How to Build a Digital Marketing Agency

How to Build a Digital Marketing Agency

So after months of badgering Ross Tavendale of Type A Media, I was finally able to get him onto my podcast to share his story about how he started out building up his Digital Marketing Agency, everyone thinks it’s easy, get some funding and off you go, Ross did it in quite a unique way, moving to London with 4k in his pocket and decided this was the place he wanted to settle, he had no home, no friends no contacts and rolled up in London and had to stay in Hostels until he was able to find somewhere to stay.

Full Transcribed Version below

So welcome to today’s podcast. I have Mr Ross Tavendale finally. Ross, I’ve only been asking you for about, I think maybe close on a year now… Nah, I’m not sure it’s been that long, six months to come on my podcast, and finally, we get ahold of you. So good to have you.

I’m a bit of a slut for the numbers, Craig. I was actually just waiting until you got your subscriber base up, so I didn’t waste my time.

You’re probably not even kidding either.

No, it’s busy diaries. It’s hard to pin you down as well. Our agency’s been growing at an extreme rate, and finding the time to do things is always challenging. But I’m glad we’ve finally been able to get this scheduled in because I’m pretty sure you’ve got… You’re ready to give me an absolute roasting, so be interesting to hear what you’re going to ask.

Not roasting as such, but obviously you are… Do you know what I mean? And things that are going on and how you do things and the type of people you work with are all very interesting compared to the way we work. So obviously we are quite good friends and we talk a lot and at events, we get on really well and stuff. But we are opposites in terms of where we work and the way we conduct ourselves, and all of that kind of stuff. And you run an agency, I hate agencies. You’re Mr Corporate, I’m mister, whatever. I’m not even going to say it, Mr Scumbag.

No, you’re the laptop entrepreneurs, you’re the freewheeling entrepreneur and I’m Mr Corporate.

So we do have opposites in a lot of respects, in terms of business. And obviously that’s sometimes it’s good to hear some of the stuff that you do in some… Because I’m not working with the same type of people that you are and stuff like that. So first off, obviously for anyone who doesn’t know of Ross, who’s listening, he’s the order of Type A Media in London, the face of Canonical Chronicle. I’m sure you don’t really need an introduction, to be honest. But how long have you been doing the Type A Media thing for? Is it probably about four, five years?

No, much less than that. So we’re only… This is the second corporation tax bill we’re about to pay. So we’re actually less than three years old. Or the brand Type A Media is less than two years old. Feels like it’s been around for a lot longer. I moved to London about six years ago and bought into an agency called Ideas Made. Now, buy-in sounds very grand. I was either going to buy a house or buy-in a business, and I thought, well, seeing the prices in Glasgow versus prices in London, they’re a wee bit different. So that was the house buying that went away pretty quickly. And I bought into that business.

The guy I went into business with, had a… It was web design, so he had Peroni and Red Bull and all that, and the Guardian, as a client. And idea would have been to cross-sell to each other, but we very quickly realized that the guy who’s in charge of designing the new Peroni website is not the guy doing the SEO, in fact, they’re not even the same department. They don’t even know who each other is. It’s very hard to cross-sell. So two years later, three years later we decided we’re just going to go back to learning our own thing. And that’s when Type A was born.

Type A was born. So how about a bit about where you started, because I think I started to get to know you when Type A Media was just starting. That time we spoke together in London a few years ago. And I think, did you walk in a metal container, or did I just make that up?

Bootstrapped Digital Marketing Agency

No, you’re right. So we’re a bootstrapped agency. So that means that everything that I’ve built has come from my personal savings account. And when you’re bootstrapping and you don’t have any money, and you need an office space in London and someone says, “You can work here inside this shipping container and it’ll be 600 quid a month and you can fit 10 people in it.” I’m like, “Okay, what’s the downside?” She’s like, “Well, it’s porta-loos outside.” So we spent a year of our lives as a growing fledgeling agency. If it was raining and we had to go for a pee, you were getting wet. It’s as simple as that.

Were these places kitted out properly, with proper walls? Or was it literally your back was against the metal?

Oh, no. So it was fitted out with a floor and walls and things like that. Had wifi and electricity and things. It was pretty basic. And it was in a place called Elephant Castle, which sounds quite fancy. I call it the ass hole of London? It’s the arsenal of London. It is an absolute shit show in Elephant and Castle. And we would have homeless guys coming in stinking of piss, being like, oh, can I get a… And I’d always stupidly give them money, then they just kept coming back and coming back. I’d have a guy… We were on the ground level as well, so people would just walk in and be like, “Oh, I’ve got an idea for an app.” And I’m like, “Oh my God.” So a lot of nutters, a lot of people come in trying to sell CDs and all that. We got robbed a couple of times. It was horrible.

Hell. Interesting. But it’s nice to see… When I started my thing I was slobbing it. I think my first day, office bill came off the credit card and all that kind of stuff. So I’ve been there and slummed it as well. I think it’s great to see one as you’re up for, is the number of times that you move office. So how many times in that couple of years have you actually moved office? It must be five or more. Got to be.

