How I Started A $500K/Month Full Service Digital And Affiliate Marketing Agency
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Billy Ash and I’m the Co-Founder and Chief Digital Officer of Today’s Business. We are a full-service digital marketing agency. We are one of the only full service digital and affiliate marketing agencies in the world.
Our flagship services are search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), website development & maintenance, affiliate marketing program management, social media marketing, creative design, athlete/influencer marketing, and email marketing. Our customers span across a variety of industries but a few of the most prominent include:
- Physician groups & hospitals
- Physical Therapy
- Women’s Health
- E-commerce & direct to consumer brands
- Food & Beverage
- Tech & SaaS
- Consumer Packaged Goods
This journey has been an unbelievable ride and throughout the past 9 years, we have been blessed to be able to work with some pretty amazing clients such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Menlo Club, Kushner Properties, Wet Brush, Illinois Bone & Joint Institute and countless others. I think one of the best testaments to our growth is when we made the Inc 5000 list in both 2018 and 2019 as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I attended St. Leo University in Tampa Bay, Florida and graduated in 2011. I was going to get into financial advising but found out quickly that it wasn’t for me. I got my start in digital marketing working for the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour while still in Tampa. Not long after I had started my digital marketing career, I had heard some news from my dad about how a friend from high school was getting some local press. This friend was typically in local news, as he was one of the best quarterbacks in the state of New Jersey, but this time it was for a marketing company that he had started. My dad suggested I reach out to see how I can get involved and after a deep conversation about what they were trying to do I told them I could help them.
My friend from high school, Chaz Cervino, and his partner who he had met playing football at Hofstra University, Tom Ottaiano, felt I brought a lot of value to the team and brought me on as a partner and Chief Digital Officer not long after our initial convo.
When I joined the company we were a networking type of business. We were like a Meet-Up.com combined with LinkedIn. Our first event was a huge success but after hearing my partner Chaz’s father had heard a poor pitch for Twitter management services he suggested we take a look at getting into social media marketing. We pivoted quickly as we identified a better way to monetize and scale.
Most things you want to learn or need to know you can find in a Google search. You just need to take the time to do that search and have the focus to figure it out.
When we started doing social media management it was before Facebook was public and before Instagram had taken off. We helped people have conversations with their customers online, manage their reputation, monitor their accounts 24/7, and used time optimization to ensure posts were reaching the right audience at the right time.
We started building unbelievable relationships through successful campaigns and great customer service. We were starting to be known as “the social media guys” and our clients quickly asked for us to expand our services beyond just social media management. We soon started taking on SEO, website development and paid media management services. As the industry evolved we have always stayed up to date with the most recent trends and did what we needed to do to be innovative and provide value to our clients.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When it comes to designing the products we honestly winged it. My business partners would get us in the room with business owners and decision-makers and we would sell them on us. It was crazy, but we would literally just give a compelling pitch on the fly and then figure out all of the logistics later.
We started a huge internship program, thanks to a partnership with Seton Hall and other local colleges, that helped us fulfill the work. We created content calendars for our clients and provided them a month in advance so clients could make any edits needed and approve everything before we published the posts that were scheduled. As we grew, we started hiring more Account Managers to help us retain our clients and make sure they are happy. We then started hiring people for specialized positions. To date, 90% of our employees have come through our internship programs.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Today’s Business is 100% self-funded. We started with $400 in my business partner’s basement and bootstrapped everything. We have been through some ups and downs through the years when it comes to financing the operations but we still have yet to take on an investor.
One of the biggest challenges we’ve had with recruiting and retaining employees. We are a service-based business so our people dictate the results and experiences that are clients receive. It is incredibly challenging to grow a business and keep your clients happy without the right team. As a small marketing agency in New Jersey, we had to find ways to compete against huge NYC agencies for the top talent. We were signing huge clients but didn’t have people who were competent enough to manage these clients. So employee turnover and client turnover have been big challenges for us.
