Building a Digital Business Whilst Working in an Agency (Podcast)

Khalid Farhan is a content marketing specialist who works for an agency. On the side, he does a bit of affiliate marketing.

Craig: Welcome, Khalid. Thanks for joining me. So, you are a professional based in Dublin. That is correct?

K: That’s correct.

Getting a Master’s Degree in Digital Marketing

C: When did you relocate to Dublin?

K: I came to Dublin in 2017, in September 2017. I’m originally from Bangladesh, a small country in South Asia, right beside India, for those who don’t know. Yeah. I came here in 2017 to do my Master’s and funny enough it was in digital marketing. The way it works in South Asia, there is a thing called Asian mentality with education. The thing is you’ve got to get your Bachelor’s degree, and it’s good if you’re getting your Master’s, too.

K: I had my agency right when I was doing my bachelor’s in marketing in Bangladesh and when my mom basically wanted me to do a Master’s, and then I thought, “If I have to do a Master’s, let’s do it in digital marketing.” Then I started Googling around which countries offer digital marketing Master’s degrees, and not a lot of universities do. It’s probably not a program that can be taught. By the time you finish a year, everything has basically changed. There’s no point in doing a Master’s in digital marketing. I actually found a university called Trinity College Dublin. I came here in 2017 and have been living here since then.

C: Would you say that a Master’s Degree is a good foundation or would you say, “Forget about it and try to get self-taught?”

Is Getting a Master’s Degree in Digital Marketing Worth It?

K: That’s a good question. If you’re interested in learning digital marketing, you should know that it’s so broad that a Master’s degree can’t teach you everything about it in one year. If you’re interested in learning digital marketing, my recommendation would be not to go for a Master’s. Find out which segment of digital marketing you’re interested in. It might be SEO, it might be social, it might be paid ads, it might be PPC or whatever. Then try to get either self-taught or find a good course and just browse the internet and find your solution from there. I don’t think I’ve learned a lot in my Master’s degree about digital marketing. There are other benefits, like if you are already in a good college, you get the branding benefit, and it’s easier for you to network around. Trinity has a great entrepreneurial culture so it’s easier to meet other startup founders. But the actual thing that you learn, you wouldn’t learn a lot in a digital marketing master’s.

C: I do some work with some local universities. What they do is tend to get people like me in to someone who’s currently working in digital marketing to try and give them some input. The teachers are so far out of date — people who were doing digital marketing 5 or 10 years ago. Is that the same for the place you were attending?

K: It’s a mix. The guy who did our Google PPC ensured there was training about Google AdWords. There is a course about Google AdWords and the guy who did that is famous in Dublin here. He runs his own agency, so he knew what he was teaching. Most of the other ones actually were base level people. They were more interested in teaching you the four P’s of marketing than actual tactical stuff. The course revolved around more theory than practical stuff.

C: I think it’s great for people to hear that someone who has done a Master’s is potentially saying it was a waste of time. I think especially in digital marketing, as you say, there’s so much to learn and so many changes that I would think it would be very difficult to educate anyone as a university. Being self-taught is definitely the way forward. From there I take it your plans are to stay in Ireland now? Or what’s the plan with yourself?

K: I actually don’t know. After I finished my Master’s I got a job offer. I first got an internship offer from Google, which I didn’t do because it was in a sales role and I was not interested in sales. Then I moved in up in a small county in Ireland to do a digital marketing manager’s role in a cell phone company. I did that for about two months and then moved back to Dublin and joined the ACO agency and started managing clients for them. I don’t really know if I’ll stay in Dublin. My girlfriend is now doing her Master’s at Nottingham University, so she is close by.

K: It’s a good place to be in rather than being in Bangladesh because I can just meet her every weekend or every other weekend. Also, when you’re in Ireland or when you’re anywhere in Europe, you’ll get access to 28, 29 countries to be around.  Europe is a great place to be, especially if you’re interested in history, traveling, and other things. My plan is to stay here for a few years, see how things go, and then decide if I want to settle in Europe or go back home. The other option is for me to go to a third-world country and be a digital nomad. Who knows?

C: You could also go to America. This industry is great as you get the opportunity to be able to do that, as well. You mentioned there that you’re working and you’re still in that small digital marketing agency. That’s great, isn’t it?

