I last had Johnathan on this podcast back in May of 2016, where he shared the story of how he and his team grew KlientBoost to over $100k/mo in recurring billing in the first year, all while maintaining 60% margins.
If that’s not impressive enough, since then, KlientBoost has tripled to over $300k in recurring billings. They didn’t get here by discovering some new growth. Instead they kept that momentum going by doubling down on what works, namely content marketing.
Today we talk about how Johnathan has built a brand in the competitive PPC space by using content marketing, the insanely ambitious content series his team put out over the holidays and how it is paying off, and how he has handled the growing pains at KlientBoost.
Johnathan has an endless supply of energy, a wealth of knowledge, and knows how to build a successful agency in a hurry, and today he holds nothing back. His last interview was one of the most listened to interviews of this show. He said he wanted to top it this time, and I think we succeeded.
The content marketing equation
Johnathan creates his content with one key strategy in mind: anything you can do, I can do better. If a competitor writes a blog post in Johnathan’s field, his response is to write one that’s longer, funnier, more interesting, and then promote it better. This strategy is plain in his company’s recent push to create a 25-part gifographic series. Plenty of companies do infographics, featuring information with static images. Johnathan’s response was to create infographics with animation instead, making something even more eyecatching. As though that wasn’t enough, he also made 25 of them to be released daily before Christmas in partnership with other companies.
Johnathan has other suggestions to help you do better. For another example, take explainer videos. Plenty of companies do whiteboard videos or basic animation to explain a complex topic. Johnathan suggests giving stop-motion video a shot to really make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Growth through partnership
The gifographic series didn’t just help Johnathan’s company stand out from the pack: it also helped him form creative partnerships, which in turn led to even more growth. One of Johnathan’s initial strategies was to partner with companies with an established base, creating content for them in exchange for exposure and a tacit endorsement.
Then, of course, Johnathan decided to kick it up a notch. For his 25-part gifographic series, he didn’t just create 25 pieces of unique, complex content: he also partnered with other companies to promote it. He went to them and said he’d do all the work if they just promoted the project on their website and featured a gifographic on a topic relevant to their interests. He used his first few acceptances to build momentum, moving up to bigger and more influential companies once he had a few small ones as a proof of concept.
This not only provided him more exposure and created serious ROI, but it also created working relationships with a number of different companies who were impressed with his work and recognized that his company was doing something different.
Putting the 25-part gifographic series together
Of course, getting such a large project off the ground wasn’t easy, but Johnathan broke the process down into steps, starting with the hardest part. The first thing they had to do was create a list of potential partners, accounting for the fact that a few would be too busy or uninterested in the project. Cold-contacting a large list of companies might seem intimidating, but Jonathan was direct. He made sure the partner understood the scope of the project, and, more importantly, that they wouldn’t have to do anything except host the finished project.
Once they had 25 partners, the next step was coming up with 25 really good topics that wouldn’t only be interesting and useful but also would appeal to the partners featuring them. After that, they had to write up the content and create the sections of the gifographic, then run everything by the partner in question to make sure they approved.
That sounds like a lot of work for exposure, but Johnathan made sure everything did double duty. The outlining process for the gifographics was just the same as their process for outlining blog posts, so in addition to hosting gifographics on partner websites, Johnathan turned around and had his team turn those gifographic concepts into blog posts to host on their own site or as guest posts, ending up with 50 high-quality content pieces.
Content plans going forward
Johnathan admitted that, initially, his content projects weren’t as well organized as they could be. They jumped from big project to big project, and at the end of each, they had to scramble for the next idea. Now that they’ve had enough success to hire a larger team and take some time to breathe and reflect, they’ve implemented a process to ensure regular content production.
For Johnathan, it starts with his employees. The best way he ever learned anything was from teaching others, so each employee does four blog posts a year, as well as an internal presentation on the content they’ve produced. Again, this work does double duty, since it teaches his team valuable skills in content creation and speaking, but it also makes sure they have a steady pipeline of content ready to go on a pre-scheduled basis.
Johnathan’s team knows what their focus points are, so their main sticking point is volume, making sure their production doesn’t slow down.
|Andy Baldacci:||Johnathan, thanks so much for coming on the show again.|
|Johnathan Dane:||I am so excited to be back. So many things to talk about and, like you told me last time, I think a lot of people got some value from the previous podcast. So, my goal is to outdo myself this time.|
|Johnathan Dane:||I’m excited.|
|Andy Baldacci:||All right, you’re setting the bar high. You’re setting the bar high, but I like that. When we did last talk it was back in May of 2016 and you had just put out a post where you’re talking about how you built KlientBoost to up to over 100K MRR on the first year.|
Your team had about 14 people on it, which is honestly incredibly impressive but you were also talking a little bit about some of the growing pains you had run into …
|Andy Baldacci:||… Because you didn’t realize how quickly you’d have to hire.|
|Andy Baldacci:||How have things changed since we lasted talked?|
|Like we talked about last time there’s these momentum shifts where for some reason you get, and this is with content marketing, where you can’t turn the faucet on and off as easily as you would with like PPC traffic. Sometimes we don’t know when things are coming through and things are happening as far as client acquisition but since then actually I think I put that post out in March and then by today actually, which is January 31st 2017, we’ve hit 300,000 …|
|… MRR and our goal was to be at 250 by the end of year … So this is our second year anniversary that we just had happen and so to answer your question the more profit that we had, the more it has allowed us to kind of hire ahead of time and so that’s what we’re starting to do and since we talked last time we had nobody on the marketing and sales team and we’re now one, two, three, four, five, plus myself, so six total now.|
|Johnathan Dane:||We’re adding more ammunition to the tank, I guess you can say that. Artillery? I don’t know what the word is but yeah.|
|Andy Baldacci:||How big is your overall team right now?|
|Johnathan Dane:||Right now we’re about 23 people.|
Okay. Where do you think most of that growth has come from?
