who had a different type of consulting angle listening to you thinking, “Where are my customers? How am I not getting this much?” If they’re further . . . You’re nodding. So we’ll talk about that in a moment.
First, my sponsor is a company called Toptal. Hear this, guys. If you’re listening to me and you think, “You know what? I actually don’t need an outside developer. We got a good team.” What you should be thinking is, what are those things that you’re not aware of that your team doesn’t have time to do that would be ideal if you could have, that would help take your game to the next level and you’re not getting in and doing it.
And you heard Ross talk about how for him, it was content, content, content, not reach out, reach out, reach out. And he was blown away by, you know what, if you have a WordPress developer, you actually can level up your game and do things that you couldn’t if all you were doing was typing a content and asking people to link to it.
Same thing for you. If you’re listening to the sound of my voice, you should be thinking, what are those nice to have things that you think, “My company can’t do it.” Those are what you should bring to Toptal where you can hire, not somebody who’s just okay, but somebody who is the best of the best, who can take your problem and solve it in a way that you can’t even think of.
So there are tons of freelance websites out there where you can go and get a freelancer who’ll do exactly what you say, and it’s ba pa pa, and hopefully they’ll do it right, and hopefully they won’t take your code, and hopefully they won’t disappear, and hopefully, whatever. That’s not what Toptal is. They want the kinds of people who would be appropriate for Google to hire, only they don’t want to sit in a Google office. And so if you want to hire them and you’re willing to work with them remote, you can hire them on a project basis, on a part time basis, on a full time basis.
I’ve had people listening to me and then end up hiring a team of developers who all work together really well through Toptal. And that’s the benefit of working with Toptal. You tell them what they need, very often they’re frankly going to tell you, “Sorry, we can’t have it.” I know that because people have been complaining to me that Toptal is turning them down. But if you are a good fit, you’re going to get Google quality talent from Toptal.
Top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. All you have do is go to toptal.com/mixergy and when you do, you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. Forget about the fact that they’ll even give you a guarantee which you can read on toptal.com/mixergy. Understand this, the best of the best, it’s not about the money, they’re going to blow you away with their results. Everyone else, be a little more conservative with the spending. With them, you’re going to get people who are, it’s not going to be about the money, they’re either going to blow your socks off or they’re not going to be a good fit.
And if you go to Toptal and have a conversation with them, they’ll tell you whether they can blow your socks off really fast. Toptal.com/mixergy, you’ll get all that exclusive to Mixergy and more importantly, you get to talk to someone before you start hiring. They’re fantastic. Go check them out.
All right. Why? Why are people . . . You’re nodding your head. Were you going to say something that I just cut you?
Ross: No. I haven’t actually used Toptal. It looks like a great service, but I actually check them out after I listened to your podcast at some point. I love their content marketing strategy, their business. It’s great and I hope to use them at some point.
Andrew: What do you like about their content marketing strategies as a person who is looking at these types of sites a lot?
Ross: I think something the last I checked in on it, it makes a ton of sense. They have really high quality content or people, so those people can build awareness for themselves and generate clients by writing on the Toptal site. So they’re naturally generating user generated content which I imagine is quasi free, probably free, and in turn for giving these people a platform to market themselves. So there’s a lot of just brand and links and just really . . .
Andrew: I see what you’re talking about. So for example, they just added a finance department . . . or not just, it’s been a while now. And so when I go to their blog, there is Latin America merger and acquisition best practices by, I’m guessing, a finance expert, Emilio, who you can hire from Toptal. I see. And you’re saying, look . . . Oh, there it is actually, on the right side, it says, “Now hire Emilio.” So they’re getting top caliber content from people who are actually doing the work and you’re thinking maybe they even get it for free because they’re helping this person raise his profile. Yes.
One of the things that I like about their content is, it is very technical for the coding stuff because they’re also thinking of not just the people who pay them, but the people who they want to recruit to get hired. And so there’s super technical content, which even frankly people who told me I’m never going to hire from Toptal say, “But my people go to Toptal’s blog and read and the blog is useful.”
Andrew: All right. So tell me more about it, because you know what? Yes, you were nodding, as I said earlier, you’re close to revenue, but there’s an issue with your type of work, which is people hire you, they pay you 5,000, 20,000, whatever, but they’re not going to see their results fast. It’s going to take a few months, right? Or am I wrong?
Ross: No, that’s fair. I normally say you’ll see momentum in three months and strong returns in six generally. But we have a pretty good argument for our revenue, we call it . . . We have an eBook, it’s like how to estimate SEO ROI from content marketing. Functionally, it goes back to links. You can use Aherfs today, SEMrush, you put in these sites and you can put in Toptal and you’ll see basically, what people are willing to bid on that same content or that same traffic.