Every time we have tried to do too much we’ve failed. There is only so much one person can manage at a time.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When it comes to attracting and retaining customers we have tried everything. I think it is easiest to break this down into two segments:
- Attracting Clients:
- Tapping into your personal networks
- Engaging and posting on social
- Producing good results for your clients...this is our number one source of business
- SEO: You have to rank for your brand name as well as non-brand queries
PR: Lots of people have heard of us through our athlete and influencer relationships that have created great exposure for us. Speaking engagements work for us
Being transparent with your clients
Being proactive. If you have an issue or are going to miss a deadline you’re better off telling them in advance.
Know what is important to your client! This is the most vital part of client retention. If your client has a board to report to you should ask them who is on that board, when they meet with the board and how you can help them with their presentation.
- Attracting Clients:
- Over-promising aka setting poor expectations
Spending marketing dollars without a plan or analytics properly set-up
Switching account managers
Not listening to your clients’ needs
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
A lot of things have changed over the years but I’m very proud of where we are at right now. We made a lot of adjustments to help source and retain better talent and we’ve found a team that is incredibly passionate, skilled, and happy with their jobs. One of the biggest things we implemented was work from home Wednesdays. We found that there are a lot of well-experienced employees who don’t want to work in NYC. We have been able to get great talent from south Jersey and from north of NYC by adding work from home Wednesdays and ending business hours at 2:30 pm on Fridays. We’ve also begun to cater lunch for our employees twice per week which saves a ton of time and money for our team.
Adding these perks along with monthly team bonding has helped us create an awesome team culture that our clients and potential employees can feel.
Additionally, on the product side, we have made some big improvements. We have tightened our relationship with and added a lot more hours to some of our highly skilled partners who we have worked with part-time. I’ve never been more proud of our website development process and product that we are putting out. We’ve also been building customized Google Data Studio dashboards for each of our clients so they can view the metrics that are important to them without any hassle.
These updates have allowed us to retain our staple clients and bring on some really cool new clients such as the economic development organization for the state of NJ, Choose New Jersey.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest thing we’ve learned is the importance of focus. Every time we have tried to do too much we’ve failed. There is only so much one person can manage at a time and you can’t simply hire new people and expect them to solve your problems or manage new services.
We are now focusing on our core competencies and being cautious of how much we are able to take on so we can grow and scale effectively. Although we’d love to help everyone trying to take on too much does more harm than good. I’d rather slowly build and do things right than creating a situation where we can’t live up to expectations with our clients. But by building things the right way with the right people, we will be able to keep our great reputation and pick and choose the clients that we feel will have the most mutually beneficial partnerships.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Websites : WordPress, WPengine, Pinegrow
- SEO : SEMrush, BrightLocal, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics
- Reporting : Google Data Studios, Ninja
- Affiliate Marketing : Pepperjam, Impact, Share-A-Sale, Tune
- Social Media : Sprout Social, Facebook Business & Ads Manager, Pinterest Ads Manager, LinkedIn
- Project Management : Teamwork
- CRM : Teamwork
- Internal Live Chat : Teamwork
- Email Marketing : Mailchimp, Constant Contact
- Landing Pages : Instapage
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin
- Performance Partnerships by Robert Glazer
- Learn Digital Advertising Rick Maggio
- Bruce Clay
- Group Chat Podcast with Dee Murthy, Anand Murthy, and Chris “Drama” Pfaff
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It’s all about focus and effort. I tell people all the time that digital marketing is not that hard, it is very logical. It’s just a matter of putting in the work. Most things you want to learn or need to know you can find in a Google search. You just need to take the time to do that search and have the focus to figure it out. Also, the more you talk with others in the industry the quicker you’ll find tools and best practices that can help improve team efficiency. If you want to be an entrepreneur you better be ready to fully invest your life to the craft.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are looking to hire Account Managers and Digital Marketing Strategists who have multiple years of experience and align with our company culture. These are full-time positions.
We are also looking for a Public Relations specialist who is interested in joining the team.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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