|Johnathan Dane:||I think it’s a snowball effect, honestly, of our content. I mean we planted the seed early in the days and you know that’s how we got to the 100K mark and now I think we’ve seen the amount of volume of conversions come up higher. For some reason the lead quality is increased sometimes too and a lot of times people, we’ve found, have read our content, love what we put out, and then they will refer somebody to us and we’ve never spoken with either of them.|
So that’s a pretty cool side effect in a good way that happens from content and I just think building a brand takes time and I think it kind of amplifies over time as well. It’s not the most scientific answer I can give you but it’s what I think is going on.
|Andy Baldacci:||Are all of your eggs still for the most part in the content basket or have you diversified in other marketing channels?|
|Literally just yesterday we launched our … It’s crazy, we had like a 70% conversion rate on it. We launched a case study portal and so we’re gonna start using this for retargeting. Depending on if you go in our proposal funnel because we have like a four step proposal funnel that you go in to, if we see that you’re in there but you didn’t finish you’ll get hit with retargeting ads on Facebook now with case studies from cool companies like Mention Segment, Auto Pilot, and things like that.|
|We’re starting to do that. Now we have again more profit because we’re a bigger company now, we have more revenue, and now we’re gonna add more channels and more gas to the fire. A lot of it we’re still doubling down on the content and putting out more and like where you saw back in December our gifographic, which was insane that we did that looking back at it.|
|That’s still happening. That’s our bread and butter but I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually going to conferences or doing our own PPC or outbound, whatever it may be can kind of start catching up and that will be great. That will be a great thing to have happen.|
|Yeah because last time you were on you talked a lot about how you’ve really built a brand around content marketing …|
|Andy Baldacci:||… And over the holidays like you just mentioned you really took it to the next level with a 25 part gifographic series and we talked a little bit before the call about the best way to pronounce that and we both agree hard ‘G’, gifographic-|
|If anybody is listening to this on their way to work or on their drive and they’re like, “No. No, no, no, no it’s jifographics.” I’m like, “Well first off ask yourself. You sound silly and two it’s not peanut butter. It’s not the Jif. It stands for graphics interchange format, so case closed.”|
|Andy Baldacci:||Yeah I agree, I agree. So anyways what was this 25 part series?|
|What we’ve kind of figured out over time is that if we do everything that we’re putting out there based on the equation, like anything you do can do I can do better, I think we’ll be all right. And so what I mean by that is if somebody comes out with a blog post on a certain topic that’s in our realm, our world, well if we want to write about it we’re gonna make ours way better than theirs. How do you make it better? Well you make it bigger, longer, funnier, more visual, things like that and then you do a better job promoting it.|
|It’s the same thing when it came from the infographic side because back in the day when I first started off I was thinking to myself the fastest way to grow is to partner with companies who have fans and prospects that are in line with what we offer too. On the early side we partnered with Unbounce, the landing page platform because we knew people would need PPC traffic right?|
|[00:05:30]||From there we basically said to ourselves, “Hey, we see that when companies vouch for us it does us very well and it’s something that some of our competitors aren’t doing, especially at the age of how young we are and that we can actually get away with it.” I was completely Yosemite Sam in the thought that like, “Hey, let’s just go out there guns blazing and let’s ask 25 companies if they will partner with us on a gifographic.”|
|We did all the leg work so it’d be easier for them to say yes but then they would obviously post it on their blog and have their logo next to ours as if they were vouching for us. All I basically did was I took one yes from a couple companies that were the first people who were asking and then took that as proof to ask for the yes from the next companies we were asking. I was just kind of walking up the ladder in a sense and eventually asking Marketo and Hub Spot and things like that.|
|Anyways long story short now there’s a lot of webinar opportunities and all these things too. We had a killer December month, which is usually really slow in the agency B2B world and it was one of the best sales months we ever had. Can we attribute it all to the gifographics? Definitely not. It’s very gut related sometimes. And so yeah, that’s kind of the gist of it.|
|Andy Baldacci:||For people who aren’t familiar, what is a gifographic?|
|It’s basically an infographic with animation. Anything that you have that’s static as a picture or a visuals on an infographic, the gif is just the animation behind it. You’re trying to animate the certain things in the sections of the infographic to, again, make it more enjoyable which kind of goes back to our law of like anything you can do we can do better. It’s the same thing if you’re doing an explainer video.|
|Well, if you want to kick it up a notch and you didn’t want to just do a whiteboard video or an animated explainer video you might consider something called paper crafting, which is literally somebody cutting out beautiful whatever illustrations you have. Somebody’s cutting them out in paper in thin, thin cardboard and then they’ll do a stop motion out of it. That’s something that we’re working on as well, so we want to keep trying to kick it up a notch and that’s what we did with the gifographics.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Where are these ideas coming from?|
|I’m just pulling them … So I do a lot of time spent on a website called Dribble and it’s like a designer portfolio and these designers are amazing designers. They’re ones that work for Dropbox, Facebook, a bunch of start ups too and the things that they come out with and the way that they’re able to turn an idea into something that’s visually appealing is so hard to do but if you do it right and that’s why i think a part of our growth is happened to is that we care about our design. We care about our illustrations and these small things matter and so that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from actually.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Because it’s funny, when you think about design and immediately I think of Stripe. There’s a few different start ups and you know-|
We use Stripe and I think I was attracted to them because of their design. I trust them immediately as well. Sorry, not to cut you off.
