About This Episode
Today I'm coaching Adam, who has a business called SEO Brothers (you guessed it—he runs it with his brother). He's transitioned full-time into his business with a mix of direct-to-business, agency, and freelance clients and partners. His brother runs operations and internal growth, while he supports the technical specialists and develops new business growth. Now that he's full-time and all-in with his business, where should he focus his energy? What single area should he hone in on?
Through the coaching session, I ask Adam to delve into some of his main concerns around his new full-time role, and we work through some of my favorite thought experiments to help inform the future of Adam's business. Adam gets a clearer picture of what the development of his business looks like, who his target clients are, what he needs to do to make it happen, and how he can validate his decisions along the way. We also talk about best practices for setting up a community for the freelancers Adam's company works with. Through our call, I help him eliminate some of the guesswork of his decision-making, create a research and development strategy, and form a blueprint for a potential business model.
You can find Adam's business online at SEOBrothers.co.
What You'll Learn:
Discover thought experiments, strategies, and validation tactics for taking the guesswork out of your business planning and drafting a plan for the future.
AskPat 1024 Episode Transcript
Pat Flynn: Yo, what's up everybody? Pat Flynn here and welcome to Episode 1024 of AskPat 2.0. This is a show where entrepreneurs like you get coached and y'all listen in so we can all get coached at the same time, and it's one of my favorite to do. So make sure you stick around because today we're talking with Adam, one of a set of brothers, or two brothers who own an SEO agency and they are looking to grow. But how do you grow? Where do you grow? Where do you put those resources? Those kinds of things. How do you make sure you're going in the right direction so that you're not kicking yourself later and going “I wish I didn't make that decision”? We're going to work through a few exercises today with Adam to help him brainstorm his next steps for his company. So make sure you stick around, it's going to be a good one and you can actually play along with us, too.
Now before that happens I do want to give a shout out to the sponsor of AskPat which is FreshBooks, the amazing company that's there to serve you. They've served me for years and they serve millions of small business owners to help us manage our business finances, from easily keeping track of income expenses, easily creating invoices in less than thirty seconds so you can get paid for those that you bill, easily keeping those forms online, those profit and loss statements, the balance sheets—all those things that you need, especially come tax season. This is the tool that you need in your business, especially if you're just starting out and you're starting to make even a little bit of money. You want to start keeping track of that stuff. So, do you want to check it out for thirty days for free and get a thirty-day free trial of FreshBooks? All you have to do is go to FreshBooks.com/askpat and just make sure you enter “Ask Pat” in the “How did you hear about us?” section. It's all you got to do.
All right. Now here's today's coaching session with Adam.
Adam, what's up? Welcome to AskPat 2.0. Thanks for being here.
Adam Bate: Oh, thanks for having me Pat. It's my pleasure.
Pat Flynn: Absolutely. And this will be a lot of fun. Why don't you introduce yourself and your business to everybody at home.
Adam Bate: Sure, yeah. I guess, my business is called SEO Brothers and we're an SEO-only marketing firm. Started it while working in the agency space, started it with my brother—we are in fact brothers—started it while working full time at an agency until it was able to sort of support me to come in full time and basically, long story short, I transitioned full time into this business. We have sort of a set clientele with a mix of direct to business clients, we have six or seven agencies that we work with, and we have a handful of freelance partners.
So in terms of our revenue and our service offering, we're pretty scattered, and now that I have all of this time I'm now wondering, where do I focus my growth? And to rewind a little bit, we've separated the business so that my brother Devon, he's in charge of operations and sort of internal growth with existing relationships and existing partners. And I'm more focused on sort of a, maybe a fifty-fifty, forty-sixty split between supporting the technical specialists from a product knowledge standpoint, and then sort of new business growth and developing new relationships and new business. And I guess that sort of leads me to my question to you today, and what I wanted to pick your brain on, was how do I choose one area of business to focus on when things have historically been so scattered, and we have processes around a lot of different ways of working?
Pat Flynn: Cool. Yeah this will be great. I know a lot of people can relate to this sort of situation, although they might not have an SEO business. We all have a lot of things that we want to do; we all are doing things. How do we know where to devote our time and energy? So this will be a great conversation. I want to ask you like, related to any decisions that you are both hoping to make: What have you thought about what's on your mind related to that? What worries do you have? What's kind of eating away at you right now?