It’s been four times in three years. Five times in the last 4 years when it was Ideas Made, then Type A. We just keep growing. And the thing is, because we’re bootstrapped, we can’t just walk into a 2000 square foot, gorgeous place. And as you’re going to something like WeWork, where it’s 600 to 700 pounds per person, per desk, for a postage stamp size office. It’s just not worth it. And we want to put our own stamp on it and control it and brand it and things. So we just keep moving. So we first moved into a place in Clapham, we shared an office. So from the shipping container, we then shared an office with an estate agent. They had some spare desks. So that was a big step up, because they’d indoor plumbing.

And then after the estate agent we then moved to our own little place, 300 square feet, which is the size of, I don’t know, like a small living room. We ended up putting about six people in that office. And then when we realized we needed to add another four people to the business, we actually got rid of the tables and just got smaller tables to make more space. So the guys were absolutely raging. They came in one day and they had these little tiny coffee table things just pushed up against the wall, middle of summer. It was absolutely horrible. But we fit 10 people in there. And then we moved into the current studio, which is where we are, which has got a nice dedicated video studio with my little fancy SU is dead neon. And that’s 800 square feet. Which is one kitchen, it’s 1 bathroom and all that sort of thing, which is basic. Everyone’s like, “So what? It’s got it’s own bathroom.

You’re in luxury now, compare to where you’ve been.


You could even stay overnight in there, if you had to.

Yeah. Pretty nice. So it’s been good… It’s been a fast journey, and that’s just because I work all the time. But it feels nice to go from… When I had no kind of real prospects, when I first moved here, I moved into a flat, shared with another four people, mice, cockroaches, the whole deal. Actually one of the guys that I lived with I found out he was a cocaine addict. She’d go up … I’d get up and go to work at 6:00 in the morning and he was still up from the night before. I was like, “Ahh.” Some pretty horrific stuff, but the rent was £400 a month, so I could live off of a grand a month comfortably in London, which is unusual. And because of that, all the money stayed in the business and it stayed in it for a very long time. And because of that thinking, now with all this coronavirus stuff happening and clients cancelling or pausing, we’ve got enough money in our bank account that we’re never going to need to fire anyone or make anyone redundant, so yeah, it paid off.

That’s all thanks to you sleeping with rats and cockroaches and various other bits and bobs. The thing is, it’s great but as anyone will tell you, that’s a long time. That’s saving years. I know you’ve recently, in the last six months moved into your nice new apartment overlooking the Thames and things are all golden. But, should we be building a business and then come home to sleep with cockroaches, or I think one of these things that always sticks in my mind that you told me, that you were in a shower and people previously in the shower had potentially snotted on their tiles, and you’re thinking that you’ve got a bad shampoo or something, and from the previous person it’s snot and stuff. I mean, how do you motivate yourself? I mean, surely you must’ve been a natural or something is going just, “Kill me now. Kill me now, this is no good.” Or, the worst thing which with the bank balance and storing all your money, what made you keep going with that?

Yeah, I think when you’ve got a bit of a … Nietzsche said that if you’ve got a why you can bear almost any how, which I think is pretty much where my head was at. When you’re seeing … It’s all self-inflicted like I could move back to Glasgow in two seconds and live in a nice place. If it was forced upon me I would’ve felt differently about it, but because I was choosing to do it, it was actually quite fun to … It just felt like I was part of something and I was doing something that felt meaningful, so I never felt bad about it. There were obviously times where like you say, I was in the shower and someone snotted all over it and what I thought was shampoo is actually his boogies and stuff like that. I’m a very clean person so that did not go down well, to say the least.

So there are moments like that where you’re like, “This is absolutely horrible,” and you feel like quitting and throwing in the towel, but when you then see your bank balance going up and up and up, you’re getting more clients coming in, you’re getting more staff coming on and you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that’s a little bit of hope. Agencies are horrible businesses because, I think it’s good training as a businessman because in terms of dealing with people, dealing with clients, building infrastructure, it’s all really good training and I enjoyed it, I love playing at business, and by living in that shit hole I got to play at business and that was really nice.

If there’s anything in terms of starting up and living in a slum and saving up your money, is there anything you would change on that or would you say, “No, that was amazing and I would recommend it for anyone.” Is that a good apprenticeship?

It depends. I come from a police family and a military family, so there’s been a … There’s a big kind of macho thing in my family where not being a pussy is quite important and I would just give myself that talking to. I’m like, “Stop it.” I hated myself on days … When I actually first moved to London I lived in a hostel for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t find a place to stay and I remember in the middle of the night, some guy has begged enough money to get the same hostel room that I’m staying in, and that was not nice. I hated myself that … I hated how pampered … I felt like I was so pampered it was causing me huge emotional distress. I hated myself for that, so I think it was good to kind of toughen me up a little bit, because I did come from relative luxury in the countryside outside of Glasgow. I love decadent life.

