How this insurance agent escaped commission-based income and scaled his agency

Joining me is an entrepreneur and longtime Mixergy listener. About 10 years ago he wanted to sell insurance more efficient but the market wasn’t ready for it.

He went on to sell in more traditional methods until his clients started asking him if they could go through the process online.

Sa El is the founder of Simply Insurance. He is a licensed insurance agent and blogger/consultant for those in the insurance industry.

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Sa El is the founder of Simply Insurance. He is a licensed insurance agent and blogger/consultant for those in the insurance industry.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs often about how they built their mega successful businesses with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue or funding. I’m thinking about the guy who founded League of Legends, who I interviewed recently.

And I love those interviews, but I do feel like there’s something about them that keeps us from . . . I don’t know, identifying and connecting with the guest? It feels almost like the issues that they’re dealing with are hard to relate to, like the founder of League of Legends was talking to me about how he’s going to change politics by investing in the right candidates. I think, well, I get it. But it’s more interesting to see people who are building companies in the trenches, who are doing well, but not so well that we can’t relate to them anymore. And I want to make sure to include those voices here on Mixergy too.

Joining me is an entrepreneur who I’ve known for a long time. He’s a longtime Mixergy listener who said, “You know, this insurance industry, it’d be interesting if it was done online.” And so he tried to do it and he was told, “No, that doesn’t work,” and they explained to him . . . By they, we’ll talk about who they are in this interview. They explained to him that doesn’t make sense. And he kind of shifted away for a bit and then he got back into it and he realized that there is a market in here. The ability to sell insurance online is big and it’s growing.

And what’s interesting to me about him and I should introduce him by name. His name is Sa-El, first name Sa, last name El. What’s interesting about him is, how he’s just a content machine. He spends a lot of times like crafting the right blog post beyond making sure that language is clear, that it explains insurance in a way that makes sense to the reader. Also, understanding the SEO ramifications of what he’s writing and how to convert the person who’s coming and reading those posts into customers, into somebody who’s going to sign up for insurance and how to turn that sign up into revenue for his business.

Anyway, I invited him here because I’ve just been fascinated by how he’s done that and how he’s evolved his business over the years. Sa-El is the founder of Simply Insurance. We’re going to hear how he did it thanks to two phenomenal sponsors.

The first, if you’re inspired by this and you say, “I’d like to start a content business and sell something.” You got to check out HostGator for hosting your website. And the second, if you’re hiring developers, go check out Toptal. But I’ll talk about those later.

First, Sa, it’s so good to see you.

Sa: Hey, man, it’s great to see you as well. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. Been a long time coming.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s been like 10 years you’ve listened.

Sa: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: You know, what’s interesting to me is, I always call you Sa-El, it feels like when I introduced you, his first name is Sa, last El, it was lodging for me to remember calling him Sa. But it feels like you’re somebody who should be addressed by full name, first and last.

Sa: I get that a lot, like a lot of people are like Sa-El and I’m like, they’re like, “Did I say it right?” And I say, “Yes.” And then I often get the response to, “So what’s your last name?” I say, “First name, Sa, last name, El.” They go, “Oh,” and they don’t stop actually calling me Sa-El. They continue to call me Sa-El. And it’s perfectly fine.

Andrew: You know what? My family members call me Andrew Warner a lot. My dad calls me Andrew Warner. There’s something about the combination that fits for him. I think he also thinks it’s kind of novel that I changed my name to a very Americanized name, it’s like, “Andrew Warner.” He’s playing it up for himself, too.

You got into insurance partially because of what happened to your grandmother. What happened?

Sa: Yes. She was always like a very hefty lady, right? So when she started getting sick and no one understood why. So when she went to a doctor, she found out she is actually in stage four of ovarian cancer, and all the weight that she had gained, was actually tumors. There were huge tumors.

Andrew: Wow. And when you guys didn’t know it, because?

Sa: Well, she, you know, she didn’t really check up. And, you know, she was a manager at a bakery at Kroger’s. So, you know, she, like I say, she was already ahead . . .

Andrew: She was so heavy that the extra, the tumors didn’t stand out?

Sa: And you wouldn’t look at it . . . Yeah. You wouldn’t look at it and go, “Hey, what’s happening?” Right?

Andrew: Got it. Okay.

Sa: It was that kind of a situation. And everyone thought she had life insurance, but she didn’t. You know, when she passed away, everyone was shocked that she had no life insurance, because they just knew for sure she had some through her job. But that wasn’t the case. She had no life insurance. And that kind of sparked me and put me in a mindset of kind of realizing that the African-American community doesn’t know anything about life insurance. We don’t have this conversation, you know, with our parents about it. So that’s kind of why I got started. I got started in it because that happened. And I wanted to make sure that my community understood the importance of life insurance.

But when I actually started working, I realized that like no one knows anything about insurance. So then it turned from being this thing about just educating one section of people, I want to educate everyone now because it’s such an important thing. So that’s what got me started.

Andrew: You know what? I have to tell you, that’s the part . . . It’s too early in our interview here for me to say this, but that’s the part that didn’t ring true. Like I’m looking at a guy who at 11 years old sold, what? Sold candy in school, right?

Sa: Yeah.

Andrew: Maybe even younger than that. You’re a clear born entrepreneur. And still what you want to do is educate the African-American community? To me, it feels like that’s a nice thing to say, it’s a good origin story. But in reality, you saw an opportunity, you could sell life insurance to a group of people who don’t know anything about it. Great. Is that really the story or is this story, “I wanted to educate my community”?

Sa: The story really is, I wanted to educate my community. Now, I got into insurance with the specific purpose of knowing that it could be financially successful. So it definitely was both. It wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking about the money and money comes last, that’s not my personality. I actually, when I sat down when I first . . . One of the times when I first got licensed, there’s this place called like IMO, Independent Marketing Organizations or FMO, Field Marketing Organization.

And you go sit down with them as this licensed agent. And, you know, they’re interviewing you to see if they want to bring you on and give you training and free leads and all this stuff. And the guy I was in interview waiting and I told him, “Hey, you know, I want a . . . ” And this was an African-American guy, I said, “Hey, you know, I want to educate our people. And at the same time, I want to make sure that I make money. That’s why I got into this for both of the reasons.” So, and he said, “Well, hey, you know, you can’t really say that. And, you know, that personality doesn’t work for me.” And so on and so forth, so . . .

Andrew: What part of the personality doesn’t work for him?

Sa: The fact that I’m saying I’m in it to make money.

Andrew: Really? Oh, okay. Got it. You can feel it, but don’t express it.

Sa: Yeah, that’s kind of how I was. Like, you could feel it, but don’t express it, because, I think because insurance is such a personal thing. And I don’t know if people feel like, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t really talk about, you know, become successful from something that’s so personal as insurance.” You know, like if somebody say, “I got into the mortuary business to make money,” people would kind of be like, “What?” You know, like, that’s what . . .

Andrew: You know what? There are a lot of businesses like that. I remember reading a book about Wall Street where it was okay to try to make money, but not okay to talk about wanting to make it in some weird way, like what your salary is. And there was one guy I couldn’t get off the phone with me, was trying to recruit me while I was working for Paul [Savera 00:07:28] back in college. And I said, “This is my opportunity.” I said, “So how much money can I make working there?” He immediately said, “I think it’s not the right job for you.” And hung up on me. Like because they’re okay being jerks. He hung up on me. Like that’s the way that they were treating money. It’s interesting to be aware of how people talk about money.

And so one of the things that I think about with life insurance is Napoleon Hill. A lot of his books later in life have references to life insurance. Largely, I think what happened was he started working with this guy W. Clement Stone, who was selling life insurance. So Napoleon Hill went from being the Andrew Carnegie acolyte to being the W. Clement Stone supporter. And so I said, “What is it about life insurance that’s making all these people so wealthy that he’s writing about them?” It turns out that they were getting a piece of every payment that a customer was making for the life of the policy, that it’s pretty lucrative that way.

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: Is that true even today?

Sa: Absolutely. So the way life insurance works, Andrew, is if I sell you a policy and it’s $50 a month, that $50 a month, the insurance agent is usually only paid the first 12 months of that premium. After that, they’re no longer paid. So let’s say if my contract is 150%, I get 150% of the first-year premium. After that . . .

Andrew: Oh, really?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: So the equivalent of $75 a month if I’m paying $50.

Sa: Correct.

Andrew: That’s because there’s going to be payments made for 19 years or however many years after that?

Sa: Well, no, that’s because they’re only going to pay me, the agent, for year one.

Andrew: Right, but I’m going to continue to pay for years after and so you, the agent, are getting it upfront. Got it.

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: So it’s not a lifelong revenue stream but it is a strong revenue stream for the first year.

Sa: Correct, for an agent. For the insurance companies, absolutely. Like, I think Warren Buffett said it, once he got his insurance, he never took out a loan because he just uses his premiums from the customers. I mean, that is just the truth. You know, if you have a million people paying $50 a month. You know, for 30 years.

Andrew: It adds up, and that’s what he was using to invest.

Sa: And that’s what he’s using to invest. You know, because he owns Geico. And, you know, that’s, you know, how many people sign up for car insurance and they’re paying the same premium every month, guaranteed to come out, and they’re guaranteed to have it. And the other half of the spinner . . .