So what that’ll say is maybe Toptal’s traffic is worth 4 million. And we can just do a very basic analysis that Toptal maybe has 300 more links than maybe a potential client who comes to us. So we say, you’re at this level in terms of traffic values, they’re there, you need 100 links. The value per link is going to be . . . maybe it’s approximately . . . the numbers are normally crazy, multipliers, it’s like 10 to 100X the value of what we’re going to cost to generate a link for you. Very easy argument to make. If they believe that you can do that and also just believe that links are something that add value to them.
Andrew: Okay. So what you’re doing is you’re bringing the work that . . . you’re taking the work that you’re doing and showing what it will be worth when you get the outcome that you expect, and now all you have to do is say, “You’ve seen my work, you’ve read my work, and you understand how we plan to work together. Do you believe that I can actually get there? And if you do, it’s an easier decision.” I see. And so that’s something that other consultants, other people who are building consulting agencies can . . . it’s not even a consulting agency. Other people who are building agencies can bring back. How do you connect the work that you’re going to generate back to revenue for the business? And you’re doing it with the third party sites.
Ross: Exactly, yeah. I mean, hopefully there are more models outside of just search. That’s super useful for search. I’ve seen recently, and there’s site speed calculations. You can make an argument that we do the site speed audit, increase revenue by 3%. Like those are all very easy reasons to invest in you if you can find those models and people believe in the model.
Andrew: Okay. So if I were building a website, it wouldn’t just be about the design, but it would be, “Look, here’s how much faster I can get your site. And if I get it that much faster, here’s some data that shows that I can increase your sales.”
Andrew: Okay. And if I can add these tools to your Shopify store, there’s some data that means that I can actually increase sale. Got it, got it. Okay. I see how you’re working. This makes a lot of sense. You at the time were in Long Beach and then you moved to San Diego. Why Long Beach? And then what was the thinking about going to San Diego?
Ross: A lot of it was really just quality of life to be honest. I was with my wife in Seattle, that’s where I met her and she wasn’t tied down, she was working remotely, and I had just quit my job in Seattle. She wanted some sun, I went to school, Chapman University in Orange County. So I had friends down there. I knew Long Beach was at least connected to the L.A. area, the potential clients there. Moved to Long Beach, didn’t love it to be honest. It did give us our first two employees who are still with us today, so I’m super happy for that.
But then we realize San Diego is even better in terms of quality life, really liked it. A great recruiting spot. Not a ton of clients there, to be honest, but it’s been great for getting quality talent because obviously everyone wants to live there. So we found it’s kind of a nice . . . And something to think of as an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily have clients or especially in tech the reason to be there. I have this perception, at least that we are kind of lucky that there aren’t a lot of big companies around us like poaching all of our talent. So we get people that can move there, but there’s not like tons of San Francisco tech competing us.
Ross: So that I think has been interesting that, knock on wood, we haven’t had a ton of people coming in down and trying to take our people.
Andrew: You know what? Because San Diego has become this hub for digital marketing. The guys who are creating content, the guys who are teaching the guys who are creating these in-full products, they have migrated to San Diego, and once you get this cluster of it . . . Am I right?
Ross: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of agencies there, so that’s kind of the prolific business set and seemingly in tech anyways. There’s some medical there and things like that, but not a ton of big tech companies anyways.
Andrew: Right. I just happen to be there for Social Media Marketing World and Traffic & Conversion, and those two conferences are bringing in online marketers in one way or the other. And what I’ve discovered from talking to them is that, first of all, it’s a great place for conferences because it’s a beautiful weather and have this whole . . . I had no idea that there’s this whole convention center area, which of course, is a draw if you’re doing a conference, might as well go some place where you’re likely to get [sanded 00:53:40] and you can kind of count on it.
But also it does seem like there’s a native culture, native community of people who are there to do online marketing. Fair to say that? When I said it earlier, I’m trying to read your face. I’ve known you via email for a long time. I can’t tell when you’re smiling. Are you smiling because it’s like, “Hey, Andrew, you’re totally missing the mark and I don’t know how to tell you,” or you’re smiling because, “Yeah, you got it Andrew. You nailed it.”
Ross: No. That’s fair. I think there’s good, I’d say, entry level talent there. I don’t know . . . That’s specifically what we’re looking for, and definitely creatives, and also people who are willing to move there. So we have gotten people to actually move from Boston and other locations that were just looking at San Diego, and that is something I guess maybe we do slightly differently is we took a little risk on some of these people. I think one or two, we might have flown out for an interview, but not all of them. We basically talk to someone who seem talented who had a good resume and basically took the risk about them moving out to San Diego without having to relocate them. There are still entry level-esque, but taking that risk allowed us to get more talented people out to San Diego as well, I think.
Andrew: I was just moving my stand up sit down desks. I’ve been standing up for so long, and these boots are not making it easy to kind of focus. All right. Then when you were moving, one of the concerns that you had was, “Hey, look, I’m not just moving myself. I want my team to come down with me.” And you were concerned that they would do what?
