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How I Started A $450k/year Marketing “Un-Agency”

Learn how Dave built his $450k/year marketing service.

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

Hey everyone! I’m Dave, CEO of a marketing “un-agency” called Shortlist.io. We provide inbound marketing, design, and development services to businesses in a variety of niches.  

Before Shortlist, I ran a startup called NinjaOutreach, an influencer marketing software that still exists. Two years ago I sold it so I could work on other things, which led to me starting Shortlist.

Originally the idea behind Shortlist was to do link building for software of mine called LessChurn. That software didn’t work out, but Shortlist did and I connected with David Henzel from TaskDrive and together we started building up the agency. Last year we did $450k in revenue and are aiming to hit 1 million this year! 

Our staff is around 20 employees which include 10-15 contractors which form various departments such as bizdev, SEO, growth, and branding. Some of the services we provide are marketing automation, email marketing, content strategy, dev, design and copywriting when needed.  

2. How do you attract and retain your customers?

The first clients came on as connections, primarily through my business partner. We also went to conferences and networked there. 

While that’s still an important part of our client acquisition, we have also started doing “cold” outreach to companies.

However, what’s different about our approach is that we actually invest time to do an upfront analysis of what they are missing or where we can help to improve their revenue either through SEM or different growth/inbound marketing tactics. We approach them with a summary of that and helpful data insights prior to pitching them. Then they can decide if they want our help or not, so it’s value upfront!

We’ve experimented with a bit of paid advertising, but that didn’t produce any leads. We also built a software, and are launching that in the hopes that it will attract an audience we can market our services too. 

As for client retention, well, providing a great service that drives results is the best way to keep a client lol. 

Clients want and appreciate specific data-oriented updates and how we’ve improved their KPIs, so we do that quite often. We usually do as many updates as we can to keep clients in the loop of everything that’s going on and they appreciate that a lot. It’s like they have a dedicated person to keep track of results even when they haven’t signed up for such service, we make sure we provide that whenever we can. I think we have a great team in that regard.

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

As with every startup we have overcome the traditional challenges such as staffing, funding, etc.  

I think we also have to work hard to be efficient, because, while we started out with a remote office in Skopje Macedonia, we now employ people all over the world and that takes extra effort to work together in harmony. 

But, we’re doing a good job and I’m used to working with remote teams, since that’s how we ran NinjaOutreach for years. 

Obviously, it won’t come as a surprise that there are quite a few agencies out there that provide similar services, so, we work to differentiate ourselves and to find our unique selling proposition. Overall, I think we have a good model in how we work very closely with the client and keeping prices very reasonable as a result of using outsourced staff.

Defining our services has been a bit of a challenge as well. Originally we started as a link building agency and once I did some thinking on my own and talked with the team about how they envisioned us moving forward and growing, we agreed to shift either to a full-blown SEO agency or digital marketing agency to be able to provide clients as much value as possible and take on more responsibility and take more responsibility in helping their growth.

With every service you offer there are new processes and assets that have to be developed and that’s challenging, but, it’s nice to have variety in what we do and to be diversified in our offerings.

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

#1 hands down is the team. We have a bunch of A-players that treat the business almost as if it was their own and we’ve built a nice culture that we’re still working to improve. 

I would also say that making sure you are starting a business you truly believe in will help any business grow. You have to believe in the service you provide and its benefit to the client!

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

Making sure that you don’t grow too fast without having the correct foundation in place. It’s important to do one thing really well before moving on. I recommend finding one service and making sure you are an expert in that manner and having all your processes well optimized before expanding to other services. Without a proper base you will find holes in your process that could be more efficient and therefore you could lose money in a very delicate start up stage and worst off all have poor client satisfaction because you’re juggling too many hats! 

I would also say documentation of the work process is rather important as well especially in the start up stage where you may not have the right team in the beginning.  Even something as simple as a 5 min assignment if you have the correct documentation for it you can save a lot of time if you need to hire someone else for the position down the line.

6. What are your plans for the future?

The future is always uncertain and in light of recent news events, I would say it’s even more uncertain than ever.  I plan to really hone in on our target market and acquire more customers. We would also like to expand our offerings and provide better reporting and analytics. I’d also really like to grow the software and see where that takes us! 

For the software, I’ve just recently hired a dedicated marketing manager to get it off the ground. Our plan is to the soft beta launch on product hunt, some paid advertising, and hopefully that will get us our first users that we can then learn more from. Down the line I’d love to do an app on AppSumo!

7. Where can we learn more about you?

Here’s a few places I’m active

LinkedIn
http://shortlist.io/
https://daveschneider.me/

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