How We Started A $100K/Month Marketing Agency During Our Honeymoon In Costa Rica

$100,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
20
Employees
product
Impressions Agency
from Denver
started June 2013
$100,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
20
Employees
1.14M
alexa rank
46
followers
32
followers

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

From Honeymoon to Prosperous Company

I’m Travis Richardson. My wife Charisa and I started our company Impressions Agency in 2013--an online digital marketing agency. At that time we were living in Costa Rica on the beach. Our end goal then was to pay our bills of $800 per month (dreaming big :)) while living the Pura Vida lifestyle. My hidden motive was to turn our Costarican experience into an indefinite honeymoon. At that time we had been married for 6 months.

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica

Our initial goal was to offer online marketing services including websites, social media, and blog content for an affordable price (remember, we were just trying to make that $800 per month salary). We have evolved over the past 6 years into an all-inclusivedigital marketing solution for small to midsize businesses.

Our product offerings include everything from SEO strategy and implementation, building significant sales funnels, building paid marketing channels, branding and brand management, web development, and more. Since our primary clients are small business owners their identities are changing year in and year out. Our goal is to be nimble alongside our clients so we can help them overcome their marketing hurdles as they are growing their companies. We have since grown into a healthy, prosperous company with a mobile team that spans around the globe.

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Prior to starting Impressions, I had the opportunity to work for a tech start-up company as a senior sales rep. My wife (although we were not dating at the time) also worked for the same company as a project manager. During this time, we both learned invaluable lessons about what to do and what not to do in business. You always hear about how hands-on experience is more valuable than education and this was exactly our case. We helped grow the tech startup from our living rooms into a multi-million dollar company. Mismanaged leadership ended up running the company off a cliff within three years.

At the end of when this company was blowing up was when my wife and I got married. I was worn out from the hassle and dealing with the blows brought by the mismanaged leadership so my wife and I jumped ship and decided to move to Costa Rica--the hard lessons learned made the Costa Rica extended honeymoon look extremely attractive.

Just start. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you begin. In fact, to this day we are still figuring things out. Each season of your business will provide a new learning opportunity.

Initially, my original goal was to create a service that could create recurring revenue of $100 per month. My experience with the tech company, along with my salesman mentality, and living remote made online marketing the perfect fit. Our initial product was blogs, social media, and website development.

Living in Costa Rica started igniting a passion in both my wife and I to help provide economic growth to people in second and third world countries. It was the perfect time to start a business. We were living on nothing and realized we didn’t need much. We developed relationships during that time that have blossomed throughout the years and made Impressions what it is today.

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I’m very much a ‘let’s figure things out as we go’ type of person. I just began finding us work and we started figuring things out as we went. Our phase one product was simply blogs, social media, and website design. We created a packaged product where we would manage client’s websites, post blogs, and post to their social media accounts.

Recognizing very quickly that we needed to deliver more than just a blog to a client, we started learning how to develop more of an SEO strategy. The customer didn’t care much about the blogs--in fact, we found that they didn’t even really look at them. What they cared about was getting the leads, calls, or foot traffic. Our goal was to keep clients forever and we started learning quickly that in order to do that we needed to adapt by showing our clients how to make more money from our services. My $100 per month recurring product quickly evolved into a more well-rounded marketing solution.

Fast forward a few months and due to some personal circumstances, we moved back to Denver. Our extended time on the beach confirmed to me that my 28-year-old self missed the hustle. I needed to get back to the grind. We moved home with nothing and into my grandma’s basement. I made an agreement with Charisa that we would live in the basement for 3 months and if I couldn’t make things happen I’d go find a job. Now I needed to get Impressions Agency established. It was time to hit the pavement.

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica

Describe the process of launching the business.

To give you more incite about myself, when I’m discouraged, depressed or having a hard day, one of my favorite things to do is cold call (sick I know). So applying this to the three-month agreement I made with Charisa that we’d be moving out of the basement equaled the formula of applying what I knew how to do best--cold calling to get in front of a lot of potential customers.

Part of our mission is to build long-term relationships and to truly be effective in this area it requires us to be flexible and to sometimes lose profit. When a customer is hurting, we are hurting.