K: That’s correct. Yeah.

C: Before we started the podcast, I did a little research on you. I found out is that you studied digital marketing, then got some experience in a small agency, but you also have a side gig that does reasonably for you. That’s in a content marketing agency for people looking for Amazon content and other types. Is that correct?

Building a Business on the side

K: That’s correct. I built my first affiliate website back in 2016, when I was still in Bangladesh. I built that, it failed, then I built a second one. That one did quite well. Then I sold it for about $6,000, then built a third one and kept on building a few and then realized that there is a need for people. There is a need among affiliate marketers to get good content, and good content was expensive and still is. Then we launched this company called Passive Journal, the URL is passivejournal.io, and we started offering content writing services. We started going the HP human proof designs route a little. We started offering content, ready-made sites, and a field of services. Then after a year or so, I basically canceled everything and only kept content there.

Local SEO in Dublin

K: Then since I moved to Ireland in 2017, I also started doing SEO because I saw there’s a market for SEO services in Dublin in Ireland. People were interested, local businesses were interested in getting ranked on the first page of Google, and I had this company that was only offering content and content marketing. Then I thought, let’s start a second service offering SEO services to local businesses. Now that business offers, field content for affiliate marketers and also SEO services for local businesses.

C: Obviously, you’ve felt the journey and I’m assuming the web design side of things, was that just too stressful, too many changes? What was the reason for cutting that?

K: I didn’t really have great success with the authority site-building service. That’s one of the main reasons. It was just… The client pressure was too much for me as a one-person team to basically manage. Then I thought it would probably be easier on me if I just cut down that, only offer content because I have these content writers. I just have to manage the whole thing. Basically, take the order from the clients, pass it on to the writers, get the content from the writers, check it, pass it on to the client. I thought that’ll be easier for my sanity than just doing everything. But now that the company has grown a little and also I have grown in the last three, four years, I sometimes think about relaunching those services, and I probably will, at least some.

C: I think it’s important that you find your feet and find your niche and then probably expand out a little bit. I’ve done something similar when I had an agency, and I was taking on way more than I could and probably should have all at one spot. Yes, at least you recognize that and reverting back to whatever service that you feel was working well. So on that service, you mentioned beer, and it’s for Amazon affiliate websites and stuff. Do you guys also add the links and everything else or does it purely, someone says to you, here’s the product, I want you to review. Going rates 2,000 words or whatever it is, what’s the process there?

Amazon Content Services

K: We don’t actually upload the content for our clients. The process is you go to the website, you order the number of words you need, so 1,000 words, 2,000 words or 20,000 words, up to you. Once you order, you go to a client portal where our client manager will send you a sheet that you fill out, so you put your keywords, you put your instruction, you put your product links if it is a product review. Then our client manager will basically take that, see which writers are available and if we have one, they’re going to get the order. It’s basically a word document that you’ll get as the end result.

K: We don’t really upload it to your website or add images or anything like that because the price is also pretty low. It’s $23 at this point for every 1,000 words. The way we manage to keep the price low is because we hire all of our writers on a full time, monthly payroll. All writers work for us full time every month. They work seven to eight hours a day, 20 to 25 days a month. That way we get to play with the pricing. That’s about it.

C: How much did you say for 1,000 words?

K: It’s $23 right now.

C: That’s a decent price. Some of the prices can vary wildly. I think most guys doing Amazon want to get an element of quality while paying an arm and a leg. For me as an Amazon affiliate, I don’t really care if the content is perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect because no one probably reads it, but it’s got to be good enough to rank well. I think some content writers don’t see that part in they’re charging premium prices for something you probably don’t have to and they can do volume and still make a lot of money. I take it you don’t do any of the writing, everything’s just outsourced?

K: That’s correct. I wouldn’t call it outsourced because all of the writers are full time. Basically, they’re full-time employees of our company Passive Journal. That’s not technically outsourcing, but I don’t do the writing. There’s a writing team of about eight or nine people.

C: Cool. In terms of volume, what sort of customers are you looking for? Are you looking for guys who want one or two pages or can you cope with tons and tons and tons of pages? I’m always asked by people, “Tell me a good content writing service.” Everyone just goes to Textbroker because they can get what they want. You don’t get the ability to order 50 articles or whatever. Do you have a specific volume? Can you totally scale this up if someone wanted to do 150 articles?