Andrew: And he owns other insurance companies too.

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: So I get it. I get what you were told. You wanted to sell and they told you couldn’t even sell over the phone. Why not?

Sa: Well, they felt like it just wasn’t the time, right?

Andrew: When was this? About a decade ago?

Sa: So this was about . . . Yeah. I mean, 11, 12 years ago. And you know, back then at the time, the industry was seriously like Caucasian, 50 year old men, right? There wasn’t anybody else. I remember when I finally started getting appointed with insurance companies, they will have their own meetings for all their agents. And I remember going into this meeting, and I walk in there and I go in there and I’m like, “Am I in the right place?” Because there was nothing but old white men just sitting in there looking at us, I was kind of like, “Where am I?” And they turn around looking at me as like, “Is he in the right place?” So we both had the same like look on our face. And then I started seeing, like the badging. And I was like, “I guess I’m in the right place.” But at that time, the average insurance agent was over 50. There were no younger agents than that.

Andrew: Because people trusted older white men with finances in their lives and all that stuff. Okay. And they trusted direct mail. And you were telling our producer, “That’s the way we were getting customers.” The company would send out direct mail pieces, people would fill them out and ask for a contact from a rep, and then the agent, in this case, you would call them up and at that point, you can talk to them. Is that right? Or would you go see them in person?

Sa: So when I first started it was, they would get these mailers. So like they do a mass mailing to, say, South Carolina, right? In a specific set of zip codes. And then once they all came back, we would drive out the South Carolina, stay in hotel and then we’d would go to the houses with the card, saying, “Hey, you sent this back. We’ll be an area for three or four days.” You know, and try to sell them insurance.

Andrew: Where the people you were selling to older white people?

Sa: No, they were actually, African-American.

Andrew: Okay, got it. All right. And how did they relate to a younger guy coming in and selling them life insurance?

Sa: It’s funny because they were like . . . I think they were more comfortable on just the saying that somebody that they can relate to. That’s in there, you know, selling within them or talking to them. It was much easier for them than having a, you know, a white guy show up. Because it, you know, it was it was still, you know, some 40 year olds, some younger guys, but not on average. So I think it was just more comfortable for them. And it was an easy sell for me.

Andrew: Really?

Sa: Yeah. Once I smiled.

Andrew: You do have like a trustworthy face. You know what I mean?

Sa: Uh-huh.

Andrew: Is that natural for you?

Sa: Yes. I think it’s the eyes.

Andrew: It is, you’re just always the friend person, grew up friendly?

Sa: Always, always friendly.

Andrew: Had friends in school all the time?

Sa: Always had friends in school. I actually have friends at every level. Like . . .

Andrew: Really?

Sa: Yes, because I was a really big nerd. I was in, you know, anime, you know, programing artificial intelligence for video games. You know, all of it. And I was friends with the nerds, I was friends with the jocks, I was friends with the popular kids, just friends of everybody.

Andrew: Because you just like people.

Sa: I just like people. And I can relate to people in whatever situation they had.

Andrew: And still, you told our producer, “You know what? I had a lot of failure in life and in insurance sales in general.”

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: How?

Sa: So there are so many different avenues of insurance. So like when you get licensed for insurance, you get either licensed for life and health, or property and casualty. There are two different exams. You have to take them both if you want both licenses. I got licensed in life and health. So the first thing that I tried was trying to do the door-to-door sales. It didn’t really work for me. I said, “Hey, you know what? I want to sell this over the phone.” And everybody was like, “No, that’s impossible. Nobody’s going to buy insurance from you over the phone. People just don’t do that.”

And so the first company I started with was called Baltimore Life. And the product was a final expense product. And the way final expense works is there is for people over the age of 50, between 50 to 85. And it’s basically a burial insurance policy, coverage amounts up to $25,000 and the premiums are pretty high, right? But they’re only specifically for people who are over 50 who can’t get approved traditionally through life insurance because of their medical condition.

Andrew: Just so their kids don’t have to pay to bury them.

Sa: But that’s mainly what it’s for. So that’s the first like real area of insurance I started in, and it completely failed. Like I think I might have done it for like eight months. And it just was one of those things where the seniors weren’t really ready for. I mean, they weren’t ready for.

Andrew: Not ready for you or weren’t ready to buy it?

Sa: They weren’t ready to give their information out of the phone, right?

Andrew: Yeah. You were saying . . .

Sa: They don’t want to give their social, their banking account information, you know, their driver’s license number. You know, it was really one of those things or I was just like, “Okay, that was . . . ” You know, that was kind of didn’t work. So from there, I went to trying Medicare Advantage.

Andrew: You know what? I got to tell you, there are people who are listening who are going, “What the hell? What am I getting into? Talking about life insurance here? That’s not the exciting part of business. What am I doing?” Get to the like how he got simplyinsurance.com, get to the SEO, get to that how he’s getting customers to his site, how he’s writing the posts and why blog posts are converting to sales and all that. I’m going to get to that, but I have to ask you, at this point in your life, when you’re dealing with people who are giving you money so they don’t have to burden their kids with burial costs, do you think, “I’m in the wrong line of work. I’m in the wrong world”? What happened to the cool kid who is friends with everybody?

Sa: No, you know, it’s not crazy.

Andrew: No?

Sa: No, because it was . . . Originally what I had a passion for was developing video games. Right? Like I used to go to Georgia Tech and hang out with college students and they would give me little things to do, “Hey, program this,” you know, and I kind of taught myself how . . . . At 17, I was actually working at a game development studio. And what I wanted to do was make games. But what I was actually doing was, you know, programming games and those are two different things, right? Like they don’t want to hear your input about, you know, what the story should be, how the character should be, you just do your little programming thing. And that’s kind of what pulled me away from that.

Once I got into a life insurance and just insurance in general, I found myself with the inability to stop, because not only did I have motivation from things like Mixergy, you know, watching the, you know, Mixergy home of the upstarts. You know, the original intro.

Andrew: Yeah, an ambitions upstart, yeah, man.

Sa: The ambitious upstart. You know, things like that really motivated me and just taught me to stick with it. And so that’s what it was. It was really a stick with it mentality. That is going to work if I just stick with it.

Andrew: Okay. And so you’re sticking with it. You’re sticking with it. At some point it turned and it worked for you. What was it? Was it you changing? Was it the world suddenly starting to accept that that online worked? What was it?

Sa: It was pretty much a bit of both. What I saw was that like after the final expense, after Medicare Advantage, I went into health insurance and then we got hit with the Affordable Care Act.

Andrew: Meaning health insurance was finally working for you, selling health insurance.

Sa: Selling health insurance.

Andrew: Over the phone?

Sa: Over the phone.

Andrew: People signed up?

Sa: People were signing up.

Andrew: You were making money?

Sa: I was making money.

Andrew: And then the Health Insurance . . .

Sa: The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

Andrew: Obamacare.

Sa: You know what, whatever you want to call it. It came out. And one of the stipulations was that, you know, the thing was like you had to spend at least $0.80 per $1 on the consumer, right? So that little $0.20 was all that the insurance companies have for profit in all of it.

Andrew: Oh, got it.

Sa: So it completely destroyed the commission structure for the agents and a lot of health insurance companies actually ended up going out of the market for health insurance. And so it just was a failure. I was like, “Okay. That was it. There’s nothing you could.” So I went back into term life insurance.

Andrew: And again, doing sales, how?

Sa: Term life insurance sales were over the phone. It was finally around a time where companies were actually . . . They had product specific online products, like online, and by online, I mean, over the phone and I can email you an application, right? Like all you just have to do is e-sign the application, right? That’s the point we had gotten to it. That’s how far advanced it was.

Andrew: And this is when you were listening to Mixergy and you started to say, “The thing is the world is changing. And I’m seeing that we could do more online. I’m going to start my own company.”

We’re going to pause here for a moment, we’re going to come back into the story after I tell people about a company called Bandag. Actually, it’s not really about that. It’s about my sponsor, Toptal. But Bandag is a company that is a customer of Toptal. Check this out. The wheels on my tire, I guess, are getting bald. I’m not a car owner. I now have to have one. But I don’t feel like one. I’m a New Yorker. I loved when I moved to Manhattan and realized I don’t have to own a car anymore. Even when I moved to Argentina, I realized I could just use taxis everywhere. Anyway, then I had kids and I discovered that you sometimes need last minute trips and you want to take a bunch of their friends and all these other things don’t work, like Uber and Zipcar.

So I bought a car. I’ve been driving it so much that now my wheels are going bald. And so I’m going to buy tires and replace it. It kind of occurred to me that tires are pretty expensive. And I wondered what it is that companies that have made major fleets what they were doing about that. It turns out, Sa, tires are one of the top three expenses for a fleet owner. So you see all these trucks on the road? Yes, the person in the truck, very expensive. Yes, fuel, very expensive. But number three on the list of expenses is tires. Anyway, so there’s this company, what they do is they discover that they could retread tires. They take over the old treads and they add new treads to the outside of the tires so that the truckers or the fleet companies don’t have to buy big tires.