|Andy Baldacci:||No, no but it’s like there’s a few start ups you think of but it’s very rare that you think about agencies. Maybe they’ll say we take design seriously for our clients but very rarely do they take it seriously for themselves in their own brand. Was that conscious choice for you right at the very beginning to have really place a priority on your design?|
It was and it’s actually one of the reasons why we have two full time brand designers right now and they’re just working on split testing our pop ups, split testing our actual site, our proposal flow. Coming out with a new marketing campaigns that we’re launching and things like that and also doing more content upgrades and things. We’re tied into goals with the marketing team saying, “Hey we want to increase the amount of email subscribers we’re getting per month and the amount of leads that we’re getting. Let’s brainstorm a list and let’s prioritize together what we think takes the least amount of resources that can get us results the fastest and adjust from there.”
|To answer your question we’re investing even more in-house to be able to do that and I think we’ll keep extrapolating that because now we can actually turn things out a lot quicker as well.|
|And I want to dive into a little bit of the kind of the mechanics of how you made this series work because that takes a ton of coordination to get 25 of these ready, not just even on the design side but dealing with 25 different partners.|
|Johnathan Dane:||Oh yeah.|
|Andy Baldacci:||What did that look like?|
|It was actually in October and I think, Cynthia was it late October that we started the gifographics? When did the idea happen? Do you remember? Yeah, yeah. We were actually pretty late to it and so I knew for the first thing we had to do was actually figure out a list of 25 potential partners and some are gonna say no, some are gonna say yes obviously and then from there figuring out 25 topics and from those topics, and they would have to appeal to the partner obviously as well and then from there write out the content and the sections of the gifographic and if they’re cool with it we’ll share it with a Google Doc, they can give notes, we can adjust and from there we’ll basically have a blog post that’s already outlined but then we also had to write a guest post and a post for ourselves first. We actually not only created the 50 or sorry not 25 gifographics but we also wrote 25 blog posts in that time frame.|
|Johnathan Dane:||Yeah I don’t think we saw our families for like a … I’m just kidding, we did. We were insanely busy but it was an amazing feat and I think those gifographics planted the seeds for a lot of good things to come in the future too.|
|Andy Baldacci:||When you’re writing emails to these partners, how are you positioning it? Are you just saying like we’ll do everything … What’s in it for them?|
Just the exposure I think. It was a novel idea. We’re actually making an advent calendar for marketers, right, and that’s something that nobody’s ever done really before. It’s actually funny because one of our partners did like a 12 days of Christmas so it wasn’t to the extravagance of what we did but they said yes and I didn’t figure about it later that they already had their own thing running, so it was kind of funny doing that. It was pretty direct. I was just saying, “Hey guys. We’re actually launching this gifographic calendar for marketers and we’d love to have you be part of it. Basically we’re not asking you to do any work, just making sure that we are aligned on the content. We’ll do the design, we’ll do the animation and the development, everything and then we’ll write a guest post for your blog as well to highlight that.”
|There was a lot of people that did not understand at all to begin with and it was like, I wasn’t good at explaining it either so there was some back and forth. One of the things was where I actually reached out to Neil Patel and want to do one with him and he was like, “I don’t think it’s going to go viral enough,” and I’m like, “Well that’s not the goal Neil, I just want to have this and I want to have your name on it because it’s cool,” and he’s like, “Yeah but I don’t think it’s gonna go viral.”|
|And then we kinda started talking about things and he was also busy and stuff like that. Those are examples where it didn’t work out but for others people were like super excited because they’ve already seen our content before and they knew who we are. And then I also had an example of one we did a long time ago with Unbounce, like the AdWords work out series and things like that. They kind of understood it that way.|
|Andy Baldacci:||It’s funny because when you explain it that way it’s like when you look at these gifographics, and so if people are listening I’m gonna have it all linked up in the show notes but if you’re listening you can go to KlientBoost, klient with a ‘K’, dot com forward slash marketing dash infographic and that will just have all of … There’s probably going to take a bit of power on your computer but it’s definitely worth it because these are really [crosstalk 00:13:29]|
|Johnathan Dane:||It may crash.|
Yeah but it’s not even just the gifographic. These are multi-thousand word articles that go along with it that have a ton of value in them. I’m thinking about Neil Patel. Like man, why wouldn’t he just say yes if you’re basically doing all of it for him?
|I don’t know. I mean that’s what I was thinking too but I guess I think I originally got the gifographic idea or he actually mentioned it on stage once a long, long time ago but the execution of what I saw him do wasn’t at all close to what I was doing. And so he grew, I think his metrics, really well through infographics in the early days when it was very hot and not a lot of people were doing it and so he has a good pulse I think on what it does, what it can do, and I don’t blame him for it. We had an interesting call afterwards about potentially starting an agency together so I would take that as being valuable but he wasn’t into the idea itself.|
And have you seen other, are there many other companies doing something like, like doing gifographics?
