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How to build a $720k/year marketing agency by selling quizzes

Jeremy Ellens

Contributor
Jan 11, 2019
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My first post is inspired by @Sean Marshall's great article on how he built his agency.

In 2015, I lost three clients worth 35% of our monthly revenue and was had two of them threaten to sue me.

Since then, we went on to close 189 clients in just two years and grew our revenue to $720,000/year.

It all began in 2012 when I started a web development agency with my business partner Dornubari in college.

We made a lot of mistakes and we learned what we DIDN'T want our business model to be...
  • Reliant on referrals and networking for lead generation.
  • Reliant on project-based work where we had huge peaks and valley in our revenue that led to unpredictability in cash flow and therefor the inability to hire and create a great team.
  • Reliant on a few major customers for revenue, meaning if we lost one or more, it had a major impact on our business.
  • Built around custom work, meaning it was difficult to train and scale our team or establish proper KPI's.
So here's what we did to turn things around:

Step 1: Choosing Your Niche

When we first started our agency we relied on referrals for the majority of our business, which meant we would take almost any type of work we could get.

This resulted in varied results for our clients, difficulty in setting up training etc.

We niched our agency services down to helping people build their email list by using a quiz.

Additionally, we niched our industry down to the health vertical.

This allowed us to get predictable and repeatable results for hundreds of clients.

Action Step: Niche down your services and your industry.

Step 2: Generating Leads

I mentioned we were reliant on referrals and networking for a long time, which resulted in being unable to get the types of clients we wanted and unpredictability in our business.

So what we did next was create a unique offer for our clients.

We told them we were looking to build case studies for our agency and help them build their email list by 100k people in a year with a quiz. We would charge a reduced fee in exchange for the case study.

Here are the ways we went out to generate leads and promote our offer that led to closing 189 clients in two years:

  1. Mailed our email list
  2. Ask for referrals
  3. Cold outreach
  4. Facebook advertising
  5. Website leads
Action Step: Create a compelling offer that people will beg you to work with them. Leverage your exisiting assets to promote the offer (referrals, email list, etc.) before going into channels that can scale to cold audiences.

Step 3: Dial and Email Your Leads

Once we started getting leads from Facebook and our website, we called and emailed every single person that gave us their info.

A mentor told us to do this even though we were afraid of asking for a phone number. It helped a lot!

Action Step: Follow up with every lead as soon as possible.

Step 4: The Sales Script to Close Your Leads

Once we started getting people responding to our offer, they would schedule a call with us to discuss it.

I used Jordan Belfort's Straight Line Seling program to develop a sales script that we could tweak and optimize to close leads consistently.

Action Step: Learn how to sell by taking courses and reading books online. A sales script is a MUST for scaling your agency.

Step 5: Measuring and Managing Your Salespeople

Once you get things working and you can scale your leads through cold outreach, Facebook ads, etc. you will need to hire sales people to clone yourself.

I was afraid to hire this at first but it's not really that big of a deal.


Action Step: Learn how to sell first yourself. Then hire salespeople to scale what you created.

Step 6: Kickoff the Client

Once you close your new client, you need to have a sytematized onboarding process.

We used a Basecamp template to kickoff clients. We also asked for them to fill out some sheets to prepare for their first call.

On their phone call we would create a quiz for them. We would write half of it on the call and send the rest to be approved within a couple days.

Once approved we would set up the Facebook ads and turn on their campaign.

Action Step: Think through and systematize your kickoff process.

Step 7: Ongoing Ad Management

Once their campaign was live, we would provide weekly reporting on their lead costs and communicate whether we should scale up ad campaigns or not and make adjustments based on feedback.

Action Step: Communicate weekly with your clients on their results.

Step 10: Scaling Your Agency by Hiring Ads Managers and Account Managers

Once you get the process down, hire ad managers and account managers to manage more and more clients at once.

We were able to grow to about 60 managed clients at one time.

Action Step: Document your process and create KPIs so you can scale your operations.

