This is really not a ‘Good-bye’, but a ‘To Be Continued…’ story. If you haven’t already heard, we have merged with Powered By Search. and Seowpthemes I am sad to see us retiring the SBOC brand name and website, but super excited about our new journey.
I thought to celebrate this new journey I’d peel back the curtains and share with folks how we got to where we are now. I personally always find it really interesting to hear how successful businesses evolved. I love how scrappy entrepreneurs are and I am inspired to hear how they got to where they are from such humble beginnings. I thought I’d share my companies story up to this point and with hope it inspires others.
Here’s the SBOC story:
The idea for SBOC came to me in late 2008, but I didn’t act on the business until 2010. Before I get into how SBOC started I think I need to give you a bit of a back story of how I ended up running a digital marketing agency.
It All Started in 2007 with Door-to-Door Sales
I knew nothing about SEO or internet marketing prior to 2007. In fact, I was a two finger typer, that’s how tech savvy I was (sad, but true). In 2007, I was a direct salesperson for a merchant account services company. I was selling POS terminals to SMB’s and working on commission only (if you didn’t sell you didn’t eat). It was a tough job, as any door-to-door sales position is. I was pretty good at it, due to my acting background. I also knew it was a numbers game – knock on a 100 doors and make 6-7 sales. I was always comfortable with getting “no’s” and pretty good at ‘assuming the sale‘ naturally, so I usually closed at a higher ratio than most of my peers.
As they say, “Coffee is for closers.“ – Glengarry Glen Ross
The one thing I could not stand about doing door-to-door sales was how long it took to actually knock on 100 doors. Without knowing I was an entrepreneur yet, I kept thinking to myself: “there’s got to be a better way…?” Looking back know, I know I was asking business owner questions my whole life, even during my acting career. I never really realized this prior, but I had always looked at stuff and always thought there was a better way to do it. I believe all business owner ‘type’ people think like this. Anyways, to make a long story short, I knew knocking door-to-door sucked and I knew there had to be a better and faster way to makings sales then that.
Finding ‘A Better Way!’
So in I started doing telemarketing. I’d call hundred businesses a day to get to my “yeses” faster than knocking doors in person. After about 3 months of doing that I still knew there had to be a better way. So I took it a step further. I found a software product I could install on my computer that would do auto dialing out and leave voice messages on businesses lines. I figured out that I could just record a message and blast it out to SMB’s voice mails. It worked! It worked so well, I bought 4 PC’s, just so they all could be dialing out at once. It was calling and leaving 100’s voice messages per day. Heck this was even easier and faster than calling because I’d just leave voice mails and wait for those interested to call me back. I just ran the numbers. Looking back now, I bet I was breaking some law. And after about 3 months of spamming voice mails, I realized even though it was working, I was pissing a lot of people off too and maybe it wasn’t the best strategy.
So I still thought to myself… “There’s got to be a better way…?!”
Next, I figured SMB’s must be searching for this stuff online on that Google thing. Heck, that is how I found this auto dialing software. Looking back, it was kind of obvious to me, but still in 2007 a lot of people still didn’t think of the internet as an option or marketing tool yet. So I had my best friend, Adam Ellis who was a graphic designer (who is now our lead designer at PBS) build me a crappy one page website and I bought Perry Marshall’s guide to PPC and started driving paid traffic to the website.
Well, it was amazing! Instead of me trying to convince SMB’s why they had to buy or switch out their POS terminal to a new company, I had people calling me to buy. It was more like order taking! I’d invest like 2-3K a month and make 7-9K a month. I thought I had found the holy grail! I no longer had to spam people’s voicemails (nor do tedious door knocking or telemarketing). Man, I was hooked on internet marketing at that point!
An Internet Junkie Was Born!
After 6 months of doing SEM for myself, I knew other SMB’s needed this too, but I didn’t quite have the confidence to sell my SEM services quite yet. I had bought the domain: SmallBusinessOnlineCoach.com in mid of 2008 with the initial idea I’d teach SMB’s how to market online in a membership type model. I started writing some blog posts in late 2008 and early 2009, but found that many of the SMB’s who checked out my posts didn’t want to ‘learn’ how to market their businesses online. They just wanted it done for them. SMB’s would read my blog posts and then contact me and asked me if I could just do it for them.
I felt I was still a bit green and wasn’t confident enough to offer SEM services yet. So I sat on my idea for another year and half. I continued my SEM training and testing on my own merchant account websites. So for the next two years, I bought every single digital course you can imagine (good stuff and total crap stuff). I spent every single dime I had in learning about PPC, Website Design, CRO, SEO, email automation, etc. I bet I spent close to $100,000 + in digital courses over those 2 years. I worked 10-14 hours day, 7 days a week on internet marketing related stuff. ‘Obsessed’ and ‘workaholic’ would have been an understatement!
Confidence Building & Proof of Concept
During that time I had built up about dozen merchant account websites online that dominated all the rankings for merchant account related keywords in the search engines (both in paid and organic search results pages). I was even beating the big banks in SEO! By that time, I had a decent POS sales business, so I decided to hire one of my best friends, Dat To, to help me run the POS terminal sales business, this way I could be more focused on just internet marketing.