Advice on Starting a Digital Agency

But, in terms of how I’d advise other people to do that, I wouldn’t advise anyone who wants to start an agency to not do it unless you’re financially independent already. I wasn’t, I didn’t have anything, so I had left my first job with two months of income, so I had probably four grand total and no job, which is not a smart thing to do, but it really motivates you. If you think that you’re going to be homeless it really motivates you. I would never be homeless because I’ve got enough safety nets to fall through. I’d recommend becoming a freelancer first, making some money and putting it away, because I would’ve made much better agency decisions if I had cash. Did you ever do that, you’d say yes to a client just because you wanted the money although you thought they were an absolute horror client.

100%. I’ve actually done a podcast recently and I can’t remember who it was with, we had that conversation where I was taking money at one point in my agency just to pay the bills. I wasn’t thinking, “Is this going to be a good time, can I go that client?” It was, “I need ten grand, for example, to make ends meet and I need 10 grand worth of clients’ money and I don’t give a shit who it is,” and that leads to a lot of stress, so I can totally relate with that.

What were the people like? It was quite a few people that you were implying. That plays into it, so this thing was scaled like … When you get more employees it’s not about you making money and being the big guy in businessman. It’s about, “Do I need to make people redundant, can I pay them so they can pay their mortgages?” That’s the thing that stresses you out.

Yeah. It’s a stressful thing and I think it’s … It’s for some people and not for others. I didn’t like having that noose around my neck of having so many people rely on me. Obviously, [inaudible 00:14:28] approach from bringing an agency into something else because I’m not going to sit there and say I couldn’t handle it. Could I run an agency? 100% and the stuff with that, but when I was there feeling it I just felt really claustrophobic, the walls were closing in all the time and everything was just stress. Where’s the next wage … What if this client pulls out, how am I going to pay everyone on Friday?

It’s horrible, there’s a lot of bad things that people never talk about. [inaudible 00:14:58] talk about, “Yeah, I’ve got [inaudible 00:15:02] wages, the big clients and will save that in a nice 25 grand retainer and it’s locked down in a 12-month contract.” It’s great to hear that you’ve literally lived in poverty and been fighting and scraping your way up. I think people don’t see that about you and it’s not something people want to talk about a lot either. You’re not going to go out there and tell them I’ve worked with cockroaches and I’ve lived with a guy that snotted all over the shower. But, I think you’re right, it hardens you up and potentially if you were brought up in a nice, cuddly environment, it’s certainly probably made more of a man of you. I think things happen for a reason and you’ve just got to go with the flow, but it’s amazing to see you’ve come out the other side and of the main studio now.

You’ve got cash in the bank, you’ve got an apartment when Owen snotted it on you and stuff like that. But talking about the kind of clients you work with, you’ve obviously been there, and you’ve dealt with all the dicks that everyone deals without there. Guys that you probably wouldn’t deal with. Some of the big corporate clients that you deal with… I mean, you’ve been down near been the guy living in poverty. How did you go and pitch to clients like that when you’re living with cockroaches? How were you able to attract that type of client? Was it luck, or is there…? Give us a clue here because I need your [inaudible 00:16:40] of clients. Now it’s Coronavirus now getting on.

How to sell SEO to corporate clients?

Yeah, no, the sales bit is what everyone has really scratched their head about it and they’re like, “How do you get in the room to sell these people?” For people listening, the types of clients we’ll work with are, annoyingly I can’t say a lot of them, one of them is an Amazon competitor, which I think there’s one in the world. We worked with some of the big takeaway companies. We work with the government on a lot of stuff as well. Yeah. So good size retainers, $15,000, $25,000 a month stuff. We work with one of the international beer brands, that sort of thing.

The way in which that all works are just by sheer visibility. I hired a videographer. My second hire into the agency was a videographer. Now that doesn’t make any sense because when you’re a bootstrapped agency and you’re hiring new people, you would hire the SEO guy, the tech guy, the designer, the whatever. Not video, because we don’t sell video, it was just for me. That was actually my first ever proper hire in the new place was full-time video. And I’ve been pushing that out pretty consistently.

And just having that visibility. You go to our website, it doesn’t rank for shit and it’s actually really hard to contact us. We probably need to redesign it, but it’s all through just being hyper-visible and spending of the money we saved, it then goes into advertising. Look at our YouTube channel. We don’t have subscribers, we don’t have a ton of engagement, but I do absolutely smash advertising on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn to where people have probably been targeted with it pretty consistently.

And the thing is we never sell. Of all the videos, it’s never, “Come and work with our agency, buy our stuff.” It’s always news about SEO because it’s a complicated service and people are smart enough to connect the dots. This guy runs an agency, I can work with them. You don’t need to ram it down their throats. All our conferences, they really help. Sponsoring conferences, I’ve done a lot of that. That’s been a big, big driving force as well and doing things like this, like podcasting and SEMrush has been huge. Actually OU had a massive day. I don’t know if you know this but you were probably into SEMrush back in the day.