If you're interested in reading more of our story, here's the full 17k word marketing agency training guide if you would like all the details (outreach copy, sales scripts, etc.)

We ended up closing our agency down to focus full time on our software LeadQuizzes. That means we gave away literally all of our secrets to support other agencies!

Please respond with questions here so I can answer or give me feedback on what you would have done differently :)
 

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MJ DeMarco

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Welcome Jeremy, appreciate the write up.
 

PizzaOnTheRoof

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Great post!

Will be using this and the guide to refer back to as I continue with my business.

Thanks!
 

Maxboost

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Why would you close the agency down if it was automated?
 

NewManRising

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I noticed this service uses and is offered for those who use paid traffic. Do you think this can be successful with SEO?
 

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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

Contributor
Jan 11, 2019
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Why would you close the agency down if it was automated?
Great question!

I don't think I said it was automated... we had staff running the business but it still required attention and resources.

Ultimately we got to a point where we had hit a ceiling with our agency and our software and needed to decide what we wanted to focus our time, attention and resources on.

We could have invested in better people on the agency side but that would have been to the detriment of improving our software.

We choose to spend a lot of money on improving our development team and making some major advancements with our software.

It was definitely a tough transition dropping that very profitable revenue but it has for sure allowed us to increase our focus and attention.

All that being said, I think it's a pretty common process for software companies to go through. I'm in a software group where three other companies have done or are doing the same thing right now by dropping their service arms.

I've also interviewed some software companies on my podcast Journey to 7 Figures and some of them like Moz while they started out with an agency, ultimately shut it down like us.
 
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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

Contributor
Jan 11, 2019
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I noticed this service uses and is offered for those who use paid traffic. Do you think this can be successful with SEO?
Great question!

Yes, I actually think it would be better with SEO and here's why...

We went the route of paid traffic because it was faster and that was our background.

What we found though is a lot of our clients were small businesses that weren't already advertising. When we closed them, what that meant was if we charged them $2k/month - $1K for management and $1k for ads, we lost 50% of our revenue right there to their ads.

So if I would go the SEO route now here are some opportunities I see...

I mentioned in my article I would focus a lot more on a specific profession so for this example let's use a naturopathic doctor.

They make on average $1,200 a patient so it's easy for them to earn back their monthly investment with you quickly.

I would find naturopathic doctors that are looking for more leads and help them with their local SEO to increase traffic. I would charge them between $1,000 - $2,000/month unless you want to charge on a performance basis (number of in-person consultations).

Then on the leads side, I would probably make a few different quizzes for different stages of the sales cycle to try and increase my lead capture. For example:

1. Hormone quiz - top of the funnel quiz based on a major symptom they focus on
2. Thyroid quiz - top of the funnel quiz based on a major symptom they focus on
3. Do you know the 10 mistakes people make when hiring a naturopathic doctor quiz - bottom of the funnel for those close to making a decision

Next, I would create templated email marketing campaigns, text message reminders, and sales script for them to convert those leads into in-office opportunities that you could roll out to all of your clients. I would dial these in with your first few clients before rolling them out.

I think that model would be great for SEO and allow you to actually charge more than the $1,000 - $1,500/month that we earned on the paid model.

Here are two similar case studies we did with naturopathic doctors but with paid traffic for further reference :)

1. Rejuv Medical
2. Integrative Health

Hope that is helpful! Let me know if you have any other questions :)
 

NewManRising

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I sent Jeremy a private message about a question I had. I wanted to post it here so others can get some value out of it. Here is my original message:

"
Hi Jeremy,

Just read your thread. Love it.

I had some questions that I hope you can answer. Right now I am setting up my own digital marketing agency. Like you, I first started with a whole bunch of services. But I quickly realized this is more work for me and a potential to have problems down the line. I want to be able to scale, train people, automate, etc, just like you did. So, I narrowed it down to copywriting and SEO.