Adam Bate: Yeah, well I guess now that I'm full time—I have three kids and the fourth on the way—obviously revenue is a big thing for me and making sure the longevity of the business is here. But at the same time making sure I'm able to bring in new business quickly, and so on that note I've sort of tried to identify, what areas could I build revenue quicker than others, and what are more long term plays. And I think just that whole process has sort of hamstrung me in starting anywhere. Where you look at the business decision cycle—might be a few weeks if you get a good lead, where the partner sale cycle could be six months of relationship building before you see any bit of work. So I think just having analyzed that and really taken the time to categorize these different sort of streams of business, I've just been staring at this notebook thinking about it for so long and sort of unable to take action, I guess.
Pat Flynn: When you say you're unable to take action, what are you worried about really in all this?
Adam Bate: Maybe choosing the wrong stream, maybe going with something that maybe I feel would be more fun but doesn't generate revenue as quickly, and maybe either burning out of money or mental capacity, I guess. But I think it's picking the wrong stream or having to pick and yeah, choosing the wrong direction for the business.
Pat Flynn: Right. So part of our role here is to—our role as entrepreneurs is to, first of all we often do our best to figure out what's going to happen but there's no way to ever really know how things are going to turn out right. But we can create a business plan, we can survey, we can do a lot of things, but the number one way to know which direction to take—actually there's two ways.
Number one, my favorite way is to do sort of thought experiments, and if you've read my book Will It Fly?, or if anybody's read my book Will It Fly?, the first few chapters are thought experiments where you hypothetically make that decision now, one way or another. You make a decision now and then you kind of zoom into the future in your brain and you go, “Okay what would life be like a year from now, how would things be?” This is related to choosing ideas to determine whether or not it fits into your life. Fast forward into the future to determine how the business might be run. So if you were to make like, let's just say that you choose to go one route. What would that decision be? Let's just hypothetically go through this thought experiment right now. Let's say you make a decision. I want you to say the decision that you make, and how your business would run and function if you were to make that decision. So let's try that experiment now.
Adam Bate: Sure. Ok, I guess I'll pick the one that I sort of keep coming back to over and over again, and that's sort of the freelance or solo website builder or even sort of small design shop. And I guess by picking that stream the business looks very processed, and I think that's why I've sort of been leaning there, where we support the freelancers or the website builders to add more value to their clients and we can do it in a way that is consistent and repeatable and to support their redesign process, and to make sure the foundation of SEO is in place. I also see—and it's funny you had brought up your book and the thought experiment. I did kind of go through this before, and in the freelancer space I see training and I see community and I see masterminds, and I see things that can wake me up a little bit more excited in the morning than maybe just the typical direct to business agency lifestyle, which I really enjoy but can certainly burn you out a little bit quicker than something a little bit more scalable and processed.
Pat Flynn: Right. Okay, so it is May 1st, 2019. Well today that we're recording this is May 1st 2018, but a year from now how many freelancers would you want to be serving?
Adam Bate: I would say maybe between 2 and 400; I'd say call it 300 freelancers.
Pat Flynn: 200 and 400. Ok. So one issue that you were worried about was revenue. How is revenue looking at this point? Like, what would the deal structure be like then?
Adam Bate: You know, I think the model that I'm sort of toying with is giving, or making the partner commit to a little bit of financial commitment. We had some issues with some of our partners where we over invested time going through processing and just relationship, and in the end it sort of fizzled out, and just getting even a very small monetary commitment would allow us to more confidently invest in helping them grow their services. So I'm thinking maybe like a small monthly fee to get access to us in a Q and A capacity. So out of the say, 3 or 400 freelancers, maybe they're all paying 50, 60 dollars a month and then bringing on additional projects on an ad hoc capacity.
Pat Flynn: Okay. So I'm a freelancer and I help people design websites, right? And I want to also offer my hiring clients, perhaps who have a little bit more money, some more services such as SEO, but I don't know SEO. So I find you in this offering. Take me through the process of how you onboard me and just the whole—I want details to know how I'm going to work with you and how it fits in.
Adam Bate: Yeah for sure. And the reason why we like working with freelancers is because there's less process already built around it, so we can help them form that process and fit ourselves into their redesign process. And I think you had mentioned higher end clients. I really do feel that we want to make the most impact. And one of my core beliefs in this industry is that I truly feel that small business should have access to affordable SEO, and highly-effective SEO, and I think it's getting there but I think the type of SEO that they have access to might not be the most beneficial, long term.