On one of our first days back from Costa Rica. I was cold calling with my brother-in-law (family is always easy to pull in). My mentality was “watch and learn as I call this plumbing company”. I dialed a plumbing company and the first thing the guy did was call me a solicitor and hung up. I looked at Caleb and said: “what do you do when someone hangs up on you?” He says “You call the next person”. Nope. You call again. And this is your one-liner: “I’m sorry sir. My phone must have gotten disconnected. When would be a good time to talk to you about your company?:” He, of course, replied with “No, we did not get disconnected. I hung up on you. (click)”. He hung up again. I looked at my brother-in-law and said now what do you do? He says: “call the next person”. Nope. We call again.

On the third and final time we called him back you can imagine his fury. You could feel it through the phone. He proceeds to hang up again. This time we moved on. Low and behold 5 minutes later this angry plumber called the company line to complain. What he didn’t know was that the business line transferred to my cell phone 😀. He proceeded to complain about these awful sales guys and then began to recognize my voice. I told him that I’m the owner of the company and the reason I was calling him is that I believe he was an industry leader (another one-liner) in Denver and I only work with industry leaders. The tables now turned. He suddenly wanted to meet with us. At that time I told him because of his attitude from the previous calls that we would not like to meet. The point is, you’ll get 10 no’s before you get to that one yes. Pushing through is the difference-maker. In the early stages of the game, this is what made us successful.

We started a business on the beach with no money. We didn’t take out loans or borrow any money from friends. We put in time and lots of it. We knew one thing and that was work and work hard. The biggest lesson we learned during the beginning season was it takes hard work. Another thing we learned was to adapt quickly. In our industry, this is a must. Things change fast and if we weren’t keeping up, we weren’t keeping clients.

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica Cold calling in the basement

how-we-started-a-100k-month-marketing-agency-during-our-honeymoon-in-costa-rica

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Hands-down our customer service. Sure everyone says this but what sets us apart is our ability to wear our hearts on our sleeves and actually care for our clients. Part of our mission is to build long-term relationships and to truly be effective in this area it requires us to be flexible and to sometimes lose profit. At the end of the day, we know that life happens. It happens for us and our clients.

When a customer is hurting, we are hurting. A couple of examples include: for seasonal clients we adjust budget to work with them during their low season, when another client was in the hospital we gifted them marketing at no cost, this also means that our support manager may spend an hour on the phone with a client before they even talk about support issues. When I’m in a meeting, if someone wants to know what sets us apart, I send them to our clients to ask them.

In the beginning, what worked for us to attract customers was our pricing model. We could keep our costs lower than our competitors due to our mobility and this gave us an edge. We have niche our company to target small to midsize* local* businesses. If you are looking for customers within a specific radius of your brick and mortar with our pricing and the results we can provide it is hard for these types of businesses to say no to us. This has helped us identify who our ideal customers are and also helps us attract new clientele.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

You wouldn’t think this about me when you first meet me, but I live, breath and dream in numbers. I took advice from a mentor who told me to try new things but be just as fast to let them go if they don’t produce results. Aligning that thinking with the fact that numbers don’t lie--they’re not emotional, they are raw and real-- and they will show you if you are winning or losing has built our storyline. This concept with two other parts--identifying how to build a premium, affordable, results-driven service, and developing our company team culture--has made us the successful company we are today.

Our formula is the same today as it was in the beginning: we test out new strategies or platforms and track the results to identify if it is working or not working. If it is producing results we learn how to dial in the systems to make it more scalable to produce stronger returns. If it is an area we can apply technology to, we may build it out ourselves instead of paying a premium subscription base. (Only if the numbers make sense).

These concepts keep our company lean, adaptable to industry changes and allow us to scale quickly. Due to this and our company’s mobility, our profit margins are about 20% higher than our competition. I can proudly say that out of the 6 years we’ve been in business, we have only been in the red two months--and that was in the first few months of being in business.

We have always had a subscription-based model. We sell recurring services. Our distribution channels initially were all direct sales. About 2 years ago it shifted to completely word-of-mouth. I was traveling a couple of years back and I was hit with this thought: would the company survive without me? This thought shifted my focus. I began putting time and resources into developing our internal operations and processes. Most of 2018 and 2019 we have poured our energy into growing things internally.

