I’m writing this post to share some of the lessons and mistakes I learned from owning a search agency for more than 15 years. The goal of these “lessons” is to help you use what I found worked best and apply these to make your agency better.
The lessons are in no particular order, but include challenges from starting, running, growing, and automating processes to adding new services, adding technology, raising money, and selling an agency. (Here are four common mistakes agencies make to lose clients.)
The number one lesson: drink more beer, as seen below. Especially if you have a client stiff you on a huge AdWords bill that you were running through your agency like this example!
My journey started back in 1998 when one of my former college classmates and I decide to make websites for local businesses in New England. Two years later, referrals were the lifeline of the business, and clients were happy with their websites. But, back then people thought you just had to be on the Internet or WORLD WIDE WEB to make millions. Reality eventually hit, and most of them realized they needed to market their website in order to make money. For each client ready to invest, we decided to test all online marketing channels which only included these three:
Email Marketing (Spam was legal)
Banner ads (no ad networks, no remarketing, just banners on sites)
SEO or search marketing (PPC was not invented, just organic SEO)
By far search marketing was the most profitable channel so we changed direction and became a search marketing agency. There was no paid search in the late ‘90s-early 2000, so we only offered organic SEO to rank on Altavista, Excite, Infoseek, Webcrawler, and Dogpile (anyone remember those days?).
Next, I met one of the first true organic SEO pioneers though a mutual client and the rest was history. We started doing SEO consulting and services for Lego, Ford, IBM, Iron Mountain, Boeing, and Stanford University, just to name a few.
We partnered and started offering search marketing services while developing software to track keyword conversions. PPC changed everything from, “I’ll take as much traffic as you can get me,” to, “If I’m paying for every click, then it needs to convert.” We brought IndexTools to North America, which eventually was sold to Yahoo in 2008.
After the sale of our core technology (which turned it into Yahoo Web Analytics and eventually was FREE), we had to focus back on services to grow revenue. In 2013, we finally sold the service/agency division of Engine Ready to BRIM Agency and here are some specific lessons I learned along the way