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How I Started a $25k-30k/month App Marketing Agency

Learn how Steve started his $30k marketing agency for apps.

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

I am Steve P. Young and my business is App Masters. We are an app marketing agency. 

I always knew I wanted to start my own business. Back when I was 12 years old, I used to sell cassette tapes to my classmates in elementary school and I never knew what that journey would look like, but I was just climbing the corporate ladder and hitting all these achievements, but didn’t feel fulfilled. I didn’t know how I would eventually start my own business or where that business would be. 

But, in 2011 I started making apps on my own. My son was 18 months at a time and I was just started creating apps for him and through that, I started building up a little bit of side income. I was like, Whoa, this is kind of cool. I was generating anywhere from $1,000 — 2,000 a month of income on the side. I was running marketing for a startup in San Francisco at the time, but in 2013 I decided to start a podcast and I thought: 

Oh, I love listening to podcasts. I wish there was a podcast on apps. Let me just start a podcast and interview some of my heroes in the app space and see if I can turn this side business that I have with ads into a real business. Maybe finally I’ll be an entrepreneur that I’ve always wanted to be.

I built up an audience and they started coming to me for marketing help. Now, I thought I was going to be making money off an app, not off of providing services for apps. That journey always looks different than when you originally envisioned, but it now started coming to me that six months after starting the podcast. 

I ended up leaving that startup job in San Francisco to pursue this full time. I’ve been doing this ever since in 2000. At the beginning of 2014 I officially went independent and full time.

Did you have an MVP? How did you get your first users?

What happened was, while I was still at my corporate startup job, somebody in the audience said, Hey Steve, I work for a bigger company and he was out in India and we’re launching a new app. Can you help me? 

And I was like, What? I don’t know much. I don’t know how to do this. 

He’s like, Don’t worry, I trust you, because he’s been listening to me from day one. So he had that embedded trust that I could then sign my first client that way.

My MVP was an ugly landing page. It was just that simple landing page that just said, Want help with your app launch? That was it. Contact us. I think I was charging $500 at the time. Obviously we’ve increased our rates now, but that’s how I first started and included a lot of things that I don’t actually focus on anymore.

What do your business model and pricing plans look like now?

We’ve productized our services, so instead of doing customized proposals, our packages start anywhere from $1,000 and we even have a different model where it’s $470 a month, and that’s for a certain set of marketing packages. Our base package really starts at $4,000 and includes a couple of different things with ASO, PR, Apple features, core things. We started stripping out different things that we didn’t feel like would add value to our customers. And it goes all the way up to $20,000. We currently have an MRR of $20k-30k.

We’ve got three full-time staff in the Philippines and one in India.

2. How do you attract and retain your customers?

What I found in my business is the more content I create, the more business is generated. And so I think I need to do a better job of this, but there are seasonal impacts. December usually is a slow month for us, and the summer is usually slow too. But I’ve also seen a correlation between the number of inbound leads versus the amount of content I create. So long as I continue to create content on YouTube and through the podcast. 

In 2015 I really got serious about YouTube. I started creating more and more, but before people would just find me through the podcast. Now people are finding me from YouTube and that’s primarily where most of my business comes from now.

Video marketing is huge, and I think if you start creating more video content and sharing some of your best strategies with your audience – even if you don’t want to build a following on YouTube – just having that video on your homepage with your best marketing tips and what that does is for all those who are interested in working with you. They see you, they trust you,  and you’re sharing really valuable tips. So when they come in as an inbound lead, they’re already warmed up.

If you don’t want to do a podcast like I do or a YouTube video, a simple content marketing hack is using big publications (such as Forbes, Entrepreneur.com, or Business Insider) and become the source for their stories. You can do this if you’re a designer, writer, or if you love to talk – you can do this anywhere. That’s how I found my first initial podcast guests.