|No I mean there are ones like I think Hrcloud.com. They’re actually like an HR SaaS company. They do very awesome stuff for their blog where it’s just like the featured image is a gif and if you go to their Twitter they’re nothing but awesome illustrated animated gifs that they have as well. But those are the only ones I see that can kind of get close to the style and the execution of what we’ve done so far, yeah.|
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s interesting. It’s funny. I’m curious, once you got this out there, you had a landing page set up for it where people could sign up. They could get notified of all them coming out. After these have all been released, how do things look? Like obviously you said you had your biggest month but did you see a big uptick in traffic and links? What actually happened?|
|Yeah, yeah I mean we’ve seen steady growth month over month from our traffic as it is right now and in the back links as well but funny enough the biggest thing that I was actually bummed about was the people who would subscribe would then also unsubscribe because we emailed people every single day and people were like, “Oh this is quite a bit,” and so that was a bummer that we couldn’t retain some of them but again like I think looking back would I do this again? Not to this extreme I think. I think I’d be more calculated but I think long term the seeds that we’re able to plant today is something that I can’t even see if they’re gonna pay off that well in the future but I definitely think they will.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right because a lot of this is honestly the reason why I think podcasting is such a strong channel is because of the connections that it helps you start and the relationships it helps you build and it seems like you’re starting to see that with all these partners you’ve reached out to. Was that a deliberate part of what led you to go after the strategy or was that just an unintended benefit?|
I mean I think that’s a challenge because I think again when I look back at it it was such a gut Yosemite Sam type of deal. I don’t truly know to be honest.
|Andy Baldacci:||But now that it’s happened, how impactful have those relationships been? You talked a little bit before about webinars.|
|Andy Baldacci:||What has come from these relationships?|
|Johnathan Dane:||I think it’s still too early to tell because it was just last month that we kind of finished them up.|
I think now we have our foot in the door with a lot of companies and even some companies we didn’t partner with saw it and have reached out to us since then. One of them being like Mention. We’ll have to see but I’m not gonna shy away and Marketo was actually asking to do more stuff in the future. It’s just a matter like who’s gonna go after it and who’s actually gonna roll back their sleeves and stuff like that too, so that’s something that we’re gonna actually pursue but we’ll see. I think there are gonna be some more bigger collaboration ideas coming down the pipeline but we haven’t really planned it yet to be honest.
|Andy Baldacci:||Right, and it’s because in the early days you built a lot of the reputation and brand by posting pretty heavily on Unbounce right?|
|It was a few guest posts. I think I had like four on there. We have some … One of the posts has almost 400 comments so that one has done extremely well. I think you have that one hit and that helps out too. A lot of guests posts so far have been … We can see that the referral source of our lead has come from there so it’s definitely a strategy that I would implement 100% again and again if we’re starting out and also now.|
|For now it’s just a prioritization thing. Like where do we think we get the most bang for our buck? Is it building it on our own piece of land or do we go out and do it somewhere else? To begin with we had to do on somebody else because we had no followers. We had nothing going on for us just yet so but yeah for now I think we’re more keen on investing for our own stuff.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And then going forward what do those priorities look like now as far as it relates to content marketing?|
|Basically we didn’t have a content calendar forever and we just started doing that thanks to the Desenti on the team. Before we’d be like oh crap, what are we gonna launch next week and that was the challenge right? One of the big things we actually changed up because not only as a, because I love marketing myself. I love the sales aspect. I could be the CMO basically if I wanted to here. I think that’s what I’m really good at but I also have other responsibilities. I have to train people. I want to be able to give people the resource they need.|
|In regards to content one of the things we decided to do was from my own perspective the best way I’ve ever been able to learn anything is when I had to teach it to others, right? I had to sound eloquent enough that people believe me and don’t call BS and that comes through writing. We’ve since starting of this year we’re actually requiring everybody on the team to write four blog posts a year, just once a quarter, and then give like a little internal presentation about it or just things like that. Whatever topic they choose. We’re now adding more fuel to the fire just internally by what we’re doing and it will help train people at the same time. That’s where we’ve been able to create that content calendar so we know six months out what we have going on for what we do internally.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Will that be the sole source of your content on your blog?|
|No I don’t think so. I think we’re working on some other potential courses and guides and eBooks and stuff like that with other companies too. Big Commerce, for example, reached out when they saw our Ahrefs gifographic that we did, which was actually Neil Patel’s original. Like if he said yes, Ahrefs wouldn’t be able to do it but they got it. It’s funny because they didn’t see the Shopify one because we did one with Shopify too. If they saw that they might be pretty bummed.|
|If that happens and we finish whatever partnership we’re doing, then we’ll probably just add that to the calendar list and not wait six months before it can actually go live. We’ll say, “Hey this is a great piece of content, let’s get it out in front of as many people as possible,” and then from there we’ll continue our regular schedule that we have set up.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And so you talked a little bit about the Yosemite Sam nature of the gifographic series.|
|For the rest of the content that you have planned out, I know you said you’re starting to get the content calendar in place and have a bit more rigor behind all of that. How much goes into the actual, rather than the scheduling, how much is going into the planning of what to write about? Like when everyone from your team is writing their piece of content, is it just truly anything they want to write about within reason or where is the direction coming from?|
|Johnathan Dane:||Two aspects to this is that one, we just know what we want to rank for. So those are the focus piece we’re gonna write about. We found that competition levels and things like that that we can do with the keyword planner or whatever research doesn’t really matter much. We just want to make sure there’s volume behind it.|
And so that’s the first thing. The second thing is then yeah we do have some pretty strict guidelines for the team member to actually write around, so they should have their own voice and have their own humor but we want to see their outline first so they know what the topic is and we’re saying hey go do your research on all the competing blog posts that are currently ranking for this specific focused keyword and then take all the good things that they have and then add more levels to it so that you can make it basically longer, deeper, funnier, more actionable and then we actually say that they have to write at least 3,000 words as well, which is a lot per blog post. Some of them, depending on the topic, it’ll be less but you know we’ll take that as we go along because that’s obvious.
