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CHECKLIST: How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency & Hit $5K in Less than 90 Days

Discussion in 'Hustles, Freelancing, Bootstrapping' started by Sean Marshall, Jul 19, 2018.

  1. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. It's basically the story of how I started a digital marketing agency to be able to do cool stuff. And I would like to give you a nice little checklist that you could use as well if it interests you.

    I started my business in 2010. Since then, I reduced my own work load to less than 10 hours a month, lived in Mexico for 4 1/2 years, traveled to 15 countries, and am prepping to head to Scotland for 6 months in Sept - all together with my wife & 3 kids.

    I cracked the code to scaling a service-based business using detailed systems (a fancy checklist on Asana) and a good team (all based in the Philippines).

    I made $2,450 in my first month. Not crazy I know but it was a big deal for me just starting out. More importantly, that number increased every single month afterwards.

    At about month 11 is when I read The Millionaire Fastlane and it completely changed how I viewed my business. I made a bunch of changes based on MJ's advice and started hitting 5 figure months about two months later.

    DOES IT FOLLOW MJ'S COMMANDMENTS?

    I need to mention that a digital marketing agency does NOT follow all of MJ's 5 business commandments. It breaks one - Barrier to Entry. Basically, anyone can do this. They really can.

    BUT, that's also the catch - most people DON'T ACTUALLY EXECUTE! You can give them all the tools, step-by-step instructions, templates, etc and they still won't do anything. I know because I offer a course giving people literally everything they need and only a handful of people actually do the thing.

    So in a way, the barrier to entry commandment is almost a non-issue. Besides, there's more than enough business out there.

    With the other commandments (time, scale, control, & need), this kind of business passes with full marks.

    MAKING $5K IN UNDER 90 DAYS

    Why $5,000? Two reasons:
    1. It’s usually enough money for most people to quit their jobs to focus full time on the business
    2. It’s totally realistic & achievable
    This is a number that most people can hit with some focused work. How fast you’re able to hit $5k is up to two things:
    1. Your Prices
    2. Your Hustle
    Obviously, the more you sell, the more you’ll make. Keep in mind that some services typically cost more than others (for example: websites cost more than social media management)

    Like I said, I made $2,450 in my first month. How did I make that money? I networked with people I already knew and got in touch with a few key business owners. I shook hands and spoke with everyone I knew.

    Simply put, I hustled.


    Hitting $5K in under 90 days is totally doable. I have students in my course that have done much more in less time.

    WHAT IS AN ONLINE MARKETING AGENCY?


    Before I give you a checklist, I have to answer, what is an online marketing agency?

    There are a lot of names for this kind of business - internet marketing company, digital marketing agency, online marketing business, and more. They’re all the same thing.

    In a nutshell, it’s a service-based business that manages the online marketing activities for companies of any size that are in need of growing their presence online – which is all of them.

    This includes services like SEO, social media management, reputation management, website design, and more.

    You can choose to focus in on just one branch of online marketing (like website design or SEO) or you can choose to do it all.

    As the business owner, you’re responsible for creating the services that your clients will choose from.
    Then you will need to recruit a team of people to do the actual work. You can even hire salespeople or a sales company later on and scale it infinitely.

    There’s no shortage of businesses that need help with their online marketing so the sky’s the limit.
    There’s also no shortage of people who can do the actual work and you can contract them relatively inexpensively.

    *NOTE: Building an online marketing agency might not be your passion.

    It really doesn’t matter.
    What matters is that it offers you a way to sell a valuable service to real people who pay real money. You can quickly build this business, scale it up, and then do whatever the heck you want!

    QUICK BENEFITS OF AN ONLINE MARKETING AGENCY

    The benefits primarily include:
    • You can get started for less than $300
    • Extremely low overhead
    • Large profit margin - you literally set the prices
    • Huge potential - an extra $50K/year or $500K/year - it's up to you
    • Work online
    • Flexible schedule

    [​IMG]

    THE 5 S's OF YOUR ONLINE MARKETING AGENCY

    Starting and running a digital marketing agency breaks down into what I call the 5 S's.

    1. Setup
    2. Sales
    3. Systems
    4. Staffing
    5. Scaling-Up

    [​IMG]

    I'm going to break down the checklist into those 5 groups.

    The rest of this post is literally made up of the steps you can follow to start your own digital marketing agency. If you have any questions, obviously I'll be paying attention to this thread. I won't hold anything back.

    Just ask.

