How I Started A $350K/Month SEO Agency
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Rick Hoskins and I’m the founder of On The Map Marketing. We’re a global internet marketing firm that develops customized, strategic plans to help our clients climb in search engine rankings. We’ve been in business for approximately ten years, employ forty-five people and