And so I think it starts in the whole redesign process. So to get back to your question, onboarding is really a training in how we can support them, even their lowest-end clients. How we can support them during the redesign process so how we can look at say, their old website and make sure there's no risk or no missed opportunity while they're rebuilding their website, and then basically take their process of building their website and then sort of inject our steps and checks along the way. And I think this could be a very productized service, and something that they could just offer to all of their clients. And then if they do have a higher end project that needs a little bit of extra handholding, or a little bit extra work, we can sell that in a productized way that is just a little bit more, I guess, if that makes sense.
Pat Flynn: It does, and I like how you addressed my concern for only offering this to higher end clients, because I figure that that's what it would be. But I like the mission. I mean, that clearly tells me what kind of brand you have and kind of why you're doing this. It also allows me to just provide better services for all of my clients, which I think is fantastic. So that's exciting to me. And I can see how it would excite you as well, versus the other direct business sort of model where it's just business only, and there's no real relationship there, often.
Adam Bate: Right. And I've worked for the multimillion dollar agency, and I really enjoyed that lifestyle, but I can see it being just a long uphill battle and one that could be very exciting, but with four kids could be very exhausting for me as well I guess.
Pat Flynn: I mean in terms of longevity, which you had mentioned earlier, to break that concern, if I work with you and I now say that I offer SEO, how could I go back from that, right? So it's kind of like once you're in you're in, sort of thing.
Adam Bate: Right. And I think having an offering primarily that doesn't rely on consistent changes or performance in Google—and what I mean by that is, if we can help build the foundation for the proper on page optimization during a rebuild that won't be influenced by the next Penguin or Panda update. That's just consistent, good best practice SEO where it's less volatile than this industry can be.
Pat Flynn: So from your point of view, what is your work day like a year from now?
Adam Bate: Oh I think, I'd love my work day to be sort of high-level relationship and in-training, and then more business development and growth. I would love to take myself out of the project-based work and into more of the growth, but at the same time more of the training and the education of our existing partners as well.
Pat Flynn: How might you get started down on this path now?
Adam Bate: Yeah, great question. I mean, focus I guess. And I think identifying what the freelance partner looks like that does generate us some good revenue, and then trying to go out and find that sort of person or that potential client over and over again. We've dabbled in a little bit of cold email outreach, and yeah I would love to explore maybe some Facebook ads or something like that, and trying to find the right funnel to take them through some sort of onboarding and education piece, I suspect would probably be some good first steps.
Pat Flynn: How could you ensure that after some of those first steps, that this is something you want to do and continue to move forward with? In other words, how would you in your mind validate this, what would need to happen and by when for you to go “Yes, this is it, this is the way that I should go”?
Adam Bate: I think how the freelance community reacts to it will have a big impact on me. I think that's just my personality. I like some sort of validation externally like that. And I think if I could get the buy in and commitment from them, that yes, this is exactly what we need or this is what we've been looking for, then that can certainly drive me to continue regardless of how quickly those deals might come in or how quickly the revenue might generate. But just knowing that they see value out of this service and that their clients will see value out of the service would certainly be a push in the right direction.
Pat Flynn: And you're doing really good with these questions by the way. I know they're kind of on the spot, tough questions, but you're doing fantastic with this thought experiment. But we're kind of in—today's May 1st, now. How many freelancers do you want to collect that feedback from that would trigger the ok? Like “We're going to move forward with this”? The reason I ask this—and this is what I always try to do here—is I always try to take the guesswork out. And of course there's always going to be guessing along the way, and educated guesses, but by containing certain moves in little experimental Petri dishes you can try things without worrying. And that's what I'd like to kind of explore, and see if by the end of this we can set up some sort of deadline with a certain number or number of people or you want to collect feedback from, certain people or have conversations with X number of people to sort of at least get started and contain conversations and actions to then inform whether or not you want to move forward or not.
And then it's a green light or it's a yellow light. “Okay, that didn't work,” or “That's not what we thought what was going to happen,” or “That's not the feedback we had imagined, so let's go back to—not the drawing board, but let's try something different,” or you might just be able to make a decision at that point. “Well it's pretty obvious at this point that we don't even have to worry about it anymore—let's go and explore another option.” So how many freelancers would you likely want to be able to help that first—I mean I usually say just find one, find one freelancer. For most people, this is mostly for people who are just getting started in business, like they have trouble selling, they have trouble having conversation. So I usually say just one. But you're established, you've done this already and you have certain goals related to it. So how many would you need to feel comfortable, to basically say “Yeah, I would totally be down for that, let's do it”?
