Our Journey from 7 Figure Agency to Marketing Tool Provider

Recently, I went through quite a shift, professionally speaking. I basically stepped down as CEO of a 7 figure digital marketing agency I built from the ground up, to being the founder of a software product that caters to digital marketing agencies.

So why would I go from successful agency to being another marketing tool provider? I am making this switch for two reasons:

  1. When I was running my agency and it started to grow, things got extremely hectic. Project management software + excel just couldn’t manage our operation amongst multiple team members and multipel campaigns. So we built a version of Workado that we used for a few years internally and I saw the impacts it had on our clients, on our workflow, and ultimately our bottom line.
  2. The first reason wasn’t enough though, after using the software for a couple of years internally, I began to realize that this software could help change the perception of the industry since it has a poor reputation.

In this post, I’ll talk about each of these points in a little more detail.

From Freelancer to Agency

Let me give a little back story on how I got started in the SEO game. It was early 2008 and I was doing some web development work as a freelancer. I was getting more and more requests for SEO and eventually decided to further my knowledge in the ongoing aspects that SEO had to offer. I had the basics of on-page down as those were being included in my web builds, but knowing what went into ongoing SEO was a whole other ball game.

I decided to quickly transition into SEO for one reason – recurring revenue. This was something web development couldn’t offer. Sure, I could spread payments out and what have you, but at some point those would disappear (not to mention the billing headaches). SEO gave me dependable revenue that I could start to build off of.

If You Sell SEO, You Should Sell Websites

This is a side tangent, but for those of you that sell SEO, I have no idea why you wouldn’t also sell web development along with it. The reason I think this is important is because business owners often need something tangible. Something they can see and feel. A website delivers that unlike SEO. Not to mention, SEO is the logical next upsell once they have a good looking website. After all, what good is a good looking website if no one knows about it?

Base of Recurring Revenue Allowed Me to Bring in Help

Once I had a base of some recurring revenue, I knew I needed sales help. My eventual partner came along and was doing some outsourced sales for a client I was working with. He wanted to get into some technology based sales and I immediately knew we were a good fit. Getting him trained and working through the different sales messages led us to some slow and steady growth initially. Eventually, I started to tier away from doing the work and hired help.

More Help Led to Need for Office Space

To try and keep things somewhat organized and become a little more official, we went and got a 800 square foot office space in a rough part of Phoenix (read: ghetto). It was a rewarding experience though as it felt like a major milestone personally and professionally. It wasn’t the safest of places (my partner had his car broken into in the parking lot), but it pulled us together and ultimately served our goal of getting us a little more organized.

The Industry is Always Changing

At this point it was still relatively easy to manage the operation. Each client campaign we could generally do the same things each month.

However, things started to change when Google rolled out the Panda update. Things got even more chaotic when we started adding more people to our operations team. The same services over and over again across all campaigns were no longer working to get results. This meant we had to diversify our services and actually put together client campaigns that were somewhat customized.

Whiteboards and Spreadsheets Weren’t Enough to Stay Organized

whiteboard

Our poor little whiteboard with black tape to organize tasks and clients no longer did the trick. We resorted to spreadsheets after Panda rolled out as we knew we needed some higher quality links. When we realized spreadsheets weren’t ideal to manage our tasks, since we have multiple people and as a manager I would avoid even looking, because it took me too long to figure out what was going on.

I began looking for a solution.

We Needed Recurring Campaign Management, Not Project Management

Sure there were project management solutions like Basecamp and ActiveCollab, but what we needed wasn’t project based. We needed something to manage recurring campaigns. Not always the same recurring tasks, but campaigns that evolved every month and might have different tasks associated with each campaign on a monthly basis.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a solution. So, I drew up some basic specs of the software and we built it out ourselves.

original-workado-mockup

Original mockup of the software that would eventually become Workado.

 

This launched internally in March of 2011 and we called it the Work Wall. It forever changed our company.

The tool not only gave me a continuous high level overview of where everything was at on a monthly level, but also allowed our entire team to know exactly what needed to be done across the board for all clients. It allowed us to be more efficient, more productive, get better results, and ultimately help change the way people thought about what we did.

The transparency that came with our reports, allowed us to win business since almost no other company offered such a thing.

Changing the Perception of SEO

SEO has a stigma to it. Business owners know they need it, yet dread having to deal with anyone who claims to know how to do it.

In fact, just recently I was at a networking event and explained to someone what our agency did and his response was, “oh…you’re one of those.”

This statement ultimately was the driving force to help make a change in the perception of our industry. We have an uphill climb for several reasons:

  1. There’s no barrier to entry. Everyone claims to know SEO and there is no certification process (which is much needed).
  2. Many SEO’s will oversell just to try and get a deal done and so the business owner has no option, but to eventually be disappointed.
  3. Most SEO’s prefer not to actually talk to anyone and so business owners often don’t know what’s going on or what they’re paying for.

We can’t help with everyone and their cousin claiming to be an SEO. Our goal is certainly to help make SEO’s and digital marketers in general, be more productive and get better results (see #2 above). In addition, by automatically reporting on tasks that get completed (optional), you will be able to provide more transparency to your clients.

Shift from Agency to Marketing Tool Provider

It’s a little scary to change things. Especially when your first business (my agency) was doing so well.

However, I feel there is an opportunity to improve the industry as a whole by making more marketers more productive and successful, while also helping to improve the perception of the industry.

These are things I could not do as a lone agency.

Raven did the same thing years ago and we hope to follow their roadmap.

It’s Scary When You’re By Yourself

The scary thing about this is the fact we are basically creating a new sub-industry under ‘project management software’. This is sort of the inspiration for the cover image on this blog post. Things are a little cloudy right now.

There is no other “recurring campaign management software” out there. I honestly don’t even know what to call it yet, but I’ll stick with that for now. There could be reasons for this, like the market just isn’t wanting something like this, but I’m obviously betting that it does!

There are several project management systems that portray to be built also for marketers, but it’s an afterthought. Their core model is for project based organizations. We don’t service them, we are strictly for marketers.

That said, we look forward to sharing with you our strategies and insights to help you become a better and more successful marketer. We’ll not only provide the tool that will power your organization, but also give you sales strategies, lead generation tactics, and more here on this blog.

What’s Next

I have gained an incredible amount of experience that I look forward to sharing with you. Going forward we will be sharing with you some behind the scenes information on Workado like traffic numbers, conversion test outcomes, hiring/outsourcing practices, growing an agency, and much more.

8 responses to “Our Journey from 7 Figure Agency to Marketing Tool Provider”

  1. Congratulations Justin! My co-founder and I have been working as freelance Management Consultants for a number of years. We had also developed a small application that supported the work we do and now we are trying to share that with others.

    I will follow your progress with great interest! I wish you all the best.
    Craig

  2. Great story and much needed product! I’ve dummied up so many versions of campaign checklists and templates. Never had the foresight to make them into a “thing.” Best of luck to you.

  3. Caleb says:

    Hey Justin, first thoughts on workado.. LOVE it! I’ve been in web development for a few years and am just now getting into the marketing of sites I develop. Our first intention was to, as you did, develop our own solution but at your price and without us having to maintain the site, it’s makes way more sense to use your solution.

    One question I have though, is could you enlighten me as to the types of templated tasks you use for a marketing agencies? Is there some sort of sample monthly checklist out there for an SEO agency like we’re trying to start? It would really help jumpstart our business if you could maybe include sample content in the trial.

  4. Hey,

    This is definitely a great platform.Any chance you have some good SEO campaign templates to share for workado ?

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