    ***

    SETUP
    This portion is to help you get started by establishing your business services, messaging & branding, website, and so forth. The goal is to move quickly to hurry and get to making sales.

    • Start thinking about your business brand including your business name. Think about what kind “feel” you want your business to have. Write out at least 10 possible names.
    • Look up “online marketing company” and check out the first few sites – the goal is to get a feel for what they do and what you’ll be doing.
    • Consider taking a class or two on Udemy.com or Lynda.com to get an overview of the online marketing world. Strongly consider also going to QuickSprout.com/University
    • Think about an industry you might like to serve (i.e. – chiropractors) and then look up “online marketing for chiropractors” or similar terms and study what comes up.
    • Write out (or type out) your motivation. Why are you interested in starting this business? Answer this with something more specific than “to have more money”. Get as specific as you can. Don’t skip the mental work!
    • List out the amount of money you would like to make in your first month, second month, following months. Include your first year’s goal.
    • Go online and look up other online marketing companies (again) – jot down everything that you like and that you would like to emulate.
    • Start thinking about what sets you apart. Ideally it can be summed up in one sentence. i.e. – “We provide SEO services for dental professionals”. This is your USP (unique selling proposition)
    • Come up with your 3 packages. List out the services that each package entails. Yours may be just offering social media or just website design or whatever. Be sure to be detailed - list out everything.
    • Come up with your package pricing. Decide what you think is valuable for all parties involved and use this as a starting point (you’ll most likely adjust this as you get more experience). Use this pattern: $499/$599/$999 OR $999/$1199/$1699 and so on.
    • Identify and write out your USP.
    • Write what your ideal client looks like – the more details the better.
    • Decide right now you will stay true to your niche and not take on anyone and everyone who needs help “online”. It’s better to focus on a core audience to avoid wasting time and money. Don’t be afraid to say no.
    • Come up with your business name. Come up with your business tagline (if you need one).
    • Pick your colors. These can literally be your favorite colors. Don’t stress on this one.
    • Get a logo done (use 99designs.com, Upwork.com, or Fiverr.com) – don’t do it yourself unless you’re a graphic designer.
    • Write up your business plan. Print it out. Change as necessary. Just answer the following questions:
      o What is your company name?
      o What is your company tagline?
      o What services do you provide? What problem do you solve?
      o Who is your target audience or what does your ideal client look like?
      o What is your USP?
      o How much do you charge?
      o What is your monthly revenue goal?
      o How many new or repeat clients do you need to achieve this goal?
      o How do you get new clients?
      o How will you fulfill your services? Who makes up your production team?
      o Who are the other key players of your team? List their names and titles.

    • Set up your corporation (use LegalZoom – for now, just get a DBA and then incorporate once you’ve brought on a few clients and know this is going to work for you)
    • Set up your business checking & savings account. Set up your PayPal (or Stripe) business account.
    • Buy your domain name (use a registrar like GoDaddy.com). Buy your hosting (use a reliable & affordable host like SiteGround.com . Set up your website (use Wordpress – it’s super easy & all you need). Your host should have a 1-click Wordpress install.
    • Create a home page, about page, services page, & contact page to start. This is the minimum. Set up your social media platforms (Facebook business page, Twitter, Google+/YouTube, LinkedIn all a must. Pinterest, Instagram, etc are bonus).
    • Buy your business cards (and nothing else) Use VistaPrint.com because they’re super cheap. Only order 250 for your first cards. You may change some info later.


    SALES
    This portion is to help you start making sales - the lifeblood of your business. If you’re not making sales, you don’t have a business.

    • Get your first sale (work your own personal network to get started – make a list of 10 business owners you know or your friends/family might know and approach them offering them a discount or added value to get started).
    • Complete the work of your first sale and be sure to get results! If you don’t know how to do any of it, go to UpWork.com and hire someone immediately – see next section.
    • Document all of your work – you’ll need this to scale & build a team.
    • Get your next 3 clients quickly. Go to networking meetings in your area. Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce and possibly a BNI group or other networking group.
    • Use online directories like Manta.com to find more businesses in your chosen niche. When you find their contact info, reach out to them leading with value - do a mock-up website with their info, list out specific tips to drive more business, or share exactly how they could tweak their online presence for increased traffic and conversion, etc. Think value!
    • Reach out to associations in your chosen niche and offer to give free webinars.
    • Optimize your company website to reach your target niche and drive traffic to it – have specific pages on your website that you get to rank in Google for organic traffic (i.e. – a page on “Search Engine Optimization Services for Chiropractors”). Then get it ranking and collect leads.
    • Continue to look up the Chambers of Commerce in your area and other mixers and networking opportunities. Look to set up 1-on-1’s with potential clients but only ones in your niche. Don’t waste time with anyone else!
    • Set up speaking and teaching gigs to get in front of a lot of people at once. Be as helpful as possible. Give your best stuff away for free - be incredibly detailed.