Anyway, they needed to have software that managed how their people did work. And more than that, they needed the software to be so good that there were no mistakes. You don’t want to retread a tire and then end up with somebody who crashes into a wall because it wasn’t put on properly. And they needed software that worked well so that their people knew how to use it, and they went to Toptal and they said, “We need designers who are a great at user experience, like consumer level user experience, the type of user experience that will get people hooked almost on the software. We want them to bring that expertise to our software that we will only use for our people. So if a truck company sends us their tires and we have to retread them, we want to know that the software that our people use is so intuitive that they’re using it right and making sure that there are no mistakes.” And they went with Toptal and Toptal helped them create this software that allowed them to take care of their customers.

And the thing that I wanted to bring up here is, I often talk about how Toptal is a great place to go if you’re looking to hire developers. You should understand that they have some of the world’s best designers. And by designers, I don’t mean people are going to tell you the right color, the right logo. I mean, the people who are user experience designers, experts in making software so compelling that people internally want to use it, people externally love using it. And it makes your brand, it represents your brand really well.

If you want to go and check out their designers or talk to a matcher at their company and ask them to tell you about what’s available to you, go to toptal.com/mixergy. When you do, you will be hooked up with a matcher at Toptal who will understand what you’re wrestling with and tell you what their designers can do for you? And if you’re happy, you can hire the designers on a project basis, on a monthly basis, on whatever you need, they’ve got you covered. If it’s the right fit and if it’s not, they’ll be open with you and tell you that too.

And if you use my special URL, which I gave out a moment ago, you will get 80 hours of developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period, that’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, T-O-P-T-A-L.com/M-I-X-E-R-G-Y, toptal.com/mixergy.

The first site that you created, this was going to be a side gig for you?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: It was.

Sa: Yeah, it was going to have to be because, you know, I was still selling insurance to people over the phone. The first website I had, zionfinancial.com probably had zero visitors in the whole time I had it, because I treated it like a business card, you know, like, “Hey, here’s my website, I’m real. Here’s my business card, I’m real.”

Andrew: Meaning, if somebody wanted to get to know you and whether they should trust you with their contact information, their social, whatever, you would send them over to Zion . . . What was it? zionfinancial.com?

Sa: Yes, zionfinancial.com.

Andrew: All right. And then at what point did you say, “I think I could get leads here. This could be a business on its own”?

Sa: So eventually I became . . . I would say, successful at selling insurance over the phone. I was making over between $80,000 to a $100,000 a year, but I was working like 16 hours a day.

Andrew: Wow.

Sa: I was working, like real, you know? You know, you have to tell me, “No, Andrew, I’m going to keep calling you.” And if you tell me to call you back in six months, I’m calling you back in six months. That’s the type of energy . . .

Andrew: That’s the type you work, that’s the way you are.

Sa: My work ethic was just super strong. Right? Like . . .

Andrew: And for all that work, only $80,000 to $100,000?

Sa: Yeah. Only $80,000 to $100,000.

Andrew: Okay, not that $80,000 to $100,000 is low but, dude, 16 hour days following up and being considered to that degree. Okay.

Sa: Yeah. All right. Because it’s a long process. You know, if I sell you, especially back then, if I sold you life insurance, I needed to make sure that I got you out of underwriting. So that meant calling doctors offices to make sure they were submitting your medical records and me making sure that I was following up with you to know, you know, the process. You know, because sometimes it can take up to 75 days to get people out of underwriting. So, you know, like there’s a lot of follow up and a lot of calls and people are not ready, need to speak to their spouse. And you’re constantly on the phone, completely always on the phone.

So that part of it, I started . . . Just like I wanted to kind of do it over the phone, I start to hear more and more people say, “Hey, you know, can you just not call me and can I just do this online?” Like, “Can you just email me something and I can do it online?”

Andrew: They started asking for the internet digital version, okay.

Sa: They started asking for it.

Andrew: Okay.

Sa: And I always wanted to do it. But as I told you earlier, life insurance companies were just not up to par. You know, they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it.

Andrew: Meaning, they weren’t comfortable with you using some form online to collect contact information and send it to them. They wanted you typing into their computer directly, into their software.

Sa: Typing it in or sending a paper application or letting the customer sign their name. And, you know, they just didn’t have a system, an online system at the time. So when people started asking, I started searching. And one of the first companies I found that offered it online it was a company that has something called a one-click term. And then there was another company called Family Life and they had products. The one-click term product actually had life insurance online, it had disability insurance, it had . . . What else? A dental side. So I had that. And then the dentist, they had just term life insurance as well.

So I had these products that let people sign up online. And I knew I could start. I knew I could just get out there and start. So the first iteration of the site was called simplyburialinsurance.com. It was a lot . . .

Andrew: Again, burial insurance, which you mentioned earlier, enough money to have your family bury you afterwards without going . . .

Sa: Enough money. And the reason why I went into that first was because I knew how much premiums they would spend. So I knew, “Hey, I could make the most money from this product if I can get people online to buy it.” Because I was already used to buying leads. So I knew people out there, you know, I would buy a lead for $25 to $50 a lead. So I knew there were people out there finding stuff online and buying stuff, right? And I said, “Well, if I can just get the model to be final expense people, then there would be a ton of money.” So that’s kind of how I first started with simply burial insurance.

Andrew: You put up the website. All you needed to do is give contact information for people who are interested in burial insurance, then you would . . . You said, “I’ll find a way to sell it to someone,” or were you going to be the agent who serviced them?

Sa: So I would be the agent to service them. And they will also be able to just go online and kind of buy it without talking to me. But I’d still be the agent of record, I had to be licensed, I was licensed in over 40 states. So, like it was a lot of . . . It was still a lot of setup. I still have to receive the policy and personally send it to them. Right? So it was still more like being an agent, because I still was responsible for the book of business.

Andrew: And still we’re looking at like a basic WordPress site with, what? Some kind of form? What did you use that was for forms?

Sa: Yeah. Basic WordPress, it was the context seven forms or contact whatever it was back then, contact forms. It was like real basic use, but it was super basic. And I don’t want to skip the other part, but before I started all of this, I definitely had to do a lot of research if I’m to build my first site. Because at the time I didn’t know websites could make money.

Andrew: Really? And this was what year?

Sa: This was in 2000 and like . . . I would say 2016 when, like the end of 2016, when I first really started reading about it. And then it was 2017, the beginning of 2017, when I first started finding out about like the courses and finding out people can make money online, one of the first . . .

Andrew: What did you learn from Brian Dean?

Sa: Brian Dean, so Brian Dean has a . . .

Andrew: Who’s Brian Dean? I know him but . . .

Sa: Brian Dean is like an all-star when it comes to SEO and building backlinks, like that’s the stuff, create long form content, generate backlinks, work as much on your content as you do on your backlinks. So if you put three months into content, you need to put three months into building the backlinks to your site.

And you know, I think he has like maybe 50 pieces of posts now. Like probably only 50.

Andrew: That’s it?

Sa: Like it’s a very little amount. And he has a ton of backlinks. He gets a ton of traffic. He’s just he’s a super awesome guy. He’s a really cool guy.

Andrew: And so his site is Bank Linko, backlinko.com, right?

Sa: Yes, backlinko.com.

Andrew: And so he’s teaching you how online marketing works. It’s about create content so people can come to your site, create . . . He also talked to you about lead magnets, a reason for people to give you the email address, right?

Sa: So, yeah. So Brian Dean doesn’t talk about lead magnets. Where I learned about lead magnets was my second course I bought from Neil Patel.

Andrew: Neil Patel. So the combination, Neil Patel, Brian Dean, they’re telling you, “Here’s the format, the format is create a reason for people to give you their email address. Once they give you the e-mail address to get the thing, you follow up with them and over time you can sell them. Now, how do you get them to come to your site for the lead magnet? Their approach is write content. Well, content writing is not enough. Spend time getting people to link to that content,” and that combination, that’s what you decided to go with.

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: Because . . . Are you a good writer? Were you a good writer?

Sa: No, no. Not at all. I just, you know, over time I became much better. But when I started writing, one of the things that Neil Patel talks about is, “When you write, you should write like you’re talking to your friend.” So that’s what I did. That’s how I started off writing.

Andrew: You remember the first lead magnet you created, right?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: What was it?

Sa: It was called “How to get life insurance calls with no phone calls from agents.”

Andrew: So the world had gotten to the point where people not only were willing to get on calls, they were going to hunt down a way to get. Let me start over, not only were they willing to buy online, they were willing to go online and hunt down a way to not talk to somebody anymore, to do the whole thing online.

Sa: Absolutely.

Andrew: So you created, this is, what? Like a PDF?

Sa: Yes. It was a PDF. And, you know, the goal was, they will come on the site, if they didn’t, you know, follow through with buying insurance, you know, the magnet will pop up and they’ll say, “Oh, this is a good thing I’d like to learn about.” They hit enter, they get the PDF, and I’d have their email. That was like the whole premise.

Andrew: You then follow up with them and sell them on burial insurance.

Sa: Follow up with a series.

Andrew: How do you get links to that?

Sa: So I didn’t. So what happened was that, my husband was like, “Hey, that’s kind of a stupid name.”

Andrew: Because it has a burial in it.

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: Okay.

Sa: And it was too long, simplyburialinsurance.com. Like can you imagine, trying to give somebody your email address. It was just ridiculous.