I am. That and… I know. It’s SEMrush have been helpful for me. And I think obviously, I think at the time we’ve been fortunate because lots of people asked that question, “How did you go on?” And, “This is amazing exposure” and everything else. I think it was a matter of timing. I think Anton said to me before anyone else, and you’re good speakers. And I’ve just done that event with you in London and my [inaudible 00:19:37] guy notices stuff and talks very well and everything else. You were a perfect fit at the right time, but I think that’s also the same case with me. When SEMrush picked me up, I was on Alexandra Tackle Overs in Digital Olympus, back in 2016. I think it was our first ever one, or second one or whatever it was. And SEMrush approached me from there, saying like “We really like the way you talked, do you want to come on and do some stuff?”

I think it’s a… But it’s more important what you do with it, rather than the introduction. The introduction’s all good and well, but it’s where you’ve been able to take that to… And certainly SEMrush… You are mister SEMrush, now you’ve stolen my crown. I think we stood in the last [inaudible 00:20:26] and I’m looking around, I’m going, “His face! He is SEMrush!” And people used to think that of me, but I was never fortunate enough to have my face plastered all over the stands. You’ve taken my title.

That was a trip. They get you to sign a waiver to say that we can use your likeness on our advertising and I’m like, “Great, you’re going to put me in front of more people. On you go.” What I didn’t realize is that, that would also mean seven-foot banners in the middle of a conference hall, 4,000 people walking around.

It’s good. It’s good to see that [inaudible 00:21:01] as well. I think you and Greg Gethard are currently, or were at that point, the mister SEMrushes. The king and queen. I’m not sure who the queen was, but…

Yeah, Judith. She’s pretty prolific on SEMrush. They did give me a lot of opportunities and a lot of visibility, but I would never have been able to do that if I didn’t have a videographer. And your initial introduction was everything that started it. Funny story about that. When I was doing Canonical Chronicle actually pitched them to do it for them. So, “I’m going to do this video for you every week”, and one of the very high up marketing people who is very well-known in the industry… I’m not going to name any names. They’d seen a video and they said, “Nah, his voice is too annoying. Let’s not, I don’t want to work him.” And now the opposite is true. I thought that was quite funny. Ended up doing Canonical Chronicle myself. I was just determined to show them that I could make it something and I have.

In terms of fleet… Obviously, SEMrush exposure I can relate to and would never see as bad exposure. The question I want to ask is, doing it yourself or doing it for SEMrush? SEMrush get you instant exposure, but again, you went the sleep-with-the-cockroaches route and doing it yourself. Was that relatively easy to build up for you or was that just being consistent and churning out and people will eventually like you? What’s thoughts on how that built up?

When I first had a look at all the content are there, there was no funny… There was a real void left. Seeing Ran stopped doing Whiteboard Fridays and there’s just randoms doing it. They are good, Brittany Mueller’s phenomenal. She’s an absolute tour de force. Sirus is really good as well. But there’s something about Ran that was just really, really good that I couldn’t put my finger on it. And there was a bit of a hole left and the SEO content space. I know Patel does a bunch of stuff, so does Brian Dean. But it’s very informational. It’s not funny or it’s not… It’s engaging because it’s useful content but it’s not entertainment.

And I just thought, “If we can do some sort of… Something entertaining,” because I remember speaking to you and we were like, “The industry is dry as fuck.” It needs to be funnier. We need to take ourselves less seriously. At the time, I think we were getting a bunch of jet from people in different scenarios as well and we’re like, “Oh, let’s just try and keep our high spirits and funny.” And I think that’s why we get on so well in the webinars. It’s just because we are funny with it and we try and have a laugh.

I think you’ve got to. I think life’s too short to take everything too serious and it is what it is. Yeah, no matter what Mr Corporate, there’s going to be someone out there who’s saying you’re a dick and you’re a stupid guy here trying to be the next Laurel and Hardy or whatever you want to call it, is also going to get, you can never humour everyone. That’s just the way it goes. Onto something else that I wanted to talk to you about. Your persona, you’ve obviously done with Canonical Chronicle and you’re now seen as Mr White Hat. Listen, I’m the same. When I go out there, I don’t want to get people banned or websites banned or even a project banned. People have this misconception of what’s white hat, what’s black hat and stuff like that.

I’m a businessman and I want to make sure that anything I do invest in provides me with a positive ROI. I just want to get your take on the kind of link building side of the things. I know you’re now more open to link building and stuff, not that you probably weren’t even open to it, but certainly when I spoke to you in the past, it was like, “No, no, it’s all PR and this, that and the next thing.” I know the kind of project that you bought when you were on holiday in Portugal, your little kid’s toy website, you tried it out and done this and done that and you’ve seen amazing growth on that. Out of curiosity actually, have you actually done anything with that website since? Is it still live or is it dead?

Funny story about that one. I bought a bunch of links and pointed them to a bunch of pages, but I’ve not actually done anything to it at all, apart from changing the Amazon affiliate ID to mine. It’s grown and grown and grown, just with the link. That site itself in January, it was in February, sorry, the commission went to absolute zero. I’m like, “Ah, well, fair enough. I made my money, whatever.” I’ve probably been de-indexed and I just wasn’t that [inaudible 00:26:07], and then I was looking at Sam Rush and all that and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, rankings going, oh well, never mind,” but I didn’t actually go load the website. For some reason I went and I tried to load the website and it was offline. I went, “Wait a minute.” So I goes through my emails and it turns out that I just forgot to pay the hosting bill [crosstalk 00:02:27]. Put it back up and put it back online and it’s ranking again and making money again. [crosstalk 00:26:37] When it comes to building, I started a black hat. Did I ever tell you that?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, for Scrapebox and all that stuff.