    SYSTEMS
    Once you have some sales coming in, you need to make sure you document everything and create systems in order for others to do the work for you. This also includes establishing what tools you use in your business. It’s simple but incredibly important.

    • Create a sales manual and a production manual. Be detailed and use bullet points.
    • Set up your work email (use Google apps or even just gmail to make it easy and route your Name@Company.com email through it)
    • Set up your account in Asana.com – it’s free and it will be your project management tool. Name each new project after your client name. Each project is a client & list out in the project all of the work you said you would do in the list of services.
    • Set your file storage using DropBox or Google Drive.
    • Set up your bookkeeping with Quickbooks


    STAFFING
    Getting a team in place to do the work for you is key to your growth. You need to hire, train, and lead your team members. As soon as possible, you’ll hire more team members to make sure all work is being done effectively.

    • Create a company org chart with you as owner. Create a general manager position with manager positions also in sales, production/operations, & finance.
    • List out the work for your first job (base this off of your services in your game plan). Then go to Upwork.com or OnlineJobs.ph and post your job.
    • Interview your top 3 candidates. Hire 1 but keep the other two on a short-list for when you need them in the future. Start them off on a part-time basis with the expectation of them doing more soon.
    • Hire your first employee or contractor – generally this is a production staff member first (you should not be doing the actual production beyond your first client).
    • Take time to train your first team member. Refine your systems and make sure they can operate independently of you as soon as possible. Use Asana (or Basecamp or Trello) to manage everything. If you’re concerned about tracking everything, consider using HubStaff.com.
    • As soon as revenue and need justifies it, hire another contractor. And then another. And another.


    SCALING-UP
    Once you have sales coming in and a team and systems in place, it’s time to scale-up. This section is all about refining your processes so that you can handle 5 or 500 clients while the work to you remains the same. In other words, this is how you make more money while working less.

    • Refine your services – productize them! When mapping out your services, make sure your offer is the same to everyone. If you choose a service like SEO for example, then it’s relatively the same regardless of the industry your client is in. Don’t match a service to the client. Match the client to one of your preexisting services.
    • Refine your clients - it’s OK & very necessary to the growth of your business to be choosy. Stay away from any "high maintenance" clients. Choose early on how you will handle communication with your clients. Most are just fine with email.
    • Refine your systems. Look for ways to save money, increase productivity, and so forth. When possible, swap out human effort with software and automated work.
    • Refine your sales. Spend money if necessary on advertising, always targeting your ideal niche/industry.
    • As soon as you have at least 90-day’s worth of savings in the bank, have made at least 3 sales (with a lot more in the pipeline), consider going full-time with your business. If you have a significant other, be sure to be on the same page.
    • Over-deliver with your clients. If the relationship is there, try asking for a referral but only if you’ve already done a great job.
    ***

    That's it! Just sell. There's plenty of businesses out there. I don't mean to downplay it at all but really, I'm nobody special. I'm not like most of the successful hustlers in this forum. I'm a pretty average dude that managed to create a sweet business.

    You can do the same. Just follow the checklist above.

    If you have any questions, just ask!

    -Sean
     
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  2. StayHeady
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    StayHeady New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Damn dude. Excellent post. Thats some powerful stuff. Thanks for all this
     
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  3. 404profound
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    404profound Gold Contributor I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass

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    Holy smokes, what an amazing post. I already have a SaaS business in the works, but I am bookmarking this one for the future. I really appreciate the time and comprehensiveness you've poured into this. I'm sure everyone else who runs across this post will as well!
     
  4. El Príncipe
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    El Príncipe Bronze Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass

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    Wow, great detail and comprehensiveness!

    Did you do these type of services yourself before starting this company? Like were you a website designer or social media manager?

    Very relevant for my current position. I'm managing social media for the company I work for. One of the ideas I'm having to sell this skill to other companies. I.e. managing social media accounts for different companies, then hiring someone to do that for me, then adding more and more accounts.
     