My niche is health and wellness. I read the One-Page Marketing plan and the author suggest exactly what you said. Offer one service to one laser-focused niche and become an expert. But naturally, I find this hard to do. It just doesn't feel right.

Anyway, based on your thread I think I need to narrow it down even smaller. My question is, do you think I could replicate your success with a service offer like SEO? I was also thinking about modeling your exact business but in a different niche. One of my problems, like you pointed out, is that each business has a different sales model/funnel. My problem is with trying to market to several niches for my services is I don't have a good sales pitch down. I don't think my offer is good enough so that they realize the benefits they are getting.

So, do you think if I follow your model with SEO it could be successful? On the other hand, I was thinking about copying your exact model, in a different niche, and even subscribing to one of your plans and using a quiz template. Is there a way to implement these quiz templates for SEO? What is your opinion on this? Does your model work better with folks that use paid traffic?

Sorry for the long email. But your post got me very excited.

Best,
Dylan"

And the reply:

"Hey what's up Dylan!

Short answer is yes.

I responded to someone elses similar question on my thread: How to build a $720k/year marketing agency by selling quizzes

Check that out :)

For the offer - the case study concept worked really well for us... I think you could do the exact same thing. Normally we charge $2,500/month for SEO and $1,000 setup fee for the quiz. As a case study, I'm charging $1,000/month for SEO and waiving the quiz set up fee. I only have spaces for 3 people. Would you be interested?

Something similar to that ^ Read the offer section in our guide a couple times as that is the biggest part in closing people... making an offer so enticing that they beg you to sign up.

Do me a favor and post this question and any future questions in the thread so everyone can see the answer and more people will see this post! Happy to answer any other questions you have there :D"
 

DustinH

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I've also interviewed some software companies on my podcast Journey to 7 Figures and some of them like Moz while they started out with an agency, ultimately shut it down like us.
I'm curious about creating quizzes for lead generation. Sounds different than your typical lead generation tools.

I just subscribed to the podcast. :)
 

FastNAwesome

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Welcome to the forum, and thanks for sharing your story!

In 2015, I lost three clients worth 35% of our monthly revenue and was had two of them threaten to sue me.
If you wouldn't mind sharing, it would be interesting to hear the reasons, and how did you handle the situation.
 

akrtw

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Wonderful thread! I have also read your entire blog post. Very inspiring as I am doing something related. Two questions:

1. What's your take on creating your own lead gen website and selling the leads V.S. lead gen service for companies (what you were doing)?

2. How will you modify your strategy for lawyers or any other niches where people don't necessarily need the product/service in normal days?

Thanks!
 
OP
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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

Contributor
Jan 11, 2019
12
45
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Wonderful thread! I have also read your entire blog post. Very inspiring as I am doing something related. Two questions:

1. What's your take on creating your own lead gen website and selling the leads V.S. lead gen service for companies (what you were doing)?

2. How will you modify your strategy for lawyers or any other niches where people don't necessarily need the product/service in normal days?

Thanks!
Hey, thanks for reading :)

1. I think it's a great idea. I have a friend doing the affiliate model in the debt settlement space making over $500k/month.

Great way to get paid on performance. The downside is that his only ownership is in his email list and website not the fulfilment side of the service.

That being said, if he can continue to nail the marketing, it opens doors for him to get equity by doing an exclusive partnership with another business or fulfilling the service side later in the future on his own.

2. I would use the quizzes to capture and qualify more leads on your blog posts or Google Adword campaigns that target the keywords where people are looking for services i.e. DUI, personal injury, etc. :)

Let me know if you have other questions!
 

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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

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Jan 11, 2019
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Welcome to the forum, and thanks for sharing your story!



If you wouldn't mind sharing, it would be interesting to hear the reasons, and how did you handle the situation.
Sure :)

For the two clients that were threatening to sue us, the scenarios were similar in both cases...

We were doing custom work for them but had them on a monthly $7,500 - $10,000/month retainer. For each client, we agreed on projects to complete for them that fit their monthly retainer but based on client delays or client change in project scope, it delayed the work they got.