Yep. X Rummer was an absolute dream. Scrapeboxboard. Not a lot of people talk about that. Scrapebox was the Forum spam version of scrapebox . SE Nuke, that was good. Yeah, I’ve not done it, I wouldn’t know what works anymore, it at all. I’ve just not done it in so long.

That stuff is proper spam. In terms of what people think is, guest posting, people say I never buy a link or don’t do this and don’t do that. I mean what is your thoughts on that?

It depends who you’re dealing with. If I’m building links for one of my multinational corporate clients, not only is it a bad idea, because it creates footprints and it could potentially damage them. They’re so big that it’s never going to move the needle because you need to have such huge power to rank for, the term genes, just genes, massive head term or more bites, massive head term. How do you rank for that? Probably not with guest posts, but if you’re running an eCommerce website and you want to get some links into a page that, this is the problem with PR is it usually goes, the links go to the home page or a blog post, not the product. You have to put guest posts into the mix and you can be smart with it. You don’t need to be the dummy who’s doing an advanced operator saying NURL, write for us plus a keyword, like a million other ASU guys and then buying a link on some bullshit article site. You can be smart about it. I think the best links to buy that are actually the ones based on who you know.

So getting introductions to site owners that either, you know or I know, and doing it like that is the smart way to do it. Back channelling and relationship building, but guest posting works. We do it at scale for our clients, we sometimes pay for them, we sometimes don’t, it just depends on what’s happening. I spoke to a lot of agency people who will not publicly admit to doing it, which I think is really disingenuous and we have to have a grown-up conversation about what works and what doesn’t. Yes, getting links in the Telegraph and the Guardian is where we should be going, but it’s expensive. It’s hard. It takes a long time. Let me talk to you about ethics actually. Do you think it’s ethical, so if I know exactly how to rank a website, but I deliberately choose not to do it, but still take your money every month because of some white hat/black hat ethics debate. Am I being the good guy or the bad guy? I know how to rank it and I’m deliberately not.

I would say you’re being the bad guy of course. If you’re taking someone’s money and not implementing what you know, because people are not coming to you for the good or the bad guy in my opinion. People are coming to you to rank a website and utilize your experience and everything else to rank a business. These guys don’t know what bloody white hat or black hat is anyway. They should just be coming to you, I’m not saying, certain clients will probably give different instructions, but in most cases, people are coming to you saying Ross, come on man, you’ve [inaudible 00:30:11], you’ve scrimped and scraped your way up there. Do some of that shit for my business, how do you, and you should be implementing what you know rather than what you believe to be the right thing as such, and that’s where-

The whole PR verse guest posting thing, we try and get it to a better place so you don’t need to spend money on creative to do good PR. If you regionalize it, it really works well. If you get a random dataset for somewhere in America, there are two and a half thousand local and [inaudible 00:30:47] newspapers in the States, they’ve all got a DR of 80 plus, and I can programmatically email every single one of them with a perfect story. 10 to 20% will say yes and put it live. There you go, you’ve just got your client two at four hundred DR 80 links in a matter of a couple of months. That doesn’t happen all the time, of course it doesn’t, but the times it does, it completely transforms their business. Pros and cons.

Yeah, no, I think with anything though, it’s all about doing things in moderation, if you’re going to do guest posts or whatever it’s going to be, do it in moderation and do it with some kind of purpose, don’t just go out and spam it. I think for me, in terms of how I conduct my own brand and stuff like that, I’m not wanting to do anything that’s going to risk that. Get some fired up GAC or any of that kind of garbage, it’s all about opinion and podcasts and putting the time in, and the effort. Get some PR and agree, it’s not always good PR. Yeah, I can work on that. But I think doing things along, when did we definitely as the way that that works and obviously those, the odd little thing here or the other may be slightly sketchy, but if you want to talk about your weight, height and blood type. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a case of doing what works and and that’s what keeps clients in the longterm.

So and that’s really, I think a lot of people see and think you’re just an agency basher and this and that because an agency doesn’t work for you. An agency that worked for me, I had a successful business from it and I don’t like bashing agencies. What, the real thing I do bash is that whole thing where people are saying one thing and doing another or not implementing what they actually know works and taking people’s money. That’s what I have a problem with. And I think a lot of agencies are set up in that we are not saying any specific agency, but I think there’s a lot of agencies out there who will take your money and not implement what works. They’re doing something completely different.

I can honestly tell you then, we’ve had a client now for six months and we’ve done zero implementation. I’ve billed them every single month and we’ve done no implementation, but I’ve given them documents. What do you think about that?