K: We do approximately about 400,000 to 600,000 words a month. We can, of course, scale up or scale down depending on the situation. For example, in November, we will get a black Friday hit. That always happens. Last year we had a massive spike of orders. We do that sort of planning accordingly. When we know that we might get a massive order like on Cyber Monday or Black Friday, we generally pre-prepare.

K: We also have a bunch of freelancers who we have worked with in the past who we are in connection with and basically, we then reach out to them and say, “Hey, we have some additional projects. Would you be interested in filling those?” Because time is crazy. Generally, we manage to do about 800,000 words a month on a good month. Without any issues.

C: You need to break the 1 million barrier, just being able to promote that. That would be quite a good thing.

K: I have my own affiliate sites too and I always try to basically find the writer of our agency who is free enough so that I can give him some of my own work. What happens is I keep on pushing my own articles. I have websites, which I started around five months ago and they only have two articles now because I actually couldn’t find a free writer on our own agency who would be able to do my own stuff. That’s a good thing probably.

C: Good and bad. You always do have to make sure that your own assets do get serviced properly rather than  making everyone else millions of pounds. And you’re doing the leg work there for that. How many affiliate websites do you actually have personally?

K: I don’t have many. I only have two now. I had about five or six last year but then I ended up selling most of them by mid-2018. Now I only have two and both of them are fresh, so I’m not making much money from affiliate stuff these days.

C: is that you’d like to scale up  going forward? What are your plans with that?

Amazon Courses in Bengali

K: To be honest, Craig, I don’t really know. I probably will. Generally, I build affiliate sites, so I have a course for my Bangladeshi audience. It’s in Bengali, so you can’t buy it unless you speak Bengali. In that course, what I do is I try to start one site every year, build it from the ground up, make it reach up to $1,000 a month or $500 a month and show the whole process to my students. That’s basically my motivation to start new sites. When I do a new site, I try to document everything so that I can show it to my students. Both of the sites I’m building now are getting documented every step of the way so that I can show my students what I’m doing.

K: That’s one of the main goals of me starting new sites. I’m not in the authority website game that strongly because the ACO agency site and the content side are doing well. Hopefully, once these two sites start doing well, I’ll probably invest more time. It’s just I’m also doing a full-time job Monday to Friday. It’s very difficult for me to manage enough time to juggle everything. Things get tough.

C: I think it’s a remarkable achievement to hold down a full-time job and even just do the kind of content for the affiliate agency. I feel like there’s enough work there to probably kill most other people off, never mind launching big authority websites and the likes. On that subject what are your plans? Just getting more experience and the agency for a while and just slowly building things up? Or do you have plans to scale up massively on your own projects? What’s going on in your head with that?

When is the right time to leave your agency job?

K: Your listeners might have this question that I get quite a lot of times that if you’re making good money with your agency side of things if you’re making good money with your affiliate websites, what’s the point in having a job? Why do you have a job? I agree, I totally agree that the job does not pay even remotely enough to the amount that I make with the Passive Journal agency and with the affiliate site stuff. But the issue here is that I’m on a visa immigration issue in Ireland, so if I want to stay in Ireland, I’ll have to be in a job. It’s not like I hate the job, I like it.

K: The job is also about SEO management and SEO clients, which I like. The office is great too, but I have to be in a job deal I’d say until the end of 2021 or I think September 2021 before I move to the next visa program, which basically will allow me to just do the business and nothing else. That’s the reason why I’m still doing the job.

C: Right, I’ve never been aware of that. I’m a UK citizen, so I’ve never had that problem. I’ve never really moved around or anything, so it’s interesting to hear that. That was a question I was asking myself since I know your content side of things does very well. It’s good to hear the reason for that.

K: Sometimes people may just think, “Oh, he just wants more money or he’s lazy and doesn’t want to scale up.” But it’s interesting to hear that those legal reasons why you have to do it. Let Brexit hit and you will now too.

C: Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that and hopefully it all pans out. I’m sure it will. A lot of us in the UK don’t move to other countries. Your situation is interesting. When September 2021 comes, I take it the plan is to then just do your own stuff, start up your own business properly and to concentrate fully on that?