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  5. Victor Cezar
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    Victor Cezar Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Lol this is was one the greatest post that I've read here. Thanks dude!
     
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  6. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    Yes, kind of. I was already in marketing and dabbled in the online side of things. I had the idea of starting my own business after taking a course and thought, "I could do this". After I got laid off from what would be my last job ever, my wife and I decided to just go for it.

    I'm happy to say it was a very smart decision.

    So, I would say to go for it. If you're already doing it for your company as a job, you can easily make the transition. The key will be getting new clients, and then getting other people (a team) to do the work for you. Don't be tempted to do the work yourself. Speaking from experience, it will keep you small.

    Let me know if you need any help!
     
  7. El Príncipe
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    El Príncipe Bronze Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass

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    Very interesting Sean. Congrats on making the leap and pulling it off! Must've been nerve wrecking at times. Luckily you made it profitable right away in your first month.

    Truth be told I still got a lot to learn before I do this. Today I got an email from our owner basically telling me to pick up the slack. And he's right. I haven't been posting as much as I should be.

    My problem is that I don't have a system. I'm doing everything manually and more or less from the top of my head. Combined with my other responsibilities it's gotten to be too much. How did you tackle this?

    Right now I'm drafting a posting schedule, protocol and guidelines.

    Time for me to master this skill. So I can sell it and scale it in the near future.
     
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  8. eliquid
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    eliquid ( Jason Brown ) Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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    I vote this most helpful thread of the month
     
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  9. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    You can literally use a checklist - really. I use Asana for everything as does my team. I can see at anytime who's doing what and when.

    At the beginning of the month, list out everything you want to post, update, etc for the month and then schedule it out. For social media, use something like Hootsuite. Then, make that a template and you can simply do the same thing every following month - with slight changed needs be.

    Hope that helps!
     
  10. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    Thank you!
     
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  11. Tomekmeister
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    Tomekmeister Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    Just... damn. Thanks dude!
     
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  12. Zenoviy Kovtun
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    Great stuff here! Thanks for the info Sean. Few questions:

    How do you deal with a negative cash flow cycle? Meaning you get paid after the services are provided.... Or do you avoid this by having your services "productized" and collect payment upfront to create a positive cash flow cycle?

    Are your services one time "products" or do you offer on-going services such as social media management for a client where there is recurring revenue each month? If both, do you have a preference for either or, and why?
    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2018
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  13. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    I've never dealt with negative cash flow. I always get paid upfront. A new client picks a package, pays, and then we start the work. I was profitable from my first sale and never looked back.

    The key to growth is on-going monthly services. This could be social media management, SEO, FB ads, etc. The only products that are one-off are websites (which we mostly avoid now) but even then, most clients usually opt to go to the monthly services - if nothing else, at least a security/maintenance package.

    Monthly recurring is key to growth.

    Hope that helps!
     
  14. Zenoviy Kovtun
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    It sure does. Thanks Sean!

    Out of curiosity have you read the book Built to Sell by John Warrillow?

    Premise is setting up a business to sell down the road, specifically a digital marketing agency. Highly recommend, although you already perform many of the concepts they talk about.

    Others interested in the subject should definitely check it out!
     
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  15. ilia
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    I find that many times, digital marketing agencies offer a variety of services, yet earn a sizeable chunk of their income from selling SEO services. In this regard, my question for you is twofold:

    -Is selling SEO still a viable business in 2018? Before rolling your eyes, look at it this way: search engine marketing has never been more competetive. For a local Google search (for a contractor for example), first there's G's ads, followed by massively SEO'd sites like Angieslist and Yelp which may be very challenging to outrank (if not outright impossible). Sure, you could sell SEO to a client who may not be very tech-literate (and may not see any significant return on his SEO investment), but is it ethical, and more importantly, is it still a relevant business model?

    -Many notable people (yourself included) in the online entrepreneurship circle build large portions of their wealth from SEO sales - could you please share a little insight about the SEO aspect of your business? Do you seek out potential businesses and cold call them? How do you help them make the decision that your SEO service will meet their needs as opposed to services offered by other (perhaps larger, more reputable firms)?

    Awaiting your response, and might I add, great f*cking thread!
     
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  16. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    Yep! It's a great book.
     
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  17. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    Is selling SEO still viable? YES! Of course it is. As long as there are search engines, there will be room to help businesses get found there. Of course it's ethical as long as you use ethical SEO strategies. Regardless of what your friends in India may do (sorry India, but it's true) black hat is never a win in the long run. You'll lose clients and you'll always be scrambling for new clients.