It depends on what’s on those documents. I think, you’ve got to tell me something ridiculous like this is a two or three year project and it needed six months worth of documents to then go out and implement it. So that would be a good thing. If it’s taking you six months to pull everything together, document this stuff and I don’t know what the purpose of that client is. Where you might be passing that onto the development team. There may be that much wrong with the website that’s taking you six months to document it. Then that’s good value for money and hopefully, that client after you implement that stuff and have the budget to do that, then that’s a good thing.

I mean on the flip side of that, I’ve had people come to me saying [inaudible 00:34:09] , I’ve been to this agency and they’ve taken my money for three months and they’ve come back with some keyword research. I mean that’s a [inaudible 00:34:17]. And so it really depends on what’s in that document that and knowing you, there’s going to be a lot of stuff, actionable stuff and you’ve pooled a lot of stuff done a lot of, site audits and late hosts and everything else and pulling all that together to then go and give them a plan of action is going to give them value. So I couldn’t knock that and so that is what you’re going to tell me to right?

You’ve nailed it actually. Yeah. So that’s sort of national insurance brand, in order to get anything on their site, we need to make business cases. In order to make business cases, there needs to be like a full throughput of why we’re doing it, [inaudible 00:34:56], and all the rest of it. So all we’re doing is we’re, once we win the client’s business, we’re then in a mode of internally pitching all the different people in their business to get shit done. And if we get them to implement like a title tag update, it can be three months, it can be six months because there are so many layers of stuff we need to go through to get it done. Other times I literally, the first thing I do with small businesses, I put them on links immediately. The same way where you’re going to a hospital, you put in a drip, regardless of what’s showing you. So I just think it’s a smart thing to do. So it depends.

Yeah, no it depends. But I think what people like you and you know, we’ve got lots of guys in this industry who are all very smart. Your [inaudible 00:27:39], and I could go on and on and on with very smart SEO gays in this industry. And you would know that if they said it’s going to take three or four months for documentation, then that’s what the job is. But as I see it, there’s ingenious, horrible agencies. Some of these who have just ripped someone off for six months and then had some short document that says, here are your top 20 keywords, here’s, you may want to do some [inaudible 00:28:11] on LinkedIn. You know those things. It’s just a joke, it’s beyond a joke.

Ross Tavendale:
That’s a joke. And the thing is there’s a lot of that out there. But if you think about an agency as a business type, it’s actually quite a shit business because you think of the people that are doing the work. So you create frameworks and you create templates and systems so that every time a new client comes on, you can do it faster and cheaper for them. So you can get more margin out of it. But if you then think about the people that are doing it, you’re hiding, you’re trying to think people who don’t know their value, their true value yet, and you’re technically underpaying them for a period of time and then they leave in two years.

And that’s the entire agency model and agency cycle. You’ve got a bunch of smart strategists at the top actually working out how to do all this stuff, and you’ve got a bunch of very junior people that are happy to learn on the job and they’re doing the implementation. Because if you think about the financial model of an agency, we have a theory. So we’ll charge 600 pounds a day, which for London, it’s very cheap.

The whole agency?

600 a day blended rate for the entire agency.

I mean that’s cheap.

Yeah, I think. I think so. But because of that, trying to give them value inside of that you need to be, and also we do a four day work week, so I’ve immediately taken 20% of my margin and put it in a bin. It’s hard work. So the modelling is today, a lot of people are just templatizing things and bashing out, which is the wrong way to do it. Teaching people-first principles and then giving them thinking frameworks instead of doing frameworks. So we typically deal with that, but most agencies are not set up for that. They’ve got a framework that if you as the client do not fit in it, they’re just going to smash you into it. And if you don’t get results, they don’t care cause they’ve signed you up to a 12-month contract with no break clause and they’ll take your money and you’ll churn just like everyone else. So it’s a pretty awful business. So doing it differently, that’s probably why we’ve been so successful because we don’t do things like that and we retain our clients.

Yeah. But one question I do want to ask. Out of uni, not uni, but agencies in general. There’s a lot of waffle as you said, in terms of internal pension and all this kind of bullshit that goes on, which I would find personally very frustrating because I’m more of a guy that just wants to get his hands in, fix things or delegate things to get fixed or whatever it’s going to be. But you realistically, your clients must be [inaudible 00:38:38] and money on all this kind of waffle with you? Like if you want to call it that, you know what has to be done and stuff like that

But in terms of working for that big client that you mentioned there, you know the six months worth of documentation and how much actually is what gets done on a client with that, there must be millions spent, what percentage-wise and with dealing with that kind of business is actually going to be done on a patch in and all the kind of bull shit and how much is actually going to get done on implementation? Surely it must be 20% on implementation, 80% on bull shit that doesn’t actually mean anything

Yeah, there’s a lot of that. I mean for some of the national clients or the international clients, it will be probably 50-50 at the start. The first six months is usually like auditing and documentation, but actually once you’re in, you get a lot done really quickly. So we went from a period of, with this particular client, six months of absolutely nothing. To every single week pushing new live updates to the site because we were in and they trusted the process. And that site’s now got a 30% increase in year-over-year traffic, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re doing tens of millions of clicks, that is a lot. So, but it took there’s a phrase that says, if I had an hour to cut down a tree, I’d spend the first 45 minutes sharpening the ax. That’s like what we’re doing here.