Andrew: Right, andrewwarner@simplyburialinsurance.com.

Sa: Yeah, exactly. So he said, “Why don’t we just go with Simply Insurance?”

Andrew: Okay.

Sa: And I say, “Oh, yeah, that’s great.” You know, that’s a great name. So I went online, I typed it in and I said, “Oh, I can’t believe nobody bought this domain.”

Andrew: That’s impressive.

Sa: It was impressive. And I said, “Oh, wait a minute, I spelled it wrong.” So I typed it in the right way, and it was definitely for sale, but it was for $10,000. And I said, “No way I can get this domain. No way I would ever paid $10,000 for a domain with no proof,” right? At least give me proof of concept. So we actually started the site as simplyinsurance.co.

Andrew: Okay, dot co.

Sa: Yeah, dot co.

Andrew: Again, your husband’s suggestion, who said, “Just go with that.”

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: All right. Good suggestion. You then created three blog posts. I’ve got them here. The first one was called “Term life insurance, everything you need to know in one place.” Another one is called “How to get life insurance quotes without phone calls from agents.” It’s that first lead magnet you turn into a blog post. And then another one was a review of an insurance product. It looks like you’re just kind of testing the waters, seeing what works.

Sa: Yes, seeing what works.

Andrew: At that point, I had all the knowledge of, “Okay, I’ll create content. Now, my content is all about giving someone information and then giving them the ability to get exactly what they said,” right? So if I say, “Everything you need to know about life insurance,” it was literally . . . . I think it was like 15,000 words when I first wrote it, it was everything possibly wanted to know about life insurance.

And I would, you know, I had a sidebar for them to actually get a quote right there on the site, right? And the same thing, “How to get a quote without getting phone calls from agents,” well, hey, you know, our site does that. So people could get quotes and have them in their email, their name, that they just get quotes, which is what people wanted to do. And then the review of the insurance product, the product at the time, Simply Insurance was Haven Life. They were like one of the first ones that really kind of push for technology. So a Haven Life was a product on my site. I did the review. I was on page one of Google for the review when they first came out. I don’t think I’m on page one anymore. It’s more competitive now.

But those were the first three posts and I followed Brian Dean’s concept of long content, and then just do outreach. So I was doing tons of outreach for, you know, my two blog posts, my “Everything you need to know about life insurance” and my “How to get life insurance quotes with no phone calls from agents.” So I was just doing outreach saying, “Hey, you know, you linked out to this before. Here’s something better.” And people would be linked.

Andrew: You personally going in and saying, “Who’s linking to this other content? Mine is better than theirs,” asking them to switch their link to you?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: And did that work?

Sa: It did. I was using Mailshake . . . Wait, no, not Mailshake. I use Mailshake now. I was using G Suite, of course, to send out the emails. This is before Mailshake. It was buzz, BuzzSumo . . . ? No, no, BuzzStream. BuzzStream, it was an outreach app.

Andrew: And then the reason that you use that is because, tell me if I’m wrong, it’s sent . . . you can program the first e-mail and the second, if they don’t respond to the first and the third if they don’t respond to either of those two. But if they do respond to any of those messages, you get an alert so you can go in like a human being.

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: And that system that I still to this day see just come at me all the time in my inbox. And it worked for you, you used it. How did you find the people that you were going to hit up for links?

Sa: I use used a tool called Ahrefs. Ahrefs is . . .

Andrew: Oh, I know Ahrefs. Yeah, they’re a partner. So you would go in, what? You’d say, “What’s a good tool that . . . ? Or what? Who’s getting a lot of links but doesn’t have an article as good as mine?

Sa: Yes. So basically, it’s what Brian Dean calls a skyscraper technique. And pretty much, what you do is you go in here, you look online and I kind of did mine’s a bit backwards because the way you’re supposed to do it is actually go find content that’s already ranking on page one at Google, make that content better and then do outreach. I actually just created my own content, and then found the people that . . . You know, I did backwards basically.

Andrew: They were linking to similar articles that weren’t as good. Got it.

Sa: And then I just shot them an email, and my content always read better. Because the thing about insurance is that it’s hard to make it sound, you know, not boring. So, you know, I always say in plain English, you know, that’s how I like to talk to people who buy insurance. So my content just read better and people were linking to it. That was exciting.

Andrew: How did you get good at writing? How did you become . . . ? In the early days, how were you even able to stare at a blank page and fill it with something meaningful?

Sa: That’s what all those years of those beginning years that we talked about of selling over the phone, that’s where that all came in. I could write like nobody’s business because I had the . . .

Andrew: Because you talked about it over the phone.

Sa: I talked about it over the phone, over and over, over and over. I dealt with the same experiences. I understand what people’s questions or problems are. You know, if you read that post “How to get life insurance quotes with no phone calls from agents” you’ll realize, “Oh, this guy knows what he’s talking about.” Because guess what? I’ve been on the phone with a customer that says, “Hey, is the 30th call I’ve gotten. Stop calling me.” I’ve been on that call. Right? And I’ve been one of the 30, all the time.

Like, if you put your phone number in for life insurance, you might have to even change your phone number. Because they’re going to keep calling, you know, if you’ve ever done, it’s terrifying to people. And some people don’t even know which agent they spoke to. They bought something from them, but they call me and I’m like, “You didn’t buy from me.” It’s just this how many calls are happening.

So I was really good at understanding what people needed to hear. And I could relate to them when I was talking about life insurance.

Andrew: What’s one thing that they needed to hear that you still remember saying over and over?

Sa: What’s the difference between term life and whole life insurance?

Andrew: Oh, that they ask that so much?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: Got it.

Sa: That was everybody’s first question. Like, no matter what, that was always their first question.

Andrew: And so you made sure to include that.

Sa: I always included that.

Andrew: How do you explain the difference between them? Whole is for the rest of your life. Term is just for like 10, 20 or whatever length of time you want. Am I right?

Sa: Yeah, that’s pretty much the gist of it. Like, if somebody asks me, yeah, that’s what I will say, “Whole life, lasts for your whole life. Term life, lasts for a certain term.

Andrew: And why is it whole not the right thing to do?

Sa: For . . . It’s probably the right thing for like . . .

Andrew: What’s it’s Dave . . . ? What’s him name? Dave . . .

Sa: Dave Ramsey?

Andrew: Dave Ramsey, rag on whole life insurance all the time.

Sa: Because this is a product that is not made for the average Joe. And honestly, like the average Joe is almost everybody, because a whole life insurance policy, like right now, I think I pay like $120 a month just for my $2 million in term life insurance. It’s like 120, 130. I don’t really look at it. But to get to a $1 million on life insurance, of whole life insurance, I’d probably be paying like $30,000 a month, like . . . It’s because they know they’re going to have to pay out on your life insurance.

Whereas with term life, you know, maybe you won’t live past the term, right? Or, I mean, maybe you will live past term and maybe you’ll cancel the policy before 30 years, maybe . . . But anything can happen in 30 years other than paying out on the policy, right? Like that’s the risk that they’re taking. And they’re also taking a risk that you would die before. So it’s more affordable. Way more affordable. So that’s why people don’t like it, and then whole life is just complicated. It’s a complicated product. There are products inside of the whole life industry that you could actually go negative on your life insurance policy. It’s just too complicated. Like term life is very simple. It’s how much you want to pay per month for how much coverage for how long. It’s those three things.

Andrew: You know what? I got life insurance ones, because I had a kid and I started worrying about certain things, like what if one of the kid’s friends cracks his head in my house and then I go bankrupt because the person is so angry that they have to take out every dollar that I have. So it’s like worries like that would come into my head. And that was the first time that I asked my friends, who were in our same business, and I said, “What are you guys doing?” People here in San Francisco who were similar to me I felt. And they said they had life insurance. I said, “All right, fine, I’ll get it.”

And then the second time was, Patrick McKenzie. He did this tweet saying, “Here’s something that most entrepreneurs never think about, life insurance.” I said, “You know what? It’s true. I didn’t really give it much thought, let’s was come back and give it some thought.” And so I followed it up. I got my checkup. I also like getting these checkups because I feel like whoever’s checking my blood pressure and everything else is super impressed, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t even know what blood pressure numbers even mean. But I feel like they’re impressed. Do you feel the same way?

Sa: They might be.

Andrew: They might be.

Sa: No. I’m actually like I’m really against like the exam, man. I hate all of this stuff. Like from . . .

Andrew: I had to get into my office at 6:30 in the morning on this past Friday. And then I was going to spend the whole day with my kid anyway and then go out at night with my wife. But I did it.

Sa: Just think about that, right? Like, just imagine like selling over the phone and having to make sure all your people get their exam. Like, it’s just like horrible.

Andrew: That’s what you had to do?

Sa: Yeah. Like, it was horrible. Yeah.

Andrew: All right. So you know what? Let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor and then we’ll come back into the story. My second sponsor is a company called HostGator, for hosting websites, like yours. You hosted, what, on WordPress?

Sa: Yeah, WordPress through SiteGround.

Andrew: SiteGround. I don’t even know them. If somebody listen to us right now and said, “You know, I’d like to do that, I think I could create a few blog posts based on the questions that I get every in my life. I think maybe I can get some leads and sell them.” Any advice that you have for them about how to make this model work?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: The content model work.