|And so those are the key metrics, right? We want to make sure that one, it encompasses all the blog posts of our competitors and what they’re writing about and it adds more to it. Consider like a list of cool type of blog posts. Well if everybody says they have nine things, we have 17 things. That’s our measuring stick basically. We just want to be like Texas and everything’s bigger over where we’re from. It sounds silly but that’s it and then we just do a really good job promoting it and then people see it, they give us back links. That part is very organic in the sense. The promotion itself is not. That’s a lot of performance enhancing drugs and things like that that were due to be unfair.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Are we able to talk about any of what the promotional effects because it’s something that so many people in the content marketing world-|
|It’s just so important. It’s crucial but no one really gets into the details and I don’t know how many emails I get every week of someone just like spamming me some random URL-|
|Johnathan Dane:||Oh I hate it. I hate it so much.|
|Andy Baldacci:||So I’m sure that’s not what you’re doing.|
|Andy Baldacci:||So what are you doing to promote the content?|
|Two things is like go straight for the jugular. It’s funny enough. People have gotten those bullshit emails so long for now and they’re like, “Hey I noticed blah blah blah you’re linking to it but we just came out with this, you should consider.” I’m like no, I’m not gonna do that. Like scratch my back first. One of the biggest things that we’ve done is we cared about scratching a ton of backs first and then we’re actually able to create private slack groups so that when other companies have something they’re coming out with content wise, we’ll promote it for them and then by source we expect them to promote it for us when we do that as well.|
|If we find that we’re the only agency of what we do marketing wise in that group, then we’re gonna do pretty well because we have an army behind us that can actually help promote our stuff of influencers and as we help level each other up with our own content promotion, their snowball gets bigger as well so when they tweet or when they share it means more and more for us in the future too. That’s the biggest thing. The second thing is being able to use that and also using PPC as a catalyst because all content is great, but if you can speed up the process.|
|Let’s say that we are boosting our post on Facebook and then if anybody clicks through on it and they read it for 30 or 60 seconds and we know that there’s intent, well they’re now cookied to be another audience with a different offer. We’re kind of trying to push them down our marketing funnel because anything content related, it doesn’t matter at all if you can’t get results from it right? That’s kind of the two prong approach that we use pretty well.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And so, yeah, because I remember when we last talked I don’t think you were doing much actual PPC yourselves. Now you’ve built out more of a Facebook retargeting funnel around it?|
|Yep, exactly. That’s what we’re slowly doing. For a long time it was just nothing but a actual idea and now that we have more and more traffic we can take advantage because we can move audiences quicker from one place to the next. This is where we’re gonna figure out hey do we have webinars that we’re gonna create, things like that. If they have downloaded an eBook, well let’s say they’ve done this.|
|Let’s say they’ve read a blog post, they downloaded white paper or an eBook. They then asked for some case studies and then we asked them to join a webinar and if they actually go from that step to step well the last thing we’d have to ask them is do you want a proposal and now we know that they’re a warm lead. We can still unqualify them obviously but that’s something that we’re actually building out right now.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And what did that, because originally I remember that was one thing I asked you about was just your call to action on the website is just get my free proposal and looking at it now that has changed a bit since then. I think you said earlier that it’s now a four step funnel or something like that?|
It’s funny you ask, it’s the exact same as last time we talked.
|Andy Baldacci:||It is?|
|Johnathan Dane:||I think it’s a three step, the only four step I’m mentioning if if they click on the button to open the light box. That’s the first step and then there’s an additional three steps after that. But yeah we haven’t … In the entire growth that we’ve seen, sadly enough we haven’t even tested anything on our own website or on our own proposal popup layout or anything like that. It’s been pretty sad but kind of cool at the same time. Now we have a lot of potential.|
Right and where have you been focusing those testing resources? Where has the priority been for that?