Yeah. No, it’s interesting stuff that… But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and the client is always right in that respect. If you need to do internal pitches, that’s all good and well. But what I’d love to know is clearly you cannot physically audit every website and you’ll be involved in every single part of that process. You’ve got guys in your office who do certain parts of it, but I’m assuming you still do a lot of the pitching, right?

I do all the sales, yeah. But in terms of day to day client management is not me. That was a hard one actually. A lot of the clients complained about that early doors because they felt like they were buying me. We’ve got 25 clients, one of them for example, has a couple million URLs. I can’t do that. That’s a team of people. That’s not just one person. I forgot your original question, but no, I don’t do it. We’ve got an account structure, so we don’t have departments. So usually you’ll have the [SEO 00:41:13] team and the tech team, the PR team, the design, whatever. We have client teams. So we’ll have two portfolios and they’ve got about 10 to 15 clients in them each. And we actually base it off of a total retainer value. So each portfolio has got X amount of monthly spend and that’s managed by group account directors. Then they have account managers underneath them and they have executives underneath them.

Interesting. No, I think the problem we both probably faced though is people want you, people buy into people, they probably couldn’t give a shit about [Type A Media 00:41:50] to be honest. People buy into you. And I had a guy the other week there actually who wanted training with us, I say us because I do have a team as well. And the client came to us and said, “Right, we need some consultancy on this.” Which is fine, I can consult. “We need some training for some content writers to understand how the keyword research internal linking adding it to the websites and all that bullshit and we need some of this and some of that.” So they went, “Yeah, that’s all good.” We pitched them, we said, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.”

And then the client phoned up and said, “It has to be Craig that does the training for the content people.” And my business partner, Colin is like, “Do you really think Craig is going to be teaching people how to do keyword research? His time is not best suited to that.” How do you deal with that? People are buying into you as a person, but maybe not always getting you at the meeting, is that a problem and if so, how do you resolve that? Because I’d love to know for my own personal benefit because it’s a pain. I’m not going to sit there and…

I’ve trained guys and guys who’ve delivered training courses for years and years and years and shown someone how to use Google Analytics or something, I’m not interested in talking about it and I’m not going to deliver that part of the training. If there’s something more advanced of course, I’ll come in and be part of that. Are you the same?

I’m exactly the same. So clients will say things like, “Oh, you’re just getting the top brass out for the pitch and then we’re just going to get some juniors at the end of it?” And the answer is yes and no. So what I’d say to them is, “What do you want? Do you want your senior strategist to be sitting in your website, changing broken internal links? Or are you happy with one of the juniors doing that?” They’re like, “Well obviously one of the juniors.” I’m like, “Right.”

So the way in which we’ve done it is the training is very full-on at Type A. We’ve got frameworks for everything. You’ve probably heard me talk about rest and boom and disco and the four D’s and all that sort of stuff. And that’s what they get. And what I’d say to them is, “The reason why you actually don’t want me on your account, because I’m not good.” Is the answer because I’m not, if you want to audit a website, you want my group account director to do that because he or she is absolutely phenomenal at that and they do it all day everyday uninterrupted, I don’t. I put together strategy decks on what we need to do to get this into your business.

So actually, it’s pick the right person for the right job. And it’s just being humble with them and being like, “You know what? If you want tech, let’s get the tech guy, the specialist to do that. I can do a bit of all of it, but you really want the specialist.” And that’s the whole point of buying an agency is you get a little bit of everyone’s specialism in one package. [inaudible 00:44:48] that they want me. What am I good at? Talking shite, that’s my main…

That’s a good way to put it in. As long as your ego allows you to joke about it in that way because at the end of the day, we all have teams and processes and we have to delegate stuff because as you say, you cannot go and [inaudible 00:45:10] a million URLs or cast your eye over a million URLs or whatever the hell it’s going to be. And you know what? But yeah, we wouldn’t want you doing that either, your time is better suited to coming up with some lame jokes, and doing the Canonical Chronicle. But well I think it’s one of those things we’ll just have to deal with it. There’s no right or wrong answer. People are still saying, “That got to be him.” And I’ve never found a good solution to that. But other than doing crappy videos and scaring people off, they don’t want to deal with me, this what I’m [inaudible 00:45:47] now with this TikTok thing and everything else, just scare people away from me going, “This guy is fucking insane.”

You don’t need videos for people to think that Craig.

Yeah. But just to end it because we don’t want to bore everyone to death with agency talk and stuff like that. But what’s going to be happening going forward? Is it going to be more of the same agency life? Are you going to delve into some other stuff? Are you going to invest in stuff? I know you invest your money in stocks and things like that, but is there anything else that you haven’t told anyone yet what the plans are for the future?

Yeah. I don’t think the agency model is going to be around for the next few years. I think it’s a bust of an industry or it will need to… I think my friend Chris Simmons says that he thinks that SEOs will be the same way that accountants are at the moment. The software will get so good, Google would get so good that you’ll need to add like a top level consultant or a strategist. You won’t really need anyone to do any implementation. And the function of an agency will very rapidly change. It’s typically the agencies are the thinkers or the doers. And we’re a kind of a mixture of both.