Adam Bate: The number I keep thinking of when you talk about this is probably like ten or twelve. What we have, we work with five or six sort of solo website builder partners right now and they probably generate I would say several thousand dollars a year in revenue for us over a variety of different projects, but each one of those has their own, I guess we quote them a different way. And what I'd love to do is have the conversation with the existing client saying “How about we move to this model? Is this something you're interested in?” Small monthly commitment, maybe sort of a lower per project pricing or a more defined per project pricing, and then go out and find a half a dozen more that sort of are similar to them, and get that validation from them as well, whether that's a commitment or even just feedback with a conversation.
Pat Flynn: Yeah, I really like that. And this way, instead of just choosing something and going into that lane forever, you're kind of just switching into that lane for a little bit to see how it feels. And then if you don't like it you can switch back to another lane, and that kind of hopefully at least relieves a lot of the pressure related to making this decision. Does that feel like that would be the case?
Adam Bate: Yeah it does. And even having this conversation with you, my first thought was like “Okay we'll find a direction and I'll just go out there and I'll market to them.” And I just think having this conversation—thank you, it's kind of refreshing knowing that yeah I can just have, I can start with some conversations, and I can start by getting a little bit more validation before overcommitting my time, and really choosing and dedicating towards one stream I guess. So yeah, totally makes sense.
Pat Flynn: Right. Good. I mean this is R and D. This is research and development, which larger companies, they have a budget for this because they know how important it is to making decisions in the future. Part of R and D is trying things, and spending some time, and potentially money testing something and realizing “Okay, that doesn't work.” But that's why you do it, so that you can make those decisions and be competent with them moving forward. Another thing I want to suggest, is when you have these conversations, it is so—man, this thing is set up for you, to at least give you some answers because you have some freelancers that you're working with already.
Adam Bate: Right.
Pat Flynn: Go to them and tell them, if this is something you're going to build—you know, freelancers hang out with each other. Like they get together, they share ideas with each other, they likely would love to be the ones to share that there's this new offering that you guys are giving that maybe they would love to share. And if there was some in-house, not deal, but just way for them to be first to access it, that would empower them to share with their friends to bring other people along. And that way you wouldn't even really need to do outreach at first. You can do outreach through referrals and just the network of freelancers you've already built.
Adam Bate: Definitely. Yeah. No, I have had that thought as well. And a couple of our freelance partners actually run sort of web-design training groups on Facebook, and I've been hesitant to approach them about that just because it wasn't as defined and it wasn't as processed. And I think it's a mindset issue as well, sort of you know, scarcity versus abundance. The thought of, “why would they want to share us if we're their competitive advantage?” But if we can position ourselves like almost a tool, or a resource for them that basically will just benefit the whole community, then I think you're right. And I think it's a “Hey, come check out this resource, they do great work and they can support the community” kind of thing. And I think yeah, that would be a wonderful sort of avenue, would take a lot of pressure off me in terms of outreach, and would be a great strategy for growth.
Pat Flynn: Love that. Ok, now let's go back and do this thought experiment again, but let's say you made the decision to put that freelance idea aside and pick the more direct business model. Now it's 2019 and that's all you're doing right now. How do you feel now?
Adam Bate: I feel a whole lot more stressed. I feel like if I lose any one or two big clients, then it might mean having to let go a specialist. And I think that's one of the struggles I've had with the direct to business, is as the agency grows and the size of the client grows, each one client is now worth you know, maybe an entire headcount. Then there's a whole lot more stress on continuing the growth to support the team and to support their jobs as well, as my own kind of thing. But there's more of an impact if you do lose one particular contract. And that is the, I guess that is the challenge of an SEO-only firm—to grow that big when we don't do paid and we don't do social. If we're focusing on sort of one specific method of online marketing, once a business gets to a certain size, will they just turn to a full service agency, and then we're out of luck anyway? So I think it's the stress that I feel a year from now if I go that route.
Pat Flynn: Ok, so this basically informs what your next steps are right? In terms of, “Ok, well which one do I try to figure out first?” I mean, I think it's pretty obvious.
Adam Bate: I think it is as well. Yeah I think the small design shop, the solo website builder, freelancer, I think would be the direction.