In terms of retention, it’s as simple as continuing to add value to your customers. What I’ve also found through the years is that if you just continue to be in the space, people start connecting with you. Some of the heroes I wanted to reach out to when I was just starting out to have them on my platform are now reaching out to me to be in mine. It’s being consistent with whatever you’re doing, whether it’s creating content or serving your customers

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

The beginning of the first year was horrible. It tore my relationship apart with my wife and we just had a lot of fights cause I didn’t know where that money would come from. She had her own business. So she was starting to feel the pressure of having to earn an income back when she was doing her business. I was feeling the pressure too and it was detrimental to our relationship. 

Obviously we’re over it now, but that’s one on the personal side. 

The other challenges were trying to do too much, especially in the beginning when I didn’t know where the money’s going to come from. I was trying to do courses, create an agency, all this content stuff, and I had a consulting client and I was trying to do too much at once and nothing was really taking off until I realized that what’s working right now is people are coming to me to help with their marketing of apps and I need to focus on that right now. I canceled all the courses, I stopped doing everything else and I just focus on growing the agency. 

And just like that, I doubled my year one revenue in year two.

I think the one thing that I’m most proud of is diversifying the business. Those courses that I created back in 2014 are still things that I use today and now I’ve diversified the business so that it’s not just an agency model. We do have courses, we do have podcast sponsorships, so there’s a lot of money coming in from different things. While most of it’s coming from the agency, there are still ways I can diversify and make money other ways, especially during uncertain times like these.

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

There’s one book that I’ll recommend called Story Brand (by Donald Miller). This is like 7 years into my business and I was like, Oh, I’ve been marketing so poorly — and I’m a marketer! But sometimes you better market other people’s stuff than you do your own products because you just have a better understanding and outsider view. Story Brand is a great book because it ‘concises’ all the messaging for marketing.

For me, masterminds have been super helpful. I built a mastermind with just app entrepreneurs when I first started because I joined a mastermind before I even took the jump to entrepreneurship. I think masterminds and that Story Brand book are ones that have been super, super helpful because then you can bounce ideas off of other people.

In terms of hiring, it helps to have someone you can rely on. Obviously it takes a long time to hire that person, but that’s been the best decision. The fact that you can hire somebody who can oversee the rest of your team. One of the people I’ve been working with since the beginning has been a game-changer, and she’s been amazing with hiring good people under her.

As for habits, I wake up really early, usually around 5-5:30 AM to get an hour in of work because actually during these quarantine times, we have to homeschool the kids. The work is limited and I just try to decide the most important thing that if I only got this thing done, I would feel so accomplished. I won’t check emails or anything like that, I’ll just go straight to the computer and focus on the single most important thing I need to get done. Exercise has always been important because I feel a lot happier when I do. So I usually try to work for an hour, workout, and then start the day.

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

Build the audience, create content even before you start thinking about what it is. Once you build that audience, they’ll start telling you what they want. Be able to talk to your core audience, get them on the phone and batch all of your calls back to back.

Secondly, look at unlimited services. I am a big believer that that’s where we’re all headed. I pay for a lot of unlimited services like Bench for my bookkeeping and Video Husky for my video editing. I have a business called Copy Masters where we provide unlimited copywriting.

There’s another hack called clarity.fm and I was one of the first people to sign up. I have clarity.fm/steve and I ranked really well on that platform. If you’re looking for experts in any space, you can search for them. In the early days I would use it to schedule my calls. I got a ton of reviews and it became a social proof element for me.

6. What are your plans for the future?

I wanted to build out more unlimited services especially in the app space, and I am working on a couple of different virtual summits while also doing the courses. We’ve been doing these for the past couple of years already, so I want to continue doing that.

We’re aiming for slow and steady progress. Sometimes we as entrepreneurs, especially me, tend to have too many different ideas and then half-ass most of them. I’ll be focusing on one project at a time. This month is all virtual summits; we’ve got a virtual summit in June, and we’ve done the recording and everything’s done so now we’re just driving traffic towards it.

7. Where can we learn more about you? 

You’ll find everything at appmasters.com. If you want to check out our YouTube channel, it’s appmasters.com/youtube.

For me, as someone who always knew I wanted to have my own business since I was a very young kid, but I never did it. I’ve been a lifelong side entrepreneur and I never took that leap, I was always hustling. 

So my question to the community is: What’s holding you back? I want to challenge you to think about deeper levels.

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