We hired someone to come in and audit every element of our business. After that audit, we began working on developing playbooks for literally every moving piece. We saw where we were making mistakes and where we needed to invest time or resources into building up our company’s foundation. We shifted from that start-up mentality of everyone does everything to defining roles and expectations for every teammate. We really have fine-tuned who needs to sit where and in what seat on our bus. Due to this, we introduced a profit-sharing model to our core teammates. If they uphold their expectations, they get a monthly profit-sharing bonus. We are coming to a close on this internal focus and feel like our company is stronger than it has ever been. We are excited to walk into 2020 to test our foundation to see how much we can really hold.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way is that my ability to lead with my heart often leaves me blindsided. Unfortunately, it has been a repetitive pattern that I still have to fight against. For me, the mistakes mostly come with hiring. I like to pull out the potential in people, which is a great skill set, but that has left me blind to their true abilities. I have high hopes that things will work out and push for that and then a few months down the road my team comes to me with a laundry list of problems.

It has taken me a while to identify that this is an issue, but through the patterns, I’ve been able to see that it is a problem. Due to our company culture, I have a team that has challenged me in this area and because of it, I’ve started to set boundaries around it. I realize that some of our team have great track records of bringing quality people to the table. Now because of this, I also allow these teammates to come alongside me in the hiring process. We are continuing to grow in this area and have people in place who audit any new potential hires.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Good tools are key to business. My wife is the process and systems person on our team and I can say she has trial and error a lot of different tools and still does to this day. One thing we aren’t afraid to do is to try something fast and ditch it just as fast.

Wordpress is the platform we build everything on--our website and our clients. Our company’s onboarding process is all set-up through our website using Gravity Forms. It allows us to automate a big chunk of our onboarding processes. We are huge google fans so Gsuite, the Drive and Hangouts we use every day.

For project management, we use Redbooth. It is easy to use and flexible for our needs. Our support system and knowledge base is set-up through Helpscout. We made the switch away from Zendesk a year ago and it has been a fantastic decision. For social media, we use Sendible. Not a lot of social media platforms allow you to post to Google My Business and to Instagram and Sendible does. For SEO tracking we, of course, use Google analytics and paired it with other great tools like Ravenand Oribi.

Since our team is 100% mobile, we also use different freelance platforms for various needs. Upwork has been our go-to for developers (like anything, it can be hit or miss) and we recently started using OnlineJobs | ph--a platform to search for help in the Philippines. Fiverr comes in handy every once in a while as well.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

One of my favorite podcasts is Bigger Pockets. And not necessarily because of the Real Estate elements, but I learn from the strategies that other entrepreneurs are using to build their Real Estate fortunes.

Two great books have changed the direction of our company is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, and The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. I recommend them both.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just start. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you begin. In fact, to this day we are still figuring things out. Each season of your business will provide a new learning opportunity.

Less is more. Back in the beginning stages Charisa and I were sitting in the tide pools in Costa Rica and she challenged me. Why do we need an office? Of course a year or so later I was revisiting the same thought...we need an office. Shared offices were becoming trendy and it seemed logical. Well thankfully I decided to listen and we held off on pursuing an office space. It has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. We can keep our costs down and offer a more affordable solution for our clients. I have also pushed my team in the less is more area a ton. Why do we need to hire someone else? How can we become leaner and mean? Is everyone in the right seat on the bus?

A mentor once told me: try new things but be fast to recognize if they work or don’t work. If they don’t work, be even quicker to let them go. Don’t waste resources on things that won’t produce results.

But truthfully, my biggest advice is don’t do it unless you are willing to get knocked down again and again. If you are aspiring to be an entrepreneur you must be 100% bought in at all times. If you question that, chances are it isn’t for you. And for the significant others out there, if you are in a relationship with an entrepreneur the one thing you must know is that you’ll be in for a crazy ride.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always in the market for good hires--if that is full-stack developers, front-end developers, sales guys, or content writers. Drop us a line if you are interested.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Travis Richardson,   Founder of Impressions Agency

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