Sa: The content model.

Andrew: Maybe, or any part of your business, yeah. What advice would you give them?

Sa: The advice I would give is, the first thing that you need to do is just get the content up there and stay consistent. So, you know, if you release one blog post release one month, if you release two a month, continue to release two a month. That’s the most important when it comes to the content.

Andrew: Because you need that rhythm to produce or because the audience needs that rhythm to keep come back to your site or because the search or what?

Sa: Because Google. Yes, Google . . .

Andrew: Because Google needs to see that are consistent.

Sa: Likes to see that you’re a consistent and they want to see consistent content, right? So if your level of consistent content is once a month, that’s fine. But, you know, you need to keep it consistent, whatever you start with. And if you make one post a month, make it long.

Andrew: Why long? I have to tell you, I have a hard time reading long form content. I end up sending it to Pocket that app that’s for reading later. And then I go back into Pocket.

Sa: Because the truth is, is that long form content wasn’t really created for you to read all of it. It was created for you to read the section that you wanted to read about. Because like most people, when they’re looking for something, if it’s in a long form content post that’s relevant, that’s super relevant, most people will just type in what they want and then they’ll just zoom down to the area they want to read about. Most people don’t read the whole thing. I doubt anybody has ever read the “Everything you need to know about life insurance,” I doubt they ever read all of that.

Andrew: What about this then? Why not then create 10 shorter versions of that article? And why doesn’t Google reward that?

Sa: Because ten shorter versions means that you’re doing . . . There’s a few things called keyword cannibalization. So if I write a post that’s very similar, Google doesn’t know which one to rank the best. So that’s the first part, keyboard cannibalization. And two, that’s what a lot of people used to do, they would just write 50 articles for each keyword. And they would just put 300 words, and Google got smart, Google said, “No one wants to read this content. This is like trash content.” Like, you can’t answer the question, you can’t say is everything about life insurance and it’s 500 words. That’s not possible, right?

And so it’s one of those things that if you’re going to be an ultimate guide, if you don’t say the best, if you’re going to do all these . . . What are they called? Money keywords, then you need to make sure that the content matches the search intent of the user.

Andrew: So we’re basically feeding into Google’s needs more than a user, because as a user, I just want that part, like I wanted to know how I can mount a GoPro . . . What is it called? Buckle mount on my car without ruining my car. I just want to know how I can remove it. I don’t need the long everything you need to know about buckle mounts for your GoPro. I just want that one part. But I guess Google can’t . . . Google wants the everything you need to know about the buckle mount for your GoPro, so that other people link to it and all those people are making a value judgment on whether it’s a good blog post or not. And doing Google’s work for them . . .

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: All right. So if you’re listening to me and you want to take something away from this interview, there you go, bring that knowledge over to HostGator. Anything that you want to host, especially if it’s a WordPress site, they make it super easy, one-click install of WordPress. Then you start writing. And I’d love to have you on here, if you’re listening to me and you end up building this thing, I’d love to hear, even if you’re struggling, I would love to hear what challenges you have as you’re building your business on HostGator, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. You’ll get the lowest price that they have available. And frankly, their prices are already low. So for them to lower even more is significant. Actually, it’s not. It’s not significant for our wallet. It’s just nice to have, to save a few extra dollars. It’s significant for me, I’ll be honest with you.

When you use hostgator.com/mixergy, you’re supporting all the work that goes into doing these interviews here and I appreciate you for doing that, hostgator.com/mixergy. But seriously, tell me what you end up doing with it, andrew@mixergy.com. I want to hear about it.

All right. You were starting to get this thing going. You were starting to bring people over to your site. I had this one like question before we get into the rest of the story. It’s how did you create the quotes? You’re a guy who’s not a WordPress developer. How did you create the form that allowed people to give you information and then get their quote right away?

Sa: So there is a company called Ninja Quoter, and they actually that’s all they do, is create quoters. And so I linked up with Ninja Quoter. And we got the access to the Haven’s quote information and they threw it into their system and I paid extra to have it. And they added the carrier, they added all the quotes. All I had to do was install the widget on the site.

Andrew: And they made it just for you or for anyone afterwards could use it?

Sa: Anyone could use it. I just happened to want a carrier that they didn’t have, which was Haven.

Andrew: Got it. Oh, I see. And then anyone else could use this thing that they made for you. But that person would have to pay anywhere from $19 a month to $69 a month to have the quote on the site. Got it. So you just find these tools. One of the things that I noticed about you is, you’re really good at finding these geeky solutions. What are you doing, Product Hunt all the time or is there a forum you’re going and asking people?

Sa: No, I just . . . You know, I say, “Well, you know, there has to be something out here like this because why wouldn’t it be,” right? Like, that’s just how I think. Like, and if it isn’t . . .

Andrew: “Somebody’s got to have some system for creating quotes.”

Sa: Somebody’s got to have something, some systems.

Andrew: “I’ve got to and Google it.”

Sa: Yes. And there were a few, I think there were like three. And Ninja Quoter just seemed to be the easiest to deal with, the easiest to match the colors to your site, the easiest to, you know, the people were really cool, straightforward. And, I’m able to just get it added and move on. I didn’t have to think about it, unless the insurance companies updated their quotes. I just sent over the new quotes and they would update them.

Andrew: And you were getting paid per lead from whom?

Sa: I was getting paid pay per lead from Haven.

Andrew: Haven. So someone would go through the quote, they would then enter their contact information, you sent it to Haven and you just wanted to get paid every time you got that form filled out, whether the person bought or not.

Sa: Sort of. So . . .

Andrew: Okay, tell me.

Sa: So the way it worked it was very similar. Like they see the quote, they click the Apply button. So the way I had it set up is that instead of it going to a form and me having to send something to Haven, the customer actually just was pushed in through to Haven’s quote page. And all they would have to do is fill in the same information, their quote would pop up and then it would create an account. Once they created the account, it was considered a lead, which basically was them putting in their email address, creating a username and a password, that was considered a lead. And that’s how I get paid, whether they got approved, what they got a client, it did not matter. It was all per lead, which was super important.

Andrew: Tell me about HARO, Help a Reporter Out. Would you do with them? What is it and what you do with them?

Sa: So Help a Reporter Out is a service that, basically they look for sources. So every Monday through Friday, they send out these three emails. Morning, afternoon and evening e-mails. And the reason why I know this is because every morning I write M, I write A, and I right E on my paper, because that reminds me to say, “Check your morning HARO, your afternoon HARO and your evening HARO.”

Andrew: To this day you do that?

Sa: To this day, I still do it. Everyday.

Andrew: Because it’s reporters from blog people to The New York Times . . .

Sa: Forbes to the New York Times, anything you could think of. And all of them are needing our sources for their stories. And they go through and you read, “What sources need?” And I’m looking at it for life insurance, if you need help with health insurance, anything, that says insurance, if I can answer it, I’m responding. Anything that talks about entrepreneurship, building sites, building blogs, creating content, I’m responding. Anything that talks about credit, I’m responding.

Andrew: You know what? I wanted to confirm this. Ryan Holiday, back when he was writing the book “Trust me, I’m Lying,” went to Help a Reporter Out and just answered the most random requests for experts. And I think he said that he was like a record collector. And he said that he was . . . I forget. It was . . . I’m looking at this article just to confirm my memory that he did do this. He did. He basically BSed all these reporters, whatever they were looking for, he said, “I’m the guy, I’m the one person in the world who happens to have three left feet. I’m telling you, you should be . . . ” Right? And he’d get interviewed. It’s that’s the way that the media worked. And he called them out for it.

For you, you’re using it legitimately and you’re getting links. What’s the biggest hit that you got from this?

Sa: Let’s see, it’s a lot.

Andrew: Is there one that you’re especially proud of, like a newspaper or magazine that you’ve always want to be in?

Sa: I would say . . . I can’t say that one. There’s so many. Okay, I would say I was really excited to get reviews.com . . . I got so many, Simple Dollar. All really into like the personal finance space.

Andrew: And that’s what you want. You want people in the personal finance space to link to you.

Sa: Yes, yes.

Andrew: Okay, and so to this day, three times a day, you make sure to check out Help a Reporter Out as fast as possible.

Sa: Yes, as fast as possible.

Andrew: Why do you write it down? Why don’t you just have it automatically sent to your phone or to your watch and give you an alert when it comes out?

Sa: I don’t have my phone on me even when I’m working.

Andrew: You don’t?

Sa: Yeah, I have it out of the room. Yeah.

Andrew: Because?

Sa: It’s a distraction. It’s a total distraction for me. It might not be for everyone else.

Andrew: And you can put like an alert on your desktop or something to do that?

Sa: No, no, I’m all just paper. I write down the three most important things I need to get done.

Andrew: That’s not even a computer. You’re not staring at a computer screen all day?

Sa: Yeah, I’m doing that. But I just . . . When I work, like I close everything out, I only focus on that one thing.

Andrew: Got everything on your computers out. And so what program do you use to write?

Sa: Oh, I just write inside of Google Docs.

Andrew: Got it. Okay. All right. I thought you were going to use some low distraction, something to write.

Sa: No.