I’m moving into product, so I’ve got a tool called [Needle 00:47:11] that we’re building. So we’ve got a dedicated team of people, six people sitting constantly just dedicated to it. Needle is essentially something that, it’s a journalist search engine, we can put any piece of content in and it will match it to 100 million articles from the Google News API and give you the exact journalist that you need to contact.

We’re building a lot more SEO tools as well as part of that. So, that’s where our big focus is going to be in terms of diversification. The agency that we’re also just growing into exclusively enterprise only clients. So we’re saying no to a lot of the smaller businesses that we work with now, or they ask to work with us and we’re only going for large brands where we can actually make a difference and we’re training our people to more like management consultants than SEO people. That’s the way that we’re starting to move it, so that you’ll come to us for the strategy and the documentation, not for the implementation.

One other thing I do want to ask you, and I think … I’m not sure if your thought’s changed on it. I know at one point, you mentioned to me last year that you were always going to have clients on a level retainer. You didn’t want to work with big, big, big clients, because if one of them drop off, it could affect … impacts 30% of your revenue. I know you’re saying you still want enterprise clients, but are you still trying to implement a level retainer structure as well?

Yeah, absolutely. With the PR and outreach stuff, it’s all productized, so there’s a single cost. For every campaign, it’s five K a month retainer, and then you buy an asset to do the outreach, which is a one off fee between six and ten grand. To do a decent campaign every quarter, you’re looking at 25 grand, and that’s just a fixed rate. The reason is because the bell curve of outreach, it’s interesting. Seeing you’re doing any sort of outreach stuff, there’s only so much that you can build links and touch people for any given idea. There’s a hard limit to the amount you can do there. You can increase your data in your prices, but it gets less competitive for the client, so I’ve moved to that, yep.

But I’m actually now moving into enterprises based on whatever they need, and it’s a bespoke fee structure, the reason being we do link building for some of the biggest retail businesses in the world and some of the smallest, little niche eCommerce stores in the world as the same work. The difference being that one will pay you 30 grand to do it and expect 10 links a month, and one will pay you three and expect 100 links a month. You can get a lot more of those small eCommerce ones, and you can actually move the needle, and do a lot more for them. But for the exact same work, I’d rather get paid considerably more, which sounds very greedy, but it’s just business, really.

Business is business and you’ve got to see it as a business transaction. That’s why we’re all here at the end of the day. You want to sail off into the sunset with wads of cash, and tell your story or whatever it’s going to be. But I think it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on becoming more of a consultant strategist than doing the donkey work. I think Chris Simmonds, that’s obviously, you’ve said that’s his thoughts. I would tend to agree with that. I think agencies are going to die out over the next few years, just because clients are becoming more and more aware and savvier and one teaming and stuff like that. I think people [inaudible 00:51:10] your brand is a key part of trying to maintain that presence there.

That’s good, and hopefully the middle two, if you ever need a beta tester or anyone to try and pick it apart, give me a shout, man. I’d definitely be up for having a go on that and seeing what the hell you’ve got there, because I love tools and automation and everything. Be keen to see that. When are these tools coming out? Is there any kind of launch date?

First of May everything’s coming out. We’re going to have a … We actually had the cinema booked to do a big launch party, so our videographer’s doing some proper advertising, still videos and stuff like that. But because this fucking virus, I think we’ll need to cancel the launch party.

Nobody’s been invited yet. But you would be the crown jewel at the front of the show, definitely. But the tool yeah, if you want it, I’ll send it over to you to test. If anyone’s listening to this who wants to test it, email me, Ross@TypiMedia.co.uk and I’ll send you a link to it to test that out. It looks pretty good, man. I’m pretty happy with it. What we’re going to do with it after the initial release is going to be quite interesting. We’re setting up an affiliate program for it. 60% commissions lifetime, so hopefully that will help us grow it pretty considerably.

Exactly. If you rate your press release, it uses natural language processing to pull out all the entities in it with a [Salian 00:53:12] score. If you’re writing about SEO, the Salian score would be one. Then inside that, you’d have things like Salian score of two, and it would go down and down and down. If I then compare that to the last 100 million fresh articles from the Google news API, it will literally do the exact same thing to them and match it with a weighted score, and then give you the email address and all that of the journalists. Eventually, you’ll be able to just click a button and patch them without needing an email. But that’s for phase two.

Interesting. Interesting stuff. Well, I won’t waste any more of your time, Ross, because it’s probably been a long day and we’ve both been on a webinar prior to this as well, so talking and talking and talking, you probably don’t want to do and you probably want to go away. But it’d be great to have you on again in the future, even to talk about the tool specifically that you’re launching. We could do a show on that if you’re up for that. Get a better promotion going to that, because smart guys are always making smart things, and I think the audience would love to dig deeper into that tool and what it does and all that kind of stuff. We hopefully will be able to get ahold of you at some point in the future as well.

Find Ross’s agency Type A Media here.

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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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