K: That’s correct. That’s my plan for now. Once September 2021 hits, I’ll basically quit the job and then do full time on the affiliate sites and/or the content. If I still have Passive Journal, until then I’ll probably invest more time in the agency and also more on some affiliate sites and probably start some new ventures, new projects and other things.

C: Is it easy for People from Asia to get Digital Marketing work in the UK?

C: For anyone listening abroad, I’ve got a fairly big Indian audience, for example. It’s a lot of hard work to come and study here, get a job, and then build your own stuff. Is it really that hard or is it plain seal? What would your advice be to someone else in that position? Would you say it’s definitely worth it or would you advise on something else now feeling all the pain you have doing what you’ve done? Would you recommend something else?

K: I have a lot of Indian friends who studied the same Master’s that I did and a lot of them went back. See you and me, the internet marketing community, we are in a weird situation where we know how to make our own money. We don’t really need a job but the situation, the legality, the immigration stuff actually makes us. The immigration laws are not built in a way so that you can basically get done with your master’s and then start your own business up. I think you could probably still allow it if you have a lot of money and if you can invest a lot of money. In that case, you can immediately start your own business after you’re done with your master’s. In Ireland and in the rest of Europe, I think, don’t quote me on it, but I think you can’t. You’ll have to work in a company for a certain period of time.

K: That company will sponsor your visa for up to two years in Ireland. I don’t know what the year phase would be in other European countries, but it would probably be the same. In Ireland, how it works is you get your master’s, you get a two-year visa and then you work somewhere for two years, and then basically you get a permanent residency, which allows you to work whatever you want. It allows you to basically do whatever you want in Ireland. It is not that difficult.

Finding SEO Jobs in Ireland

K: If you’re looking to get a job, especially in the SEO or in the marketing or digital marketing industry in Ireland, it is not that difficult to get a job. Ireland is doing pretty well economically. The big tech companies are all here. If you’re from India, from Bangladesh or from that part of the world, and if you want to come and settle in Europe and basically want to get a job and settle in, I would say yeah, doing a master’s might be a good move for you. Just make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It might be a lot of hard work, you’ll probably end up being just fine.

C: I’ve got another question. Let’s say hypothetically I’m an agency owner in Ireland. Do you find that maybe there’s a potential there for people to use and abuse the fact that you’re so desperate and you need that job to get your visa that they give you bad wages, or do you still get a standard wage? How does that work?

Are Digital Marketing Jobs in Ireland well paid?

K: There are minimum wage laws that’ll protect you, but if you’re good, if you know what you’re worth, if you have stuff to show, I don’t think that’s a problem. Ireland is now in full employment, so companies are looking for people and they’re not able to find good ones. Especially in the SEO space or in the digital marketing space, it’s very difficult to find good people who know what to do.

K: Everyone reads SEO blog posts and think they’re good at SEO. But the people who actually do the stuff, the ones who actually rank websites, they’re still a rare breed. If you’re good at SEO, I’m pretty sure that you will not have a salary issue in Ireland or anywhere in the world.

C: I know that some people try and exploit people when their back’s against the wall or whatever it may be. I didn’t know if that was potentially a problem that you had found, but good to hear that it’s not.

C: Even in terms of building an agency I’ve always struggled to find good, honest, and reliable people. Everything else can be trained in terms of skills. But I think there’s a big, big, big lack of a work ethic, especially where I’m based in the UK, some people just don’t want to come to work Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00 and develop those.

Finding Good Digital Marketing Employees

C: I think that there’s a massive, lack of good, solid, honest people and that’s why I source a lot of work to all over the place to people with different skills. I’ve got to take advantage of that purely because the locals don’t seem to want to work. It’s great to hear that there are opportunities regardless. Obviously, you’re newish to the digital marketing game with your master’s and learning and the agency that you run. What other things are you doing to keep on top of the game or continue to develop? Is it blogs? Is it meetups, conferences? How do you continue to grow?

K:  The agency really helps in this case; they actually force you to do stuff that you probably wouldn’t on your own. For example, the agency recently is forcing me to do all the SEM rush, basic courses, all the master’s courses. I think we also have your course at our agency, so I’ll probably go through that at some point. The agency forces you to go to events so I think we will go to Brighton next year.That way, you stay connected to the SEO community. I’m also doing a podcast where I’m talking with SEOs such as yourself, Matt Diggity, and others you get to learn a lot from.

