To make things interesting at the get-go, I am not a professionally trained marketer, nor had I worked in any capacity in the field of marketing, in any capacity before. Starting UR Digital, a marketing agency was not something I would ever think of, but thankfully, I accidentally bumped into digital marketing.
I am a Network Engineer by education. Until 2004, I was working as a software sales consultant, and calls and meetings were things that kept me occupied. Although people in sales do understand tidbits of Marketing, technology-based marketing was very fresh on the global scene.
The Accident of Knowing about Search Mechanism
I had a long commute to work, and I developed a strong passion for reading during this phase of my life. One day I stumbled upon the science of “How websites rank on Search Engines?” and it was instant love. Landing on this article was rather an accident. I was reading about Google’s IPO which was hot news in 2004.
Back then, I must say that things were not complicated, yet for an outsider like me, it felt like magic. Furthermore, being educated in the technology domain meant that I was super comfortable with SEO.
For some time, I read about SEO—which now is my specialization, and finally prepared for testing my newfound skills. So, after months of reading and researching in 2005, I started applying all the knowledge I had acquired on the websites of my relatives and friends, and it worked. That was a great moment of joy.
Setting Up My First Website and Business
The excitement of learning a new skill and driving results led me to set up my first website. The year was around 2007, and I remember it vividly. I started offering SEO services to clients both in India, which was where I was then, and across the globe.
My SEO skills were complimented a lot by my sales skill. At this juncture, I can’t say which skill was dominant, but anyone who wishes to start a marketing agency must be ready to be a sales guy. You will get inbound leads, you will get exciting referrals, but at the end of the day, you must close the sales.
So, all geekiness and nerdiness must have some real sales pitching and closing skills. Online networking is good, but just before closing a client, you must speak to him. And I have seen a lot of techno-marketing guys mess it up here.
In this phase, I was targeting only some small businesses because I did not have the confidence to pitch my services to larger companies. For the next four years, things remained the same and I was only doing it part-time.
Moving to Australia and the Turn of Events
Lucky enough for me, I was able to migrate to Australia and hence found a great opportunity to grow my business. I could now sell similar services locally in Australia and earn 20x my earnings in India. The buying capacity of the Australian business owner was much more. But that also meant that I had to hire assistance at a higher cost.
I knew that it would be difficult to quickly build my own brand in the local Australian markets, so I decided to offer white-label SEO services. Basically, I was working for other consultants or agencies and getting their work done. I would receive my payments but not any brand recognition.
At the same time, I started developing my own team of SEO professionals. I did not want to have professionals that came with a fixed mindset as the work is dynamic and ever-changing. I also wanted the team members to learn, grow and take command, some of whom have achieved great strides in the SEO industry. One notable mention is Himani Kankaria; who was my first team member. Although she is not with us now, it gives me immense pride to see how she has grown and is now the owner of her own agency Missive Digital. We still talk often and rant about all things SEO.
This was a quick way of stabilizing my marketing agency. And my advice to fellow aspiring marketing entrepreneurs is to get a regular source of income from any channel you can. Once you are in the right place, with work, workforce, resources, and finances, you can consider scaling and going after better opportunities. But to start, stabilize your basic operations.
SEO Industry is Jolted by Panda and Penguin Updates
The best thing about technology is that it is evolving and keeps changing. Technology doesn’t remain on standby. And you must be resilient in this business.
Things got tough for us around 2012 when Google sent out its Panda and Penguin updates. Websites started tanking down and it was a gruesome phase for most SEO entrepreneurs. Losing clients became the norm.
However, my team and I showed great resilience to hit back. For one, we were supported by some of our clients who showed trust in us. They knew that we would regain the lost traffic and ranking, as it was a worldwide hit.
We invest a lot of time in retraining ourselves. I spend hours and hours studying and taking different courses that would help me. Whitepapers, books, articles, etc, I read them all. In my entrepreneurial journey as a marketer, this was perhaps, the biggest hit. We focused on skill acquisition before anything else and did not lose our morale.
Explored the New Style of Work—Went 100% Remote
We already were an agency that was doing well in 2015, but in my estimation, we had not reached the peak of our potential. I considered the agency still a budding sprout. Around this time our client base started to increase to the USA, Germany, Ireland, Australia, MENA (the Middle East & North Africa), and Singapore. This meant we had clients in multiple locations.
As a marketing agency, despite the vertical, you’re in, client servicing remains the backbone of client retention. So, we hired people in different time zones so that we can have seamless communications with our clients. We went remote early, and this was one of the best decisions I took as an agency owner.
I could hire anyone from anywhere for the skills I would want, and in many ways, at the cost, I could afford. Going remote involved a lot of training and learning. Handling a team of people from different time zones, cultures and more importantly, with different native languages, meant that we had to be on top of the game always.
So, I decided to train my staff in project management. Because managing time was crucial for me. If you can’t use your skills in the right manner, it is as good as non-existent. People who wish to start a marketing agency must consider it.
Expansion Through White Label Services
In this journey of starting my own marketing agency, and making it a success, I realized that doing the actual marketing was our forte. Our training and development helped us to make a very strong team that was excellent with execution and meeting deadlines.
So, I made a conscious decision to expand our white-labeled offerings. With very effective client management, we were able to improve on the number of clients as well as projects we got, and it gave us a great lift in 2019.
Our team was able to get tons of traffic to client websites which made our partner SEO sellers trust us more. An increase in business was a natural result. On the road to scaling a marketing agency, you must make smart decisions. Don’t think that there is a single way of growing, rather, there can be multiple ways to do it.
Fighting off the Pandemic
Huh! The years 2020-21 were times unprecedented for the people of our generation. The world was plagued by the pandemic and businesses started falling flat. But luckily for us, the online business was booming, and it grew further, especially in the B2C space.
We started working with more small businesses that had products to sell, and it meant a lot for both us and them. My team was delighted that they were able to help others during these tough times. And our clients loved, them being able to garner good revenues despite the failing economy.
We onboarded a lot of clients who had deferred the process of going online. And this growth in my estimation was sheerly possible because I could adapt to the changing needs of the market. This was a mindset I had instilled in my team as well. Plain flexibility as a startup marketing agency with no big names attached would take you far.
Moving Towards Product Development
2021 is the year that makes us who we are today. With 15+ years of experience in the industry, we set on writing an in-depth book on SEO. It is the crux of my learning and in fact, of my team as well. We have tried to produce a guide that works.
I also decided to productize some of my offerings, so we are building a brand new marketing tool. This tool will come out in due time, and I expect it to be revolutionary for the Marketer.
Adapting and Improving Is the Way to Succeed
As a small marketing agency owner, the last two decades have taught me that incorporating new skills, and practices along with a never say die attitude has worked wonders for us. If you wish to start a marketing agency, be up for challenging times, but be prepared to hold your ground and go ahead with a positive attitude to do it. It is achievable.