|We didn’t have any resources. Myself, it was still old me right? If we had designers on staff that weren’t filled up with clients just yet, maybe they can come over and help out here and there for a few one day a week but we would then fill them up so quickly that that just wasn’t sustainable long term. Now that we actually have two designers on brand one of them, Shane, is actually focusing solely on that’s his main goal is to increase conversion rates on the proposal from and also on just email subscribers.|
|Andy Baldacci:||At what point were you comfortable hiring someone to work exclusively on the brand?|
|Where were we? I think we were … Well at that time actually we actually over hired a bit to be honest. I wasn’t quite comfortable with it because it was just we had some moving around internally in the company where it was clear that two people were actually gonna be given the job. One was gonna be really good that we could use for the brand side and then one was gonna be really good to lead the CRO team.|
|And then we also had another person that we were bringing on board as the designer but he was more like part time. All of a sudden we had two designers we had to do that. It wasn’t necessarily the usual way that I like to go about it but looking back at it it worked out and I’m glad we kinda took that jump and I think we were about, we actually were at the 200,000 mark in MRR when that happened.|
|Because I think with talking to so many different agency owners I think the way you described it before, having those resources, is sort of the default for a lot of them is if someone has some free time they’ll pull them off whatever it is and to say, “All right now it’s time to tackle this one thing on the site, [inaudible 00:28:26] come up, they’ll get pulled off and it’s really hard to make progress. Do you have any advice for them on when it does make sense for them to at least start investing, whether it’s in a full time employee or just dedicating time to the brand?|
|Yeah I think, well from day one we started doing that. The first hire I had before we even had any clients was our lead designer that actually took another opportunity. He was no longer with us, hence why we had to do the move around. That was my goal because I knew from an agency perspective I mean so many companies, and I think I talked about this last time we talked together, I’m like so many marketing agencies suck at marketing themselves and it’s true because a lot of people are given the key to the castle when a client signs up with them because their brand’s already established.|
|It’s not gonna be that hard to mess things up or potentially get results right? But if you’re building thought leadership, you’re trying to build brand equity yourself, well you want to take a close look at yourself and make sure that hey you don’t look like everybody else, cookie cutter, meaning your stock photos. You don’t have professional pictures of yourself. You have no personality. From day one I decided to make that investment because I knew that was what was gonna set us apart long term because people see our design.|
|We have people who have ripped us off our design completely and we’ll soon get a cease and desist, I just don’t have time to do it. They say that flattery, or what is it? Copying or something like that is the biggest form of flattery? These things are happening and it’s because I’m like hey let’s make sure that people can see that we care about that. Like we’ve invested and we care about those details and it’s hard to measure and it’s so subjective but I can see again and again that people come to us out of the wood works and just say, “Hey we love your content, we love your design of what you’re doing. It’s incredible.”|
|That’s kind of where I take it from and I feel like, again, if I’m judging myself against another agency I can tell hey these guys are doing this really well and we need to do better than that and we’ll adjust ourselves but a lot of people can’t see that. A lot of people are analytical. They’re not the creative side and that’s where they kind of fall short.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And it’s funny because one of the things that I hear a lot for advice when it comes to starting a growing agency is to really niche down because then you almost solve the differentiation problem without needing to do as much. If you just say I work with X and I help them with Y, you’re differentiating yourself …|
… And you don’t need to do as much of the more creative work on branding because you’re not competing with really anybody else or at least that’s the goal.
|Andy Baldacci:||But you from the beginning have said you don’t really want to niche down. You wanted to PPC almost for anybody and everybody, is that still true?|
|It’s still true and it’s so funny because I mean there’s kind of like three levels to it. There’s one, when you decide to go out on your own if you want to build an agency, if you want to be solo, well you can do that. You can have a decent client size yourself because you’re guest blogging and that’s kind of how you’re building your own name, not your company name but your own name, right? But at some point you’re like can I get more and for me that’s where I got pretty selfish and I’m like hey I’ve actually already built an agency before in Utah.|
|I know I can do it and I know I can do it in a different way. I can do it with content and so from there I’m like I want to keep building and scaling this up and if I pigeon hole myself and I go niche, well then I don’t appeal to a lot of people. I can’t be … Again my two goals in life were make a lot of money and be the Michael Jordan in what I do, which is like in the sense be famous.|
|And so I can’t do that if I niche myself. If I’m only for medical doctors or if I’m for plumbers or whatever, I’m not gonna go speak at Inbound or Moz or UnBalance or whatnot. That’s what I want to do. I’ll just be honest, that’s my selfish goal. That’s the main driver for it, I’m like hey a lot of people are saying the opposite. The world doesn’t need a PPC blog. The world doesn’t need another landing page post or whatever it may be. And I’m like sure they do, they just haven’t seen it when it’s done this way, you know what I mean? And so that’s kind of where we’re at now.|
|Andy Baldacci:||It’s interesting because a lot of times the objections that I hear to niching down are people who are afraid of turning away clients. They don’t think they’ll be able to reach their goals but when you dig deeper if their goals are a few million dollars a year, niching honestly isn’t a bad strategy. [crosstalk 00:32:55]|
|Johnathan Dane:||No, no. One way there.|
Yeah but when your goals are to absolutely dominate an industry to become one of the thought leaders in something, if you don’t want to just go to the pediatric dentist conference of New England, then you do have to go a little bit bigger.
|Yeah exactly and for me too I think, like you said, a lot of companies decide to go down that rabbit hole but the other funny thing is that when you niche down you say you are the PPC agency for eCommerce shops or PPC agency for plumbers, the way you execute your work for them, if you just pop the hood and you let me take a look for a quick second, I know everything you’re doing.|
|If I inherit a client account from an agency that was niche, your entire value proposition is crap because like you can certainly see that you have a lot of case studies around plumbers that you can use to attract other plumbers, that’s great but the actual work that you’re doing, your secret sauce, isn’t secret at all and that’s the problem too that I think when it comes to niching down in a marketing side. With PPC a lot of the same best practices work well for all verticals. It doesn’t really matter but if you’re a PR agency and you’re really good at dental stuff and you have the connections, that’s a different story to me but we don’t have to have those connections when we’re PPC in the PPC world.|
|And what does it ultimately come down to a lot of the time? Is it just gonna be targeting? Is it copywriting? I would still assume that there is some expertise from industry to industry but are you saying that effectively that there might be some differentiation between working with client A and client B but you can still pretty quickly figure it out?|
|Yeah and I’m gonna sound really cocky right now and say, again, the example is you are a plumber and you’re a PPC, or sorry, you’re a PPC agency that does work for plumbers. I can use SpyFu and I can look at your landing pages and I can immediately see how I can outperform you really quickly and the two biggest things when it comes to lead gen and SaaS for PPC to work is one, granularity and two, multi-step landing pages. I think we might have talked about this last time. Those are the two biggest things that move the needle quite a bit and then everything else is just cherries and sprinkles on top to be honest.|
|They still matter and they make everything taste better but they’re not the main ingredient and that’s where a lot of people, you know, they … Another thing that I found too is that a lot of people try to fix the sink when the well is broken and we focus on the well. We focus on the sales side or the conversion rate side first and when we improve that it unlocks so much more wiggle room on the PPC side, where everybody else kind of does it the opposite. They start within PPC and they’re like, “Oh yeah we’ll look at the landing page side eventually,” or, “We don’t have a CRO team so we’ll just give you some ideas that you can run yourself.” That’s a challenge for a lot of companies.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And I honestly had forgotten about that differentiation between you and other PPC agencies is that you don’t just do, you’re not just driving traffic. You’re actually making sure that traffic does convert.|
Is that still something that is relatively rare in the industry?