We did our best to follow up with them and push them forward but as you may know, sometimes if it's not a priority for a client they just won't get around to it.

That's completely understandable, however, they knew there would be some work on their end when they signed up and I still have to pay my team whether clients drag their feet or not.

In our contract, we clearly stated and communicated they would be billed each month regardless of unnecessary delays that were caused on their end and that changes in project scope could change the deadline we delivered their projects.

One client threatened to sue us if we didn't refund their money. We told them no because I already paid my team. These clients were in the information marketing business where refunds are common and easy to give in their space however, as a service business I had hard labor costs that are not easy to refund. They threatened to sue for months until finally, they dropped it.

The second client did the same thing but he complained to the person that referred him. Being they had a financial relationship with each other, the person that referred the second client told us we had to refund them about $15,000 or it would damage his relationship and our relationship as a referral partner.

At the end of the day here's what we learned:

1. We wanted to have a lot more clients paying us lower monthly retainers so that if we did lose a couple clients or had to make a refund it wasn't catastrophic.
2. Just because you can charge a high retainer and collect it, doesn't mean that customer can afford it or it won't put extreme pressure on immediate results. When thinking about your pricing, you need to think about how can them results quickly but if your work does take time, what price point can they afford to wait to see results?
3. We productized our service by selling lead generation with quizzes so that we wouldn't have a lot of confusion or delays often caused by custom and complex projects.
4. We figured out our own lead generation strategies explained here so we wouldn't be reliant on major referral partners or forced to make actions like a $15,000 refund when we felt it was unjust.
5. Even if you are in the right, you need to look inward and figure out how can I prevent a situation like this from happening again. Even though our lawyers told us we were in the right with both clients, that doesn't fix the relationship. Hence, the lessons learned above and the changes we made to our business model.

Hope this was helpful, I'm happy to answer any other questions you have!
 

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I love this and how well you guys executed it. Around 10-12 years ago or so there was a trend in the lead gen space using quizzes (or interactive games) to get people engaged and then collecting leads from them. But it seemed to have gone away after social media marketing, Facebook ads, etc. began to dominate the space.

I have always thought this lead gen model was great though, and to see someone pull it off the way you did here really makes you see what an incredible potential this could have for almost any sort of lead gen. Thanks for sharing!
 
OP
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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

Contributor
Jan 11, 2019
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I love this and how well you guys executed it. Around 10-12 years ago or so there was a trend in the lead gen space using quizzes (or interactive games) to get people engaged and then collecting leads from them. But it seemed to have gone away after social media marketing, Facebook ads, etc. began to dominate the space.

I have always thought this lead gen model was great though, and to see someone pull it off the way you did here really makes you see what an incredible potential this could have for almost any sort of lead gen. Thanks for sharing!
Yeah, I've heard from marketers who used quizzes ten+ years ago and just absolutely crushed it.

While they may not be as effective as they were back then, I think it's more than safe to say that ten years later they have survived banner blindness and still work pretty damn well!

Thanks for the comment :)
 

PizzaOnTheRoof

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Hey Jeremy, you mention that you charge upfront for the management fee + ad budget, how do you handle any unused ad spend?

Do you credit it back to the customer, rollover to the next month, or just keep at as part of the management fee?
 
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Jeremy Ellens

Jeremy Ellens

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Jan 11, 2019
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Hey Jeremy, you mention that you charge upfront for the management fee + ad budget, how do you handle any unused ad spend?

Do you credit it back to the customer, rollover to the next month, or just keep at as part of the management fee?
We didn't collect that from the client. We put their card on file with Facebook so they were billed directly. We just wanted to set that as their initial budget.
 

PizzaOnTheRoof

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We didn't collect that from the client. We put their card on file with Facebook so they were billed directly. We just wanted to set that as their initial budget.
Ok I see. Thanks for clearing that up.
 

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