SEO Podcasts to Listen Too

K: I listen to podcasts pretty much every day religiously and not because I want to make money, not because I need to know something very specific for that particular week or month — just because I like it. I like the world. I like the digital marketing and the SEO world. When you solve agency-related issues, you get to learn so much — getting onto calls with those clients, with their marketing team, finding weird Russian backlinks and disavowing them. Finding a solution to what will happen when Google’s new search console basically removes that is about the tool. You’ll get to learn a lot if you’re in the industry if you’re just aware of things that are happening around you.

K: I don’t have a specific solution to how you can stay updated. Keep your eyes and ears wide open, listen to a lot of podcasts and try to get inspired by smart people like Craig. Maybe even copy what they’re doing.

C: There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. If something works really well, then just add it to your own strategy. I think it’s great that your agency is pushing you to learn about other people’s courses rather than their own. Because I think it’s always nice for people to learn from out with the agency. For example, any of my staff, I regularly get other people in to train them, just to get them a different perspective. I take them to Brighton SEO and various other things so that it’s not the same old rubbish that I’m talking, just to hear other people’s ideas, other people’s ways of working. Your agency has a good strategy in that sense.

Digital Marketing Networking

C: Going to events and meeting new people is an important thing, as well. It’s remarkable that you have a podcast, since your digital marketing career is fairly fresh. What is the thought process behind that? I know you said it’s not money. You enjoy it, but what’s the purpose? Do you want to give back to the community or do you see something to gain in the long run?

K: There is stuff that I want from the podcast to happen, but I’m not looking for sponsorship or monetary gains from it at this point. I’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for about 1.52 years now, but never really got the courage to do it. Being a non-native English speaker, it takes a lot to basically start speaking and I am an introvert. I used to be a lot… I used to not talk to anyone but since I came to Ireland in 2017, things started changing. I started talking to people, but when I was home in Bangladesh, all I was doing was in my bedroom building sites, replying to emails of clients. Never used to pick up phone calls, but things are changing. About the podcast, my goal right now is just to interview good people.

Biggest YouTube Channel in Bangladesh for SEO

K: I have a fairly big enough audience size in Bangladesh so the people in the internet marketing space know me. I have a YouTube channel also in Bengali, which has about 35,000 subscribers at this point. The website gets decent visits from Bangladesh, and that community didn’t really have access to someone who would be good enough to talk to people who are in the international space doing well in the marketing and SEO industry. I wanted to be that person for them. That’s one reason for the podcast. The second one is, of course when you interview someone like Craig Campbell, maybe down the line in five, six years, I’ll need a job and I’ll hit you up. You don’t know what you don’t know. You might need something from them at some point in the future and then you will thank that previous version of yourself who invited them on to your podcast.

K: The third one would be, there’s so much to learn from these people. There’s so much to learn from you and everyone that I’m interviewing. I’m interviewing a lot of SAS founders these days too because I have a SAS product idea that I’m developing, so I thought to interview SAS founders, try to know what they’re doing, how they marketed their product and the likes. That is really helping me too. Gaining knowledge from smarter people is the reason, in the end. I try to give back to the Bengal, Bangladeshi community.

Why create a digital marketing podcast?

C: I told you that your podcast actually motivated me to do my own. I’ve been working on it for a while. My reasons aren’t monetary, either. I think for me, I’ve got the experience and knowledge to be able to ask questions to smart people and find out how they do things or what the thought process is. That’s what I want to give back to the community.

C: I think we all want to hear real stories in your view. The real way things of what rather than the fancied-up version, the fancied-up version’s always very boring. It was good to hear that people do have problems so that’s math rule behind it. But for anyone looking to have a listen to your podcast, where should they find it?

K: You’ll find me on khalidfarhan.com, that’s my website. That’s where the podcasts get published. They’ll be able to find those there and then from there they’ll also get the links of ID on Spotify, Apple, wherever you listen to your podcasts, you’ll be able to find all the links from that website.

C: Khalid, Thank you again for taking the time to come on and share your story. I think a lot of people take a lot from it, and hopefully as I said, we can maybe get you on in the future for an update, find out how the podcast went, and how everything else has gone and content side, as well. I appreciate you taking the time to come on.

K: It’s been a pleasure.

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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