|I think more and more people are doing it but again it depends too because copywriting is important. All the factors are important, the way that you have your layout is important but a lot of it is subjective until you start getting the data back. So many companies, or many agencies right now, they’ll be using templates and stuff like that which can still work. There’s nothing wrong with that. The end goal is to get results, so it doesn’t really matter how you get there and there’s a million paths to get from point A to point B.|
|I see an uptick about it but again I see that people don’t, the execution is wrong and a lot of people will ask us, “What’s the difference between you guys and Agency X?” I’m like, “You know what? It’s gonna sound really stupid, they do PPC, they do landing pages but their execution is crap compared to ours,” and then I show them our Dribble portfolio.|
|I’ve shown them some case studies and the people that don’t understand design or user experience have a really hard time getting past that bump and how much it actually impacts your overall performance because there’s so many times that we’ve found that when we design a landing page for our client, we will ask them eventuality during the relationship, “Hey are you okay if we kind of go off the cuff here and do a little different type of redesign, maybe some brand adjustments? Is that okay with you?” And we’ll do that, we’ll test landing page. It’ll perform better and they come to us and want us to redesign their entire site because of that, right? That happens quite often and then we just say, “Hey yeah it’s $40 to $50,000,” and they’re like, “Okay nevermind,” and we don’t do it.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Would you redesign the entire site?|
|We would, yeah. Yeah we would and we’ve done, again, we charge more because we don’t want to do it either to be honest. It’s a great chunk of change to have but I’ve also realized that as we’ve grown our own agency, the power of saying no is so valuable and I still suck at it. So it’s something that I have to basically test myself over and over again until I finally learn. I haven’t learned yet.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And so while it’s obviously not really a niche because it’s so massive of a market, you’re committed to at least relatively staying with inside the PPC world rather than try to be a full service agency? Is that accurate?|
|Yeah if I would do anything I would create a brand new brand and say, “Hey we do SEO or we do social,” whatever. I’ve considered that before. I just, you know, partnering with the right people. There could be a lot of cool stuff there because I feel like we have the blue print on creating agency and doing it really well and we can even do it faster now because we’ve learned a lot but I would never do it within the same brand and the reason why is because once you establish a thought leadership that is hard to establish and doing it so quickly, once you start going outside of your realm people are like, “Eh, really?” It actually, for me, you know At Espresso right? The blog?|
|And the company? The company’s more important obviously. They write everything about Facebook advertising but then they started writing content about content marketing and even though that’s the main driver of their business, I’m like, “I don’t want to hear this from you guys. Keep focus on what you guys are doing really well with,” and it kind of made me devalue them a little bit and I told that to them too because we actually work with them. And so that’s what I’m really afraid of. I don’t want to start going out and talking about PR tactics or SEO stuff when it’s not something that I want to build a thought leadership around.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Interesting. And did you-|
I think it could work, I think it could work but I’d rather double down on what I know is already working because it’ll let me “become the Michael Jordan” much quicker. Now I don’t have to learn another sport and also be pro at baseball for example.
|Andy Baldacci:||Right and how big do you think a PPC only agency could get?|
|We’re eyeballing to be at $600,000 MRR by the end of the year, so I take it year by year and so far there’s no slowing down. Look at the bigger ones but then you look at Merkle and actual international agencies that are kind of gobbling up other agencies. They do a wide range of different services obviously, so who knows? Maybe we start acquiring PPC divisions at agencies that aren’t PPC focused but they have those extra clients that they really, you know, are not good at. That could be the first step and then eventually they might, you know, we might become the bigger fish in the pond itself. I just take it kind of year by year and day by day.|
|Andy Baldacci:||And then for this year what is your biggest challenge that you’re trying to tackle?|
|I think it’s just making sure, and I think we talked about this last time, is that I really want all department heads that are leading certain charge to be able to just own it. I think that’s the biggest challenge. I’m still very much involved and I mean I think I’m really good at a lot of things but eventually I want to like, “Hey, you’re focused on this 100% of the time. I only can dedicate 10% of my time or 20% of my time so don’t let me outperform you. That doesn’t make any sense. You’re being paid very well to do this,” so I think that’s the biggest challenge right now and once that happens I will feel more at ease building around them as if they’re like a franchise player, giving them the team that they need, the resources that they need so that I can go out and be more like of an evangelist.|
|[00:41:30]||I want to be Rand Fishkin. I eventually don’t want to be the CEO. I’d rather be a founder and have somebody else run it because I want to dabble into the SaaS site and maybe we create products and tools ourselves internally first that can be spun to be something much bigger than the agency itself, which again happened to Moz too. Those are things I’m kind of working on and figuring out but the first thing is infrastructure. Making sure that’s super solid.|
|How long of a time line … Like obviously these things are hard to predict but is it a goal you’re hoping to be more comfortable with at the end of the year? At the end of a couple of quarters? When do you think you’ll be able to shift your focus towards more of the PR publicity type of stuff?|