Now from my initial blogging experience with SMBs, I decide instead offering an education membership, it’d be better if I just do it for them. It seemed more aligned with what SMBs wanted. In late of 2009, I knew wanted to open SBOC in Jan of 2010. I knew it’d be easier to sell my services, if I had some case studies outside of myself. I had a couple friends and family members who had businesses, so offered to build their websites and rank them for free. I did that quickly and had my case studies.
Jan 2010 SBOC Launches
When SBOC started I was offering Google Maps marketing at $150/month and giving away websites on wordpress templates for free. When I think about it now, that was totally crazy! But nonetheless, sometimes the best thing to do in business is to just be a little naive and get started. If entrepreneurs knew what they were getting themselves into they’d never do it.
After some very fast and sometimes painful learning curves, I learned what worked and what didn’t work for online marketing and for retaining clients. From 2010 through to end of 2013 I probably actively managed 150 accounts. Fast forward to the end of 2013, and SBOC had 70 active clients and doing revenues of over $900,000 year with a staff of 25 people (half Canadian and half overseas). In 2013, we wouldn’t even take a SMB client on if they did not have at least $2500/month to invest. To think 4 years prior I was charging $150/month to now where we were charging clients $2500-$10,000/month is a huge testament to the learning curve that took place.
As they say, “Change or Die!”
By the end of 2013, we had become a very knowledgeable SMB marketing firm who offered website design and development, CRO, SEO, PPC management, & social media marketing. From simple Google Places optimization to a full blown marketing digital marketing agency.
Business Stalling on Growth
As great as things were going, in 2013, I felt I like I was getting stuck in my business. Sales were growing at a good clip, but I was still not getting to some of the important business building systems that we needed to really take off. There just weren’t enough minutes in the day to accomplish it all. I was still working 12-14 hours days, 7 days a week. I had come to the realization that I couldn’t get it all done by myself anymore. I knew that without a partner I would very likely spin my wheels for quite a few more years and I just wasn’t willing to do that.
I had been approached several times in 2013 by companies inquiring about buying SBOC. I was not quite ready to sell and knew I didn’t have a business model yet that was working without me, but it got my wheels turning. I knew two wonderful guys who had very similar agency’s as mine in Toronto. One, Dev Basu, had been a part of my mastermind for the last 2 years, and we had a pretty friendly relationship. The other gent, Warren Houston, had a marketing firm in Toronto too and he had been contracting work to us (white label style) for a couple years. We had become friends over the years and over casual conversations we had all realized we were suffering from the similar challenges in our businesses.
Can’t Hire Owners
We had all tried to hire more people, but it was hard to find employees who had that ‘owner’ instinct. Don’t get me wrong we have AMAZING employees, but being an entrepreneur is a whole special breed on it’s own and I think it’s almost impossible to hire it (at least in a start-up). At end of the day, we were all relating to each other on how we needed help. It started out as a bit of jokingly light conversation… “oh we should merge our companies”, but quickly snowballed into the real deal.
If You Can’t Hire’em, Then Partner With’em!
Next thing we knew we were having weekly meetings trying to figure out how it would all work. We had met privately to get all the details worked out on our own, then we pulled in the lawyers. This way the lawyers couldn’t kill our deal. 😉 This was also the best test to see if we could work together. It was amazing at how efficient we were all at working with each other and we all seemed to excel at stuff each other didn’t want to do. Decisions were getting made quickly and we each felt like we finally had support. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was kind of a “skies parting” moment.
So far, since the merge, it’s been exactly what I expected and f’ing fantastic!
We are poised to be the fastest growing ‘inbound marketing agency’ in Toronto and maybe even of all of Canada. Powered By Search and Netconnexion was listed the year before as Top 50 Fastest growing companies in Canada and I would have been too if I knew to apply – duh! We are on track to hit 4 million this year in sales and I think we might just blow past it.
3 Heads Are Better Than 1
I am able to get so much more done with super smart partners like Dev Basu and Warren Houston because we can divide and conquer. We have an incredible team of passionate online marketers who all have the same mission as we do. I don’t want to be over zealous, but I think we expect BIG things from PBS in the coming years!
As much as it’s sad for me to retire the SBOC brand, it’s super exciting and it was the right decision for my clients, my team, and me personally. If there is one thing I have learned in the last 4 years of running my own digital agency, and that is if you keep your ego out of it and just focus on on what’s right for your clients and your employees you’ll always make the right decisions.
So there you have it, that is the story of how SBOC began and how it morphed into PBS. As I look back at SBOC’s journey, I feel proud of all it’s successes and failures as each has lead me to this point.
I’ll leave the post with a couple of my favorite quotes because it’s these quotes that inspire me and keep me going:
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
“Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.”- Thomas Edison
If you like to continue to follow our new journey please visit us at: PoweredBySearch.com
As Edward R. Murrow would say: “Good night, and good luck.”