Pat Flynn: And to one of your points earlier, like I really, really love the idea of bringing the community together. Like you said, in masterminds for people who maybe they pay a little bit more to get a little bit more access, maybe even an event down the road, which is really cool. I think that the only thing that—I don't even know if we can go through this now, and I probably wouldn't recommend it, but you just have to make sure that the numbers are there for where you and your brother want to be. Like you had mentioned 200, 400. How much are they paying? What's the churn? How many new clients do you need? How many can you handle? What does that mean for staff? All those kinds of details, now that you know that that's the route that you want to go down. It may adjust your numbers a little bit, then you can reverse engineer, “Ok, if those are our numbers and that's really where we want to be in a year or by the end of the year, then how many do we need to get by mid-year?” and you know, those kinds of decisions can be made with actual actions behind it.
Adam Bate: And then it just comes to building out how we get them. Which is much easier to do once I know who we're going to get, I guess.
Pat Flynn: Yes. And these conversations that you're going to have are going to be really important. Very cool. Is there anything else on your mind related to this that you're kind of not clear on at this point?
Adam Bate: You know, you had brought up community and I had touched on it quickly. Just a quick input from you in terms of, I know you have such a large community and I guess your input on, if I were to build out a private community of the freelancers we work with—we've historically used Slack. I know Facebook groups are big for this. I know internal forums are also an avenue. What would you, I guess sort of gut check recommend as a starting point for that?
Pat Flynn: As a starting point, I've done them all, and I've been a part of them all. So Facebook groups: Obviously great because it's on Facebook, and I manage large communities there from 200 for some of the students of my particular courses all the way up to about 40,000 for my larger SPI community. The nice thing about that is Facebook will scale with you. The unfortunate thing is, number one, it's hard to archive things on Facebook, especially if there's great conversations. That conversation happens and then it kind of goes away. And so you kind of have to ask yourself, what would that particular component of the community—what would that forum be for?
Now I would imagine that for freelancers who are sharing tips and they want to kind of have potentially private conversations in there, Slack can be an amazing offer, and there's a lot more perceived value with something like Slack as well, and probably something that your freelancers are already using with their own team. I have a Slack channel with my Accelerator group. So it's my higher level, paying students, they all communicate together and there's announcements and the conversations on Slack are a lot more defined, and there are certain channels that you can create. I would imagine though—I mean, I only have twenty people in there. I don't know what it would be like with ten times as many people, right? If it would be too noisy, which Facebook can control the noise a little bit.
And then the other solution would be to build out your own forum, where if you have enough people and you know that you have the ability to keep it active, then that's a great solution because it's your own brand, it's in your own system and you know what you get when you get there, and it can be easily archived and there's obviously plugins and other things that you can use to manage that. But the downside of that is if it's a ghost town, then it's going to look very poor for everybody new who comes in. Like, “Nobody's here, why am I in here?” So I'm not telling you to pick one over the other, those are just some pros and cons. But I definitely think a communication component is important. And that's a great way to get people to stick, especially if you're charging a recurring fee to stay in. People come for the content and they often stay for the community. So I definitely think that's an important question to ask, for sure.
Adam Bate: Wonderful. Thanks for your input on that, Pat.
Pat Flynn: Yeah absolutely. Man Adam, we talked about a lot of things today. What is the number one lesson that you are taking away and what might your next action steps be?
Adam Bate: I guess my lesson to take away is that you are able to explore and seek validation without committing forever. And to that note, my action is going to be to have that conversation with our existing freelance partners and to go out and perhaps, based on their referrals, have a conversation with at least six other freelancers to get some validation on this model and to see if we can get some adoption on that.
Pat Flynn: Perfect. Love it. Adam, thanks so much, and if people want to go and check out your business and all that you have going on where can they go?
Adam Bate: Yeah, they can go to SEOBrothers.co. And Pat, thank you so much for the opportunity, it was great to chat.
Pat Flynn: Yeah, absolutely, looking forward to checking up on you later and seeing how things are going.
Adam Bate: Thank you.
Pat Flynn: Adam, thank you so much for coming in and calling in today. SEO Brothers, man, it's just destined for even bigger things. You're all doing really well already and I cannot wait to see how much better it's even going to go after you do these things, and experiment, and validate, and whether you have to reevaluate and revalidate or not. That's the way to go about it. That's how you build your business. You experiment so that you can remove the guesswork. That's really what it is.
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Cheers, thank you so much. I love you guys, and I'll see you in the next episode. Bye.
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