Ross: Yeah. I was concerned they’d leave. Also, I mean, there’s a natural fear, I think, for any entrepreneur who switches to remote work that people will end up taking off, to be honest and not being as productive. But it turns out we had built trust with those people. They are great people. And I just generally found this, if you trust people, they’re going to act like adults and be productive. And of course you have to tie that back to the metrics. It’s pretty simple. You have to deliver a blog post or data visualization every week. It doesn’t matter if I’m in front of you, you’re either delivering that or not. Same with link outcomes and email outreach. You’re either sending 100 emails or not. So it was relatively easy to trust those people and get them to be productive. And yeah, we found out that was a misguided fear for me.
Andrew: Why then did you leave from San Diego to . . . You’re now in San Diego, right? That’s where you and I are talking?
Ross: I’m actually in Austin right now.
Andrew: Oh, you’re in Austin now. Why did you go from San Diego to Austin?
Ross: So I didn’t leave necessarily. We opened our second office here. I still have our Siege Media headquarters in San Diego and that was going so well. We actually started out growing our space and we weren’t going to be able to grow physically for around five to six months. And I just thought of Austin, obviously, some tax benefits here, talent benefits.
Andrew: But do you have to move the whole . . . Don’t you have to move company headquarters and move yourself in order to get the tax benefits of being in a lower tax state?
Ross: I think to the biggest percentage, but not completely. So as long as . . .
Andrew: As long as the majority . . . Yeah, you tell me. You’ve done this.
Ross: I shouldn’t give tax advice on this video, but I’m still relatively new to be honest. And you probably have to talk to my accountant to tell you for sure. But I mean, because I’m a full time resident here. Definitely don’t take advantage of California. You better be living in Texas when you say you live in Texas. But we spend more than 50% of our time here or planning to be basically over that threshold which makes us a primary resident of Texas. And also when we’re in California, you have to split that difference and reimburse California for that difference. And then also as far as I know, whatever percentage of your revenue you’re generating in California versus the other area, you have to pay out California that amount.
Andrew: Okay. I just did a quick Google search and probably somebody like you who brought up the result here. It says, “Texas state sales tax is 6.5%, California state sales tax is 7.25%.” It’s not huge there. But total tax . . .
Ross: No income tax.
Andrew: Oh no, this is sales tax. I don’t need that. Come on. I got to move faster.
Ross: I think California is like 8% income tax or 8 to 10, and then Texas is no income tax but a higher property tax. So that’s kind of the difference in the two areas. And also because people . . . I mean, there’s a lot of differences. You can get good talent here. I think generally average pay is slightly lower but still good talent. So that’s obviously for a business owner are positive. We did find not as many clients in San Diego, so we’re hopeful that there are more potential clients here in Austin, and also just quality life here too. It’s a great town.
Andrew: Why do you need to be near clients? What’s the benefit of being that close to potential customers?
Ross: I mean, honestly you’re probably accurate in a lot of ways we have needed that to date. I think there’s definitely benefits of just like showing in person. I’ve only done four in-person sales things and closed every single one. I’m sure that’s not coincidence.
Andrew: I see. So being in person helps to close. What is your sales process now? How do you close sales?
Ross: I kind of talked about it, but it’s like I use the traffic value of where they can go and say, “You’ll get 300,000 increase revenue or what have you,” and obviously that results in . . . It’s an easy sales process if we can say, “You can grow 2 million this year if you invest . . . ”
Andrew: What’s your funnel? How do you get people in? Is it that they’re reading your content still and then they ask for a conversation? Is that the main thing?
Ross: Yeah, pretty much it’s inbound, referral, word of mouth. We do find, I think this is kind of an interesting piece of it, is some people might think blogging is getting new clients. A lot of it I think is reminding your referral network that you exist. It’s like keeping you top in mind, not that . . .
Andrew: But how? Would your referral network be reading your blog? Is that the goal?
Ross: Yeah, they do. I think. I think the SEO industry is so small and things like that, and also there’s not that much good content in SEO that they’ll read anything and . . .
Andrew: I see.
Ross: Or Twitter. I mean, Twitter is another example, not just our blog, just tweeting occasionally is enough, I think sometimes to remind people that you exist.
Andrew: So here’s some of the post. “How to promote your blog to a million yearly visitors.” Here’s another one, “Why you should often pay more for links.” Here’s another one, “The link conversation in agency life with Wil Reynolds.” And I’ll read one final one, “Enterprise content marketing.” And you’ve got a couple of people there. So the idea is people are just reading this and they remember Siege Media exists and they might then subscribe to more content. And ideally, you don’t even emphasize how to . . . Oh, there it is. “Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me,” and it’s your personal email address. So you’re encouraging people to follow up directly with you, and that’s what those conversations lead to sales.
