Categories
Interviews

Growing a SEO Agency for Lawyers to $400,000/month

Learn how Chris built his SEO agency for lawyers to $400k/month

1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?

Hey guys. My name is Chris Dreyer. I am the founder and CEO of rankings.io. We help personal injury law firms rank on the first page of Google. We only provide search engine optimization services to personal injury attorneys.

So a little bit about how I got started: I actually have a history education degree and I was sitting in a detention room taking care of some students that were in trouble and I had downtime every day after school and I Googled how to make money online.

I know that’s really cheesy, but it was Ed Dale’s 30-Day Challenge to Digital Marketing that I found. This was around 2005 – 2006 and I took this course and I think I made like 20 bucks. The course was to teach you how to make $10 with internet marketing with affiliate marketing. By the end of my second year of teaching, my affiliate income had eclipsed or surpassed my education income.

I did everything that my parents didn’t want me to. I moved to Florida, went hardcore in affiliate marketing and I had over a hundred sites and I was ranking number one for things like double chin, stain concrete, Acai fruit, alcohol withdrawal – all kinds of crazy terms. And it was a really profitable revenue stream up until around 2011. That’s when the penguin algorithm hit. And it just nuked my income from about 15K a month to about 3K a month.

I wasn’t doing everything evergreen. I was taking the shortcuts, I was doing a lot of “spam” – we were link-building back in the day – and basically I chose to get a job. I worked for a digital agency that worked in the legal vertical. They’re since no longer in business, but I did learn what it takes to run a successful agency.

I saw a lot of things that I thought I could do better than this agency and went all in. We opened up shop as a full service law firm marketing agency and we did about anything digital for law firms. After about three years we noticed that SEO was our core passion. We went to just law firm SEO and each time I niched down and took away a service which felt like I was stepping off a cliff. I took that whole revenue stream from pay-per-click, which is around 15 paying clients and referred all of them out.

When I quit offering everything, it felt like I was giving away revenue. But now we could focus on our core competency SEO and we could position ourselves around SEO and develop.

The number one thing that helped us grow was strategic partners. A lot of times when you try to get referrals from non-clients from other agencies, it’s very difficult because they are threatened. They think you have the chance to poach their clients. If another digital agency sends me an SEO lead and they offer SEO, they may be afraid that I’m going to poach their client.

But when you have strategic partners, there’s no conflict. We only do SEO. So if one of our clients needs pay-per-click, I can send them to an agency that only does pay-per-click and then there’s no threat to myself of them leaving or canceling SEO. There’s this mutual benefit of reciprocity that occurs.

And that’s what happens when you hyper-focus. It also makes it easier for other agencies to identify what clients are right to send to you.

So all of these things occur: it helps your sales process because you’re no longer a Jack of all trades – you’re an expert, you’re a specialist. There are many benefits to positioning and pricing and that’s the biggest thing that helped our agency accelerate.

At this point in December 2019, we’re at $400,000 monthly recurring revenue, which is about a $4.8 million run rate. I expect that to double next year based on our marketing investments and everything we’re doing differently. Our branding has a momentum effect. It was really difficult to hit that 1 million mark, but clients and referral partners helps you accelerate – that’s the experience that we’ve had.

Our biggest expenses was our people. I had some tough learning experiences early when I overhired and I accrued some debt. We overhire when we take on several new clients the first inclination is the need to hire more people. So getting through onboarding and just making smart hiring decisions is very important.

2. How do you attract and retain your customers?

Your positioning, unique selling proposition, brand, reputation, and ability to get results all impact your ability to attract or acquisition. We are almost entirely inbound marketing so when we get all of our leads, people already know us. It helps with our conversions. We develop strong referral partners and that’s how we’re attracting.

We’re doing a lot of content development, authority building, whether it’s speaking engagements, content development, webinars, or interviews. All of those things help attract in terms of retaining. The biggest thing is that it comes down to warmth and competence. You have to be someone that your client likes and that’s basically treating your client like your friend. 

If you haven’t talked to your friend in a few days, you may pick up the phone and give them a call to see how things are going. You genuinely care and get to know them and try to determine what will actually help improve their business.

It may not even be something that you offer, but it will help them develop this trust and bond. When it comes to retention, the warmth component is just being likable and caring.

The second component is competence. Competence is the ability to deliver results. Ultimately, you can be the greatest guy in the world, but if you’re not delivering for your client, then eventually they’re going to churn.

Make sure you’re looking at leading indicators, lagging indicators, data and continuously improving – not on a month to month basis, on a week by week basis. You want to make sure that you’re improving and evolving consistently over time.

You can do exit interviews when you lose a client. Talk to them: what went wrong? Do a client post-mortem to determine what went wrong and what you can do correctly the next time. It’s evaluating those situations that not only go right, but also go wrong.