Andrew: You know what? I found that I was doing really well getting ads from Overcast, Marco Arment’s podcast app when you first announced it that advertising was going to work in there. So I tried to buy it. And I bought so many that he told me, “Andrew, you got to stop buying ads from me, it’s too much.” I said, “Well, they’re working.” He goes, “Andrew, why don’t you limit yourself to these three?” So I limit myself to these three categories, one ad per month. And then I needed to jump on those ads before other people did. And he had this thing where he would send an email telling people when it was time to go and buy the ads. And if you were too late to hit it, you’re gone.

So I used Zapier to send alerts to myself to make sure that I got an alert, boom. He’s got an ad available. I would hit that link and I would buy it, no matter where I was. I told him, it was kind of getting annoying the way he was working. If I was at the store with my kid, I don’t usually stop for anything, if I’m with my kid. I’d say, “Hey, you got to entertain yourself for five minutes. I’ve got to go and use Apple Pay to buy an ad.”

But I do stuff like that. That’s not your thing. Paper is our thing. And the paper reminds you go check your e-mail three times a day, morning, noon and evening.

Sa: Yes. Check for your hero, it’s coming.

Andrew: Wow, I can’t believe that that’s still working for you. All right. And then through Brian Dean’s group, you discovered FinCon. You and I talked a few months ago and you said, “I’m heading over to FinCon. I got a plan.” What was it about FinCon that was so attractive to you?

Sa: So I met my friend Chris, Chris Huntley in Brian Dean’s group. It’s funny because Brian Dean was like, when I first asked him, I emailed him personally, I said, “Hey, I’m about to buy your course, but I need to know, is this going to work for me? I’m in the insurance space. Just be honest.” He was like, “No, I don’t think I should do it. But if you do it, I have one guy in my group that’s killing it.” And that guy happened to be Christopher Huntley. He used to have a blog called Insurance Blog by Chris. He sold it for seven figures like two years ago. I don’t know.

So I went into it and that was the craziest thing for me is like, being in this group and finding people that were doing what I was doing. So Chris said to me, “Hey, will you be at FinCon this year?” And I said, “What are you talking about?” So he told me about FinCon, and man, I didn’t go the first year. I paid to get into the Facebook group, though. And that changed my life.

Andrew: Why? These are people who are in the finance space teaching people who want to get a better handle on their personal finances, right?

Sa: Correct. Yes.

Andrew: That’s who it is. And so you got into the Facebook group and the group changed your life. How?

Sa: Yes. So the group changed my life because I was smart enough to . . . One of the big things that Brian Dean talks about is finding your side niche, which is basically, you might not . . . You’re not going to get. Like, I sell insurance. I’m not going to get another insurance agent to link to my site. Because he’s going to see me as a competitor. But I can get personal finance websites to link to me because they just talk about personal finance in general. Right? So this place, the FinCon group, was full of nothing but personal finance bloggers, personal finance editors, freelance writers, journalists. Like nothing but personal finance people who all had websites, who all had blogs, who all needed insurance content because there were like three insurance people in there. And right now, I’m the main insurance guy in the FinCon group. Like, is that small of a space.

Andrew: Answering questions? Is that what it is or what does it mean to be the main insurance guy in there?

Sa: So like just this morning. I did interview for an article that has been reading for Forbes. Somebody is writing an article and in the Facebook group, “Hey, Sa, you’ve helped me before in the past. Can you talk to me for a few minutes? I have an article for Forbes.” “Absolutely.”

Andrew: Got it. They just know you’re the person. And then every one of these things is an opportunity for a backlink. Oh, no, did I just lose you?

Sa: This is opportunity for backlink.

Andrew: Yeah. Every one of them.

Sa: Every one of them is an opportunity for backlinks. And then on top of that, when I go into the group, all of these people also have blogs. So not only am I able to get it a backlink from wherever they are a journalists or a writer at, but I’m also getting backlinks from these huge blogs where, for instance, there’s a blogger, her name is Michelle. Her website is called Making Sense of Cents. And it’s a huge site. And when I first . . . Well, when I first heard about her, you know, her site was huge, I was like, “Oh, man. I could get a backlink. Let me try to reach out to her and try to get her backlink.” I reached out to here, she was like, “You know, we do not follow backlinks. And we do sponsored posts,” right? And I think back then it was like $1,000 to pay her. I would pay her to sponsor, you know, be a sponsored post. Now, it’s definitely much more.

Andrew: You did that?

Sa: No, I didn’t.

Andrew: You didn’t do it.

Sa: I didn’t, no, I was like, “Whoa, that’s too expensive,” especially to get a backlink that, you know, a no-follow backlink at the time. But I met her at FinCon. And one day she said, “Hey, I’m working on this post. You have any anything you can say, anything you want to add to it and, you know, I’ll link out to your site.” So I was actually able to get a do-follow backlink from her site because of this FinCon group that I never would have been able to get outside of . . .

Andrew: Did you ask . . . ? Since her policy is no-follow, did you ask her for the do-follow, which is more valuable for Google?

Sa: No. The . . .

Andrew: You just counted on her doing the right thing.

Sa: Well, it was going to be a do-follow because she only did no-follow for sponsor content. The rest of the content on the site was do-follow. So it was a post she was working on. Because originally I asked her if I could just write a guest or her site and that’s what it would have been to here was a guest post.

Andrew: And that’s another thing, that you went to FinCon with the idea that you’re going to get a bunch of guest posts, write on other people’s sites about insurance. And by the way, link over to your site. That’s the model.

Sa: Yes, link over to my site. Yes. I got over 100 people.

Andrew: This model still works today?

Sa: Yes, it works because people are afraid to do it. People don’t know how to communicate effectively.

Andrew: Guest posting?

Sa: Guest posting, yeah. I mean, it’s huge.

Andrew: I thought get posting was an old thing that it doesn’t work anymore.

Sa: No. It is huge because I could write a guest post, even going on podcasts. You know, that’s a huge thing for link building. Because I can write a guest post or I can go on a podcast, they linkback to me from the podcast page or the guest post. I’m golden. And with guest posts, you can actually get specific links, right? So like, for instance, if someone wanted to see the article you’re talking about “How to get a life insurance quote with no phone calls from agents” if you put that link in the show notes, it’s a backlink to that page from a superhot, authoritative site.

So it’s a way to get links that most people don’t think about. But yeah, guest posting, been on podcasts, you can build tons of links that way.

Andrew: Looking Ahrefs to see what your top links are. One of them is direct term life insurance. What is that? Let me see. It’s taking a little while to load on my iPad. Another one, Instant . . . Oh, come on. Instant life insurance. That’s another big post. You recognize these posts?

Sa: Yeah.

Andrew: I don’t know why it’s taking long loading up over here. These are ones that you created and then worked to get backlinks to, care free.

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: One at a time.

Sa: Yes. One at a time. All of them.

Andrew: Yeah, Instant life insurance. You are number two apparently on Google search for this.

Sa: Yes. Number one, I think is NerdWallet?

Andrew: Really?

Sa: I think that’s NerdWallet.

Andrew: I don’t know why it’s not loading up. I’m trying to get your site to load up, but that’s not coming up for me for some reason.

Sa: Really?

Andrew: Check your site. Make sure you’re up.

Sa: Yeah, I’m going to check it. I’m going to make sure.

Andrew: But I love that you even know that, like who the top person is. This is your job, competing for these keywords.

Sa: Yes. And insurance is the most competitive space in Google search, period. The most competitive. My average keyboard . . .

Andrew: Because everyone’s so valuable. Sorry, your average what?

Sa: My average keyword difficulty, and keyword difficulty for anyone who doesn’t know is basically how hard is it going to be to get to page one of Google. The higher the number, the more difficult it is. My average keyboard difficulty is between a one and a hundred, mine’s is 70.

Andrew: Seventy?

Sa: Seventy is my average keyword difficulty. And you know, I didn’t mention this before, but my husband, he’s the one who said, “Hey, since you’re doing Simply Insurance, why are you just focusing on life insurance? It should be everything.” So that when I started adding pet insurance, disability, homeowners, renters. This month we’re adding car insurance, long-term care insurance. So it’s all the different types of insurance and I’ve written all that content personally. And then . . .

Andrew: And you’re working on bringing in writers.

Sa: And I’m working on bringing in writers, yeah.

Andrew: I know I saw your system for it, and we did a screen share a couple of weeks ago. And at the end of that screen share, I said, “Anything I could do to help?” You said, “Well, I could use a link.” I go, “How am I supposed to give a link? How about an interview.” And it worked. That’s how we ended up here.

Sa: That’s how we end up here. And you know what? It’s funny, Andrew, because when I went to FinCon, that’s what I did, right? Like I didn’t meet people and just turn it into this, “Here’s my card,” right? That was not a thing. I’m not the card person. I’m, “How can we work together? Because you have a blog and I have a blog, and all of us should be trying to build links. So what are you doing here if you’re not trying to do that,” right? Like, that’s how my personality is.

Andrew: And so you’re thinking, “How can I give them a link to their blog”?

Sa: Yes. How can I give them a link? How can I get a link in? Or how can we do what’s called a link exchange? And you know, I own another website, it’s called Credit Knocks with Chris Huntley and his brother, and that website is all about creating . . . It’s basically about the knowledge of how to rebuild and establish credit for people who have bad or no credit. And, you know, I told him, “Hey, you know, I can meet you from Credit Knocks if you link to a Simply Insurance.” It’s a three-way link exchange. Right?

Andrew: Okay. Got it. So now you got more places to send them links so without . . .

Sa: Yeah, more places.

Andrew: If it’s not a good fit for your site. Got it.

Sa: Yes. And I have a network of friends that, if someone that I don’t know needs a link or if I need a link from their site, my friends have even bigger sites and I could say, “Hey, can you link to this site so we can get a three-way link exchange done?”

Andrew: As you’re banging on the table, I can here on the mic. Do you keep this in your head, or do you keep all this data in some kind of CRM?

Sa: As far as like the people?

Andrew: Yeah, who you can contact, asking for a link . . .

Sa: Oh, it’s just in my head.

Andrew: It’s just in your head.

Sa: Yeah. And some my friends in a Slack group.

Andrew: The other thing that I noticed . . . Oh, what’s your Slack group? This is something that you created?

Sa: No. It’s . . . It’s actually funny. So it’s a Slack group of friends. Brian Dean’s actually coming, been on the group calls with us. It’s really funny. Everybody was like shocked. All because I just asked him, “Hey, come, we do it every Friday.”

Andrew: And it’s just group of you content creators.

Sa: It’s a group of us content creators.

Andrew: You get on a call every week.

Sa: We get on call every Friday, all from the SEO That Works course from Brian Dean. This guy said that one thing, “Hey, I’m trying to build a group. Who wants to join?” I was one of the people that he picked because he had seen how many HAROs I would get. Because I would always go in a group and say, “HARO love.” That was a big thing that people talked about. Got some HARO love.

Andrew: Everyone knows you got Help a Reporter Out.

Sa: Right, exactly. So I was killing it. They call me the HARO master in a group, like because I you know, I would just always be on it. And it’s funny because the five of us, when we all started this, like we weren’t going anywhere near as good as we’re doing now. So it’s pretty funny to see all of us kind of help each other grow. So it’s really cool.

Andrew: You’re no longer in a dot co domain, it’s now simplyinsurance.com. How much did it cost you to buy that domain?

Sa: It was $25,000. Yeah.

Andrew: Was it worth it?

Sa: Absolutely. But it was one of the toughest times though, because by the time I was able to purchase it, and we started, you know, I saw that it worked, and in 2018, you know, we were starting to be successful. We’re starting to see that it really worked. And then in 2019, in January 2019, I purchased the domain name. I headed up by February because my biggest concern was, do I stick with the dot co and just, you know, when people type in a dot com just do a redirect? What do I say to people to use dot com?

And for me, it was a big thing. I was like, “Okay, well, if people are probably sending me emails, they’re probably sending to insurance.com,” you know, emailing people or giving someone your e-mail address, and they say, “Dot co,” and they’re like, “Hey, is it dot com, is it dot co?” It was just a lot of those little things that you don’t think about. But, you know, if I say, “Hey, my website is simplyinsurance.co is different than dot com.”

So I decided to go ahead and do a 301 one redirect of my whole site to the dot com. And 301 redirected each individual page. So I did everything right.

Andrew: You manually did it on every page?

Sa: I manually did it, every page. I made sure every page was redirected correctly. I had to reupload the whole site to the new domain. It was a long process. And at that time, we were getting about 300 visitors a day. And I was super excited. Money was coming in, and all of a sudden, I made that change and, boom, traffic is less than half and it was like 125,000 visitors a day, the fast. Like it happened like in one month, it was like, boom. And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.”

Andrew: Why?

Sa: Because when you do a 301 redirect of a website or you change your website, Google acts funny, it has to re-index everything. So it has to re-index all your links, because when you redirect the links, you don’t get any juice from Google until Google goes back to that site and re-cross their site and sees that they link to you and then it hits the redirect to your new site. So it was basically just waiting for Google to catch up. And it took about almost six months.

Andrew: Six months? How painful were those six months?

Sa: They were super painful because I was . . .

Andrew: You spent $25,000 on the domain, by the way, one of the reason why I said, “Wow,” it used to be, when you first looked at it, it was a $10,000 domain, it jumped to $25,000 by the time you were ready to pull the trigger because the business was making enough money to justify it. And not only did you pay that extra money, but now your traffic was half . . . You were freaking out, how? You don’t look like a guy that freaks out. You look like guys who’s just happy all the time, which I know is not true.

Sa: I’m not happy all the time. But I was like very . . . I stressed, I was more so stress like, “Man, I can’t believe this is happening. I should have never done this. I should have waited.” You know, but I knew that if I waited, I would have never switch to the dot com because now, you know . . .

Andrew: It gets harder.

Sa: It’s gets harder to do that now because now we’re closer to getting the . . . What did we do last month? We did 20 . . . Last month we did 20,000 visitors. So, you know, it’s getting, you know, chopping off 20,000 visitors versus 300,000, you know, that day back in. I wouldn’t be able to do it now. All right? I just would never be able to do it.

Andrew: What’s your highest revenue month?

Sa: Highest revenue month was last month and it was $35,000.

Andrew: $35,000, congratulations. All of it profit.

Sa: Well, 99%.

Andrew: Because you don’t have a team of writers.

Sa: It’s me.

Andrew: It’s you sitting in that chair. How many hours a day?

Sa: Now it’s about eight.

Andrew: Eight? Oh, okay. Good.

Sa: Yeah. But it’s all of my husband, like, if it wasn’t for him, I’d be back here 16 more hours.

Andrew: Was it a point in your relationship where your relationship was suffering because you’ve been working too much?

Sa: Absolutely.

Andrew: Wow. So what do you do to stop that?

Sa: I just had to tell myself, I had to get to the point where it was okay to not work. Because I had worked for 16 hours a day for so long that when I wasn’t in here, it felt like, “I should be doing something. What am I doing here? I’m losing out on things. I’m losing out writing more content.” It felt like that because it had changed. Because for me, “Hey, if I could sit here for 16 hours on the phone talking to people, I can definitely do it to write,” and have a better life, right?

So that was kind of the mindset for me. So I had to pull back and realize that, you know, what my husband always tells me is that, you know, you can’t work on the business and not work on the relationship, right? Like, you have to be able to do both. You know, if I spent an hour reading about this new SEO thing, I need to spend an hour about, you know, how to talk more, how to be more open in the relationship.

Andrew: Are you doing that?

Sa: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: You are doing that, reading a book on . . . You read any good ones?

Sa: I do a lot of online reading. I don’t really have any books for . . . I just do like . . .

Andrew: The ultimate guide to not losing your relationship while you’re building your backlinks.

Sa: Exactly. Stuff like that, right? Just reading online.

Andrew: Written by a Brain Dean student.

Sa: Exactly.

Andrew: Oh, yeah. My wife and I are doing daily like connection exercises where we’re just being together, paying attention to each other. It’s just another . . . I have this app Streaks that I’ve been using in 2020, because I’m kind of big on completion and following through and all that. And so there are few things that I need to do. And one of them is, my goal is to stretch every day. Because I was doing all these marathons and not stretching and my body was getting tighter and tighter. So I never wake up with any pain. Suddenly I woke up with pain and said, “This sucks. My life is going to be pain like this forever?” And I said, “Why don’t I try stretching?”

I did it daily, the pain went away. I’m like waking up now, jumping out of bed so then I got Streaks to make sure I was doing it for the first time in my life. I said, “I don’t know, what else can I add onto it?” And then one of the things that I added was, connect with Olivia every, every day, like do some kind of connection exercise. I have to say, I usually roll my eyes at it. And then last night we did it, it was it was helpful. By connect us, the exercise we’re doing is we hold our hands up, touch hands, and then . . .

This is so dorky. But I want to be open about the dorky part because I think that’s the fun part of the conversation. Hold our hands up. And then one of us takes the lead and does something like . . . As long as we’re still holding hands, like where we hand up and down. If I do that, then she has to do it, too. And then if she does something, I have to do it too. We have leadership issues. We both want to lead everything, and neither one of us is ready to let someone else take the lead and so this is an opportunity for us to spend time together and also recognize that it’s okay to let the other person take the lead. You’re going to be fine.

Sa: Oh yeah, it’s definitely okay. Like my husband’s an Aries and they’re like fire signs. They’re like always want to take the lead. You know, I’m a . . .

Andrew: You believe in all this astrology stuff?

Sa: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: You do?

Sa: Absolutely, it’s the first form of science.

Andrew: What makes it . . . ? I’m not even going to get into what makes science. How long have you two been together?

Sa: Twelve years.

Andrew: Twelve years. What do you do for date nights?

Sa: We got to eat a lot, movies. He cooks. Our favorite restaurant right now is called Hattie B’s, it’s a hot chicken restaurant in Atlanta. It’s super good. But yeah. We really just we go out, eat a lot. The thing we do, our connecting thing is the gym. He’s really big on the gym. And that was another thing. You know, my weight was becoming a problem because I was always sitting around, right? Like on the computer.

Andrew: And you’re a fit guy.

Sa: I’m fit now. Yeah.

Andrew: Oh, you’re fit now, but I feel like you’ve always been fit except this period . . .

Sa: No, like two years ago . . . man, I was like 230, like 230 pounds. And it was all fat. But you know, like some people, they’re like 230 muscle, no body fat. No, no, it was all body fat. So then we got into the gym.