Ross: Yeah, there’s tons of different touch points, but that’s for sure one of them, is just creating those connections over time and just getting them on our email list. We don’t have a massive list. We have like 8,000, but quality prospects, quality people that we send our content to. And we’re also making sure we’re publishing really high quality stuff. I think a lot of agencies think they have to publish like daily. When it’s more, I think you should really bring it every time. We have a videographer now who’s doing video content . . .
Andrew: I see. And not just that, but the post production on the videos are pretty cool too.
Ross: Thanks. Yeah, we got . . . And that obviously I think, subtly sells our video content as well. If you want to do video with us, this is what you get from Siege. You want content from us, this is what you get from Siege. And hopefully it’s like a commendatory. We’re telling you how to do content marketing while showing you we can kind of do it ourselves.
Andrew: How many cameras are in your interviews? You guys, like you’ll do it in person. I’m looking at one right now. It’s a three camera shoot, right?
Ross: Yeah, three. Paid for a stage. There’s custom lighting in there.
Andrew: You guys set up the lighting?
Andrew: Because you’ve got the team to do it.
Ross: Yeah. We do photography for clients too and have that lighting and stuff.
Andrew: All right. Anyone who wants to check it out should go to siegemedia.com. Is there something that they should take a look at once they’re there?
Ross: Yeah. I mean, check out our blog. I would specifically suggest what you’re referring there, Andrew, check out our YouTube channel. That’s where our new conversations are going where we’re talking to people about content marketing, and it’s basically our highest quality stuff right now is there, so I suggest checking that out if you got a second.
Andrew: Cool. Thanks so much for doing this and thank you to our two sponsors. The first is the company that hosts my website. Oh, we didn’t even get . . . You know what? Hang on. Let me do two seconds on this. Yourbestdigs.com. What is that? That’s also hosted on HostGator. What is that?
Ross: Yeah, that is a . . . Going back to . . . I used to build websites from scratch in my last job. I kind of always had that itch. And SEO and content marketing is what it is. So we’re doing product reviews as kind of a side project that’s increasingly becoming a real project where we’re doing in-depth video reviews, really long form, high quality stuff, and scratching our own itch in terms of learning content marketing, affiliate marketing and all that good stuff.
Andrew: What is this freaking thing? Dude, your design . . . So I’m on yourbestdigs.com. I have no need for a lawnmower. There’s a guy who comes in and mows my lawnmower. I wouldn’t even know how to push the lawnmower. But you got a gift of the lawn being mowed using one of the lawnmowers that you’re looking at. You go deep. So basically, the reason I’m smiling at that is because you just kind of make it this thing that I don’t care a rat’s ass about look really interesting and compelling, and I keep looking at it. And what you’re doing is, you’re saying, “Here’s the different lawnmowers that we research. Here’s our feeling about all of them. Here’s the one that we think you should buy. Here’s a link to go grab that one if that’s what you want from Home Depot.”
And that’s the model you’ve talked about how before we started how this is the wire cutter model, this is the model you guys have, affiliate commissions that we’ll pay for it. What’s interesting to me is that you build these collection of sites for yourself and you’re SEOing your own stuff, and you’re content creating for your own stuff.
Ross: Yeah, I think it’s kind of typical for agencies to want to scratch their own itch, and it’s not easy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like pulling resources from client work. It’s never a simple thing, but it speaks to the quality of the team we actually have on that project that we’ve managed to build that into . . .
Andrew: What percentage of revenue would you say comes from sites like yourbestdigs.com?
Ross: This is our only site property right now. I’d say 15% but it’s definitely . . .
Andrew: Wowee, dude.
Ross: Yeah. Growth channel and hopefully will be much bigger this year.
Andrew: Do you feel like, “Hey, if I get 10 of these, I don’t need any more of these clients. I could just go all in on it. Do these YouTube videos for my sites, do the social for my sites.” Do you feel that at all?
Ross: I think it’s probably unlikely that that would happen. I’m sure a lot of people do think that to themselves. We’ll see what happens.
Andrew: But not you?
Andrew: All right. Thanks so much for doing this. And again, the thing that made me think of it is that I was going to say my sponsor is HostGator, you’re using HostGator to host your sites. HostGator.com/mixergy anyone out there who wants to try them. And also if you need to hire somebody, a developer, or if you need hire a finance person, or if you need to hire designer, I’ve hired a designer from them, go to toptal.com/mixergy, top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. Go check them out, sign up. Let me know how goes. And I’m so glad that I got to talk to you. And if there’s anyone out there who’s listening to my interviews and you’re not reaching out to me, you’re not letting me know that you’re there, keep doing it and keep listening and keep building your business. Thanks so much for doing this
Ross: Yeah. Thanks for your time, Andrew.