|Yeah that’s a good question because we actually just started this year like starting putting goals behind everybody’s department so to speak. Our director of PPC and our director of design, their goal is retention rate and being able to keep at a certain level or improve it obviously, right? For our marketing side their goals are lead volume and email subscriber volume and then for our sales side it’s kind of like the outbound.|
|How predictable can you get this to be? How many appointments can you set? Because once they show me that they work we’re gonna hire sales development reps for you because you know have the blueprint because you tested it out yourself. We actually have that first goal deadline coming up, April 15th. And so we actually have these little leadership half day getaways, which was somebody’s idea. We haven’t had one yet, we’ll see where we go. I don’t know. Where we then go and I just talk about business, treat ourselves and things like that and have fun. That’s coming up, yeah.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Nice and then what else is on the calendar for you? Do you have any speaking engagements coming up?|
|Yeah so I’m speaking at a … I don’t even know, it’s called Stat Search in March for one of the conferences there. It’s about agency growth, funny enough, and I’m one of the keynote speakers here in March and then I’m going to Vancouver again. Got asked to come back to the Unbounce Conference in June and then I would love to speak at Inbound in November and the Moz. Not the Moz but the Moz Conference. Those are kind of the ones I’ve eyeballed. I only set a goal for myself of doing four because I don’t think actually that speaking is that great of an ROI, it’s just more again building thought leadership and building a name for yourself and your own brand. Those are the kind of ones that I’m eyeballing right now.|
I was going to wrap up but so you don’t think speaking … Because most of the guests I talk to who do a lot of speaking, that’s their primary driver of how they grow their agency. Why do you view it differently?
|The first thing is I don’t ask for anything. I try to get as much value obviously and I know a lot of, I know depending on the conference, I know a lot of people allow a sales opportunity at the end and say, “Hey I just launched my course. You guys should all buy it,” kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s a main driver of a lot of people but I guess I also speak to a lot of marketing people and a lot of marketing professional folk that kind of take the knowledge that I’m sharing to use it themselves and not necessarily hire us.|
|I’m going for the bigger conferences if I can and then take it from there. We have had clients and leads come through from them but I don’t think the prep for the slides, the practicing to speak, having the team come out and all of that stuff. I could probably write 10 blog posts instead and then spread them out as guest posts and that would perform better than actually speaking at an event to be honest is what I think.|
|Andy Baldacci:||It seems like the targeting could be off again. I feel like if your goal is authority thought leadership, what you’re doing makes 100% sense.|
|Go in front of your peers, speak in front of them, share your ideas so they can lend you the credibility that you’re looking for. But if you are trying to drive the ROI, most speakers who I have spoken with, they’re going to the events where the clients are at. Where they might be going to like a SaaS conference or something like that and talking about how to set up a PPC campaign for your SaaS start up or something like that.|
|Yeah, 100% and I completely agree with that and I think it’s one of the things we talked about a little earlier too. We want to start doing our own PPC. Ironically we wanted to potentially go to conferences and have a team. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll be speaking at it but maybe there’s a booth potentially but if it’s a double, that would be awesome as well. And I think that’s super smart and it’s something that I have, again, low down on the priority list because I think it takes a lot of effort and time to do it right but yeah absolutely. I think SaaStr would be pretty rad to eventually eyeball and go to but we’ll see, we’ll see.|
|Andy Baldacci:||No it’s funny to see how big SaaStr has grown over just the past couple of years.|
|Andy Baldacci:||It definitely seems like one that should be-|
|Johnathan Dane:||We have a client in New Zealand that’s going to it to just have their booth.|
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s insane.|
|Johnathan Dane:||It is huge.|
To wrap up Jonathan obviously you have given us a ton. You talk fast. You jammed a ton of actual tips in there so there’s a ton for readers to digest, so we’ll wrap up now but for readers who do want to hear more from you to see what you’re up to at KlientBoost, where is the best place for them to go?
|Our website has a lot of information obviously, so it’s again KlientBoost with a ‘K’. Actually if you spell it with a ‘C’ you’ll still get to the same place. And then yeah subscribe to our blog if you want to. If you think … I personally don’t subscribe to anything so it’s not really great salesmanship of me. I think the biggest thing too, and just to touch really briefly on this, is that like you’re listening to this podcast right now. One of the things I learned over time is that learn by doing. A lot of people read, consume, watch and things like that, which is great.|
|Gary Vaynerchuk has been my idol for a long time. I actually went to go see him in November of last year and after that I kind of just stopped following his podcast. I’m not saying you guys should stop listening to Andy, but start doing more. That’s been the true measure of success for us is that we are just not afraid to test things out and do and think big because I think we sold ourselves short by the growth that we’ve already achieved so yeah. Go to our website and subscribe if you want to.|
Well I can now see why speaking might not be the highest ROI activity you could do if that’s how you pitch everything.
|Johnathan Dane:||I’m like, “Listen to what I say but don’t buy anything I’m saying and then just go do it yourself.”|
|Andy Baldacci:||But no honestly there is a ton of really great content out there so I would strongly recommend checking that out. Jonathan, it’s been a blast as always chatting with you so again, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.|
|Johnathan Dane:||Thank you guys. Thank you so much.|
Want to learn more?
Johnathan wants to point out that all of the reading in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t act on it. So check out the KlientBoost blog for an example of content marketing done right, but make sure to focus on applying what you’ve learned.