    All of my business now comes in via referrals. I networked hard for two years both in Seattle and in San Francisco and built a huge network. I built my business up enough in those 2 years to then be able to take off - which is why I moved to Cozumel. For the last 6 years, all new business has been referrals - and even then, I'm picky about which clients I take on.

    SEO is applicable to any business - you just might have to change up the tactics a bit. As far as convincing them, I don't really do that too much. As referrals, they're already pre-sold on me so it's not as big of a deal. In the beginning though, it was all about the relationship. Know/like/trust was a big factor in getting new business - which is why I networked. Going to a cheesy meeting where everyone is pitching their business is def not my favorite thing to do. BUT, it got me in front of business owners all of whom needed my services.

    Often, people had been burned by larger firms. Besides, I worked quickly to get them results and they stayed on. In fact, everything is month to month. I don't do contracts. Clients stay on because they want to stay on. I have clients still that I've had since the very beginning - 8 years now.

    Hope that answered your questions!
     
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  18. ilia
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    ilia New Contributor

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    Sean,
    Thank you for the detailed reply.
    I see you are an advocate of building a business correctly instead of being in it for the quick buck.
    How much of your work do you outsource? And I presume that you're against blackhat because you're at the mercy of Google's policies and their tendencies to punish shady SEO practices?
     
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  19. Sean Marshall
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    Sean Marshall Independent since 2010 Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    It depends on what you mean by outsource... I have a team that does all of the work for me so in that sense I outsource. But, they're all people that are working for me so in that sense, they're on my team and not outsourcing to say Upwork or Fiverr or whatever.

    Yes, always play by the rules. You will build a better business (& get referrals).
     
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    hydemx New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Thanks Sean, a really really good post.

    One thing that I'd like to highlight is the importance of delegation. Just like you mentioned, it's crucial to hire others to help you; I'm a software engineer so the temptation to do all by myself is great, but it never ends well. I've tried before and always ended exhausted and burnt out.
    I've left my agency in pause because my job absorbs most of my energy, but it's always inspiring to read threads like these.

    And lastly, I have a question. Would you do the same if you were for example, still living in Mexico? I guess there's a huge difference between what you can charge there and what you can charge in the US.
     
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  21. Benito Alvarez
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    Benito Alvarez Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Thank you for this awesome post, huge value bomb!

    I’m in the process of setting up a company that takes people through the setup and and initial sales portion of starting an online business.

    I am concerned about the one off nature however I see a big opportunity in the area no-code software development.

    After reading this post I’ve realized that ongoing marketing services are a great addition to my product offering!

    Thanks you again for opening my eyes!
     
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  22. Longinus
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    Longinus Platinum Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    You say you offer 3 packages.

    Do you put these on your website for everybody to see?
    Is your price range lower than your competitors or about the same?
    Do you do customized work as well for your clients or do most websites have the same layout?
     
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  23. Fastlane Liam
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    Fastlane Liam Bronze Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    Hey Sean thanks for taking the time to write this out.

    In the packages you mentioned, would you be able to give more examples of what kind of services you would offer?
     
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  24. Dr. Fastlane
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    Dr. Fastlane PER ASPRA AD ASTRA Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER

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    I joined today and this is just the thread I need.

    I am working as a SEO freelancer and I have only 3 clients, all of whom I have had past relations with so it was easy to sell to them (one of which I took up pro-bono to build my portfolio).

    So I am pretty good at SEO and have been doing it for sometime. I am from India and the domestic market isn't worth it so I limit myself to US/UK etc.

    What would you suggest a guy in my shoes should do to drive more sales?

    I thought about creating a SEO focused vlog, but haven't uploaded to it recently. I was thinking about creating a series of videos where I walk the audience through the process by actually picking up a local business and putting them on top... To actually show them on video that I can walk the talk.

    Is that something you personally think is an efficient strategy?
     
  25. Dovahjiim
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    Dovahjiim Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Awesome post!

    This literally reinforces some of the thoughts I've been having about setting up a digital agency. I was looking at bespoke software, but I think I could make this work as well. I was already considering how to get a recurring payment structure set-up.

    The other thing that I'm really starting to understand (and is high-lighted here) is that I shouldn't be the one doing the technical work.

    I've been a programmer for the last 11 years, so I'd convinced myself that I'd be starting my writing a load of code myself. In fact, I find the idea of not doing so rather refreshing!


    Thanks for the all the info!
     
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