Andrew: So then would you guys trade off at the equipment?

Sa: No, we do all body weight exercises. So we use either . . .

Andrew: Oh, so you pushups together and sit ups and all that.

Sa: Pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups and then like different types of abs exercises with dumbbells. And so it’s more like that.

Andrew: Olivia and I used to connect a lot through running. That’s where we’d get to talk a lot. And then there are the good vibes that you get from just running. We just don’t have that time. Plus, she’s not much of a runner now. What I would like to do is, there’s an app called Zwift. I used to talk about this endlessly. Where you get your bike on a trainer that has Bluetooth in it. So that you’re cycling in place. It turns your bike into a stationary bike and then you connect it to your iPad or computer or whatever, your phone, I used to connect it to, but my iPad is my preference.

And then when you cycle, this character in a virtual world cycles. And I would do this for hours and hours, just cycling through virtual New York, through virtual Richmond, Virginia, through virtual worlds. And it gets you really going, especially if there’s a hill that you’ve got to climb. I’ve been wanting to do that with Olivia where she’ll get on a bike and do that as I get on a bike. If we’re going to watch TV, let’s just move. But so far at the end of the day, with two kids, it’s not been working for us to do that. But we do our connection exercise. We do our connection exercise.

Sa: Super important.

Andrew: All right, here’s one other date night thing that worked for me. I find if I sit at a bar, and we went to a great one the other day, we just went in for a little bit of snacks, drink before we went out. I just ended up drinking too much because I can’t sit still. And I don’t get hangovers the next day. So there’s no danger in drinking too much. And I’m sitting there, there’s nothing else to do. So one of the things that she instituted for us was one day she said, “I just need to talk for a little bit. And I could use a nice hike. Why don’t we go for a hike?” I said, “All right.” She said, “You could even bring your whiskey with you.” I said, “Interesting.” So I took a cup of whiskey if I had, I’m sure I had it, but it might have even been beer that someone gave to me for that time, put it in a cup. She had a glass of wine, and instead of sitting in a restaurant for hours drinking several glasses, we walked through the city. We first went up Bernal, whatever it is. And then from there we started walking through town. And that’s one of my favorite dates. You you’re your drink, I grab my drink and we walk.

Sa: Yeah, that sounds like a fun walk.

Andrew: That’s the thing, dude. All right. I don’t even know exactly why we brought . . . I do know. I want to get to know the people whose podcasts I listen to. And so I’m willing to share some of the personal stuff that happens here.

All right. All this just for one backlink, will it pay off?

Sa: Absolutely. It’s going to pay off a 100% because the domain authority, it really comes out to authority, especially in the insurance space, because Google considers my site, it’s called Your Money, Your Life site. So any site that deals with managing money, whether it’s, you know, all these personal finance sites, insurance, if I’m telling you, you know, how to make more money to survive, all those things to consider your money, your life, because somebody is telling you what to do with your money.

And those sites are . . . They’re under way more scrutiny from Google. You know, that’s why I’m still a licensed agent, because, you know, writing content about insurance and not being licensed just makes absolutely no sense. You know, so that’s kind of . . .

Andrew: I don’t know. The researchers that research . . . Good at researching everything, but you and I talked about you hiring writers and you said, “This is a huge issue. I can’t just have somebody who’s a great writer, who’s not a licensed agent start sitting and typing out of my keyboard.” I said, “Oh, yeah, okay, that is a problem. Maybe you could get them to research or prep or something for you.” All right. That does suck, man.

Sa: Yeah, it does suck.

Andrew: So you’re saying the fact that I’m not in the space . . . And do have good SEO juice?

Sa: Dude.

Andrew: I do?

Sa: Absolutely. Yes.

Andrew: Wow, how do I even find that out? I never look at this stuff.

Sa: Yes, just type your site in on, Mixergy.

Andrew: On Ahrefs?

Sa: On Ahrefs.

Andrew: M-I-X-E-R-G-Y.com, typing it right in there. Let’s have a look and see what my Google juice is, go to the overview. The UR is 79 and the DR is 89. Does that mean anything?

Sa: It is ridiculous.

Andrew: Really?

Sa: It means . . . Absolutely. Because so what it means is that, if you . . . Okay, first or foremost, when you’re looking at a site that you are rank is means the individual page, the UR rank, right? So this URL rank means how high your actual individual URLs on your site are linked to. And the domain rank means how high your rank is as far as your overall domain in your space. So like the highest you can get is 100 DR and UR, and you’re at 78 and 79. I mean, that’s huge.

And then on top of that you have over 3,980 websites referring to your site, or called referring do-follow domains. So there are 3980 people that are linking to your site, unique websites that are linking to your site. That is ridiculous.

Andrew: I had no idea. That’s great.

Sa: Yeah, it’s huge. It’s huge because like compare your site versus like Simply Insurance, Simply Insurance, I think I only have . . . My domain rank is at 50. My URL rank is at 37 and I have only 658 referring domains of which 492 are actually do-follow. So I still have a ways to go, especially most of my competitors are . . . You know, my competitors are Nerd Wallet, State Farm, Progressive, Policy Genius . . .

Andrew: Yeah, they’re huge.

Sa: They’re huge sites. Right? So the higher my domain rank goes, the higher my, you know, my . . . I guess my votes from Google. We’ll see as far as how many people are looking to the site. So, yes, every backlink counts, whether it’s one backlink, especially backlinks from sites like Mixergy, right? Absolutely.

Andrew: All right. And we do only three a week, a total of roughly 10 a month because of the number of interviews that I publish.

All right. Well, thanks. Thanks for being on here. I’m looking forward to having you on the site and seeing what the feedback is. And who knows? Maybe somebody will listen to this and say, “I got a higher UR rank than Andrew. Would you do an interview with me?” And I’m sure that you’ll be open to it. Thanks so much for being on here.

The website is . . . I have that. What’s the URL?

Sa: simplyinsurance.com.

Andrew: simplyinsurance.com. I seemed too simple, I had to make sure that really is the domain. I mean, I swear to you, that’s what I was doing. I was like, “Is it really that?”

Sa: And just one more side note before we go. I did want to say that last year I started another site, creditknocks.com, last month we hit $16,000 in revenue. So it only took us . . . It took us less than a year to hit $16,000 a month in revenue, just doing it again with someone else. So that site is growing fast, too. It’s called creditknocks.com. And I built it and I still work on it. Just, you know, with the team that, and Simply Insurance.

Andrew: Knocks is a knock on wood.

Sa: Yes, it’s a knock, like it is a play on opportunity knocks. So there’s a . . . And I’m just saying this, I want to say this because just to show that, hey, you can replicate this business model. It is not something that you cannot do. Anyone can do it.

Andrew: And Credit Knocks is the same model?

Sa: Same model.

Andrew: But for the “I need to improve my credit space.”

Sa: But for the credit industry. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. I can see the similarities between your site and Chris’s site. And I see your face come up on the lower left of that screen.

Sa: Yeah, we did, which is funny, he did an A/B test and he found out more people click through my face than his face.

Andrew: Oh really?

Sa: Yeah.

Andrew: All right, on. All right, I want to thank my two . . . Oh, I should say also, Ahrefs is a partner of ours, they give me the tool, they’ve have been supportive. And truthfully, I still don’t know how to use the tool well enough. But I appreciate them being such a supporter of what I do here at Mixergy.

And the two sponsors who made this happen. If you’re hosting a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.

And you could replicate this, go check out what they’re doing at Credit Knocks and you can maybe find . . . What’s another niche? Like if you could pick a niche for somebody who is listening to us and go to HostGator and sign up and replicate your model on, what would it be? What’s an easier one to get started with?

Sa: Golf.

Andrew: Golf?

Sa: Yes.

Andrew: And then what do they sell?

Sa: Golf clubs, drivers. And that site, it just would be . . .

Andrew: Got it, write golf content and then linking to that.

Sa: Write golf content, reach out to the affiliate programs, become an affiliate, sell golf clubs, you don’t have a product, sell golf stuff, it’s very profitable.

Andrew: How do you know that? Why do you have such a quick answer?

Sa: Because it’s one of the top niche industries to go into, I just do a lot of research on it because eventually I’ll be buying websites that are already in niches and trying to build them out. That’s one of my future goals. So always stay on top of what are some good niches to go into.

Andrew: Oh, and the nice thing about that is you don’t have to have a license agent to write your blog posts for you there.

Sa: No, no.

Andrew: All right, guys, whether it’s that idea or anything else, take it to a hostgato.com/mixergy. And of course, if you hate your hosting company, switch to them too. And finally, great, great developers, great designers available for you at Toptal, if you want to have a conversation with somebody about how to get started with them, go to toptal.com/mixergy.

Sa, thanks so much for being on here.

Sa: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Andrew: Bye, man. Bye, everyone.

Links Talked About on the Show:
First Blog Post – https://www.simplyinsurance.com/life-insurance-quotes-no-phone-calls/
First Power Page – https://www.simplyinsurance.com/how-does-term-life-insurance-work/
First Insurance Review – https://www.simplyinsurance.com/haven-life-insurance-review/
Credit Knocks: https://www.creditknocks.com

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.

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