Get heavily involved in investing in yourself. I’ve got an executive coach, I’m a part of a digital mastermind. I have all of our leadership in executive coaching. I’ve got a sales coach for my sales guy. I’ve got a CFO coach for my director of finance. I have an ops coach for my operations person. I send my lead marketing person to conferences and things where he can get cutting edge advice. All external professionals.

Investing in yourself involves reading a ton of books. There’s a lot of great stuff out there: EOS and Traction, Pricing Creativity by Blair Ends, The E-myth Revisited, there’s Ready-Fire-Aim. In the art of client service, Joey Coleman’s Never Lose a Customer Again. All of these things can help with retention and ultimately with your results.

3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?

The biggest one occurred when I over-hired so I started accruing some debt and I wasn’t watching profitability close enough. You want to be conscious of your numbers, to know them and have the ability to forecast.

The other thing is there was a brief moment where despite everything that was working (niching), we went wider – we went to home services and physicians and landed a few clients, but it actually slowed down our momentum because it greatly impacted our search engine optimization campaigns. Not only did we have to create editorial calendars for law firms, we were now creating these for doctors, dentists, e-commerce. This hurt our profitability.

It also hurt our positioning, our copywriting; we had to have dedicated landing pages and more. When we made the choice to niche down it was a right decision. But when we thought we could do this for everyone, it actually really hurt our growth.

I know you’ve heard this before, but you want to take your time in hiring and find the right people – and the people that aren’t correct, fire them.

I’m not saying this to be ruthless. Give everyone the opportunity to succeed, but it’s those decisions can really be costly. Make sure you’ve learned from those processes.

Think of it like this: If you’re watching major league baseball and you took the catcher and you put them in center field, even though they were a great catcher, they would be awful in centerfield in most situations. So it could be that you hired the right person, but put them in the wrong seat. Ultimately our people are who work on our business and help us scale, so if someone’s not the right fit, you need to get rid of them quickly.

4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?

The biggest thing is our non-client referral program.

Basically, if you think of Chet Holmes and his dream 100 list where he selectively tries to get his dream 100 clientele where he’s constantly working on those individuals and targeting them in the sales process. We do the same thing with our referral partners.

We look at people that are very successful businesses in the category that we specialize in and we try to develop relationships with them because they are congregating and they have the same customers that we have.

Our non-client based referrals is about being conscious and attentive to developing those relationships. The second game changer for us was in the beginning of 2018. We fully self implemented EOS and traction. It is a simplified business framework, perfect for digital agency owners. I highly recommend it.

I was in a Vistage board. One of the members was implementing EOS and I saw the impact that it had on his business, and I saw the challenges that he faced, but I got to see how he went through this process, and I knew it was perfect for us. It was absolutely one of the most beneficial things that we did.

5. What is your advice for those that are starting productized services?

There are two main methods of growing a business:

You can do a customized approach. That’s where you have to keep your company small so that it’s closer to the higher level executives and that you have the ability to iterate quickly – a smaller lean team – and that means not very many clients.

A productized service can scale with unlimited amount of customers if they processize their offers. Make sure that you have offers to drive the customer up the value ladder, make sure everything is processized and make sure that you’re evaluating if they work. Continue iterating and making those productized services better. You also want to avoid out-of-scope requests, things that can make your profitability difficult.

6. What are your plans for the future?

We did a massive push in our marketing budget this year, so we’re doing a lot of out-bounding type marketing, which we’ve never done before. It’s very customized. It’s very strategic now that we’ve identified the exact firms that we want to work with, we’re being very selective and custom in our approach to acquiring them.

The other thing that we’re making a conscious effort of is even more training. We do a lot of training already. As I mentioned with our executive coaching, we’re also going to do an SEO bootcamp and we’re going to do a Rankings SEO certification, that has our opinions on SEO and best practices as opposed to just age agency (old practices that have been around forever). We have our own ways of doing things and we’re going to have an internal, certification program for training.

We’re a profit-first based agency. We’ve been allocating a certain percentage to our marketing account, so as we grow in our gross revenue, it also increases our monthly budget. Instead of just pulling marketing from, say, your operating expense account, we actually have a separate account. Every time we collect our profit, a percentage before anything is spent goes into our marketing. That way we’re conscious and budgeting, marketing for growth. I highly recommend it.

I would start at a minimum 7 to 10% based on your goals and the ability to do that and still be profitable. We’re seeing this momentum occur because every single month when we grow in revenue, we have more marketing, to spend as well.

7. Where can we learn more about you?

You can go to my website rankings.io you can find me on LinkedIn, or you can shoot me an email at chris@rankings.io and I’m happy to answer any questions you guys send me. I’m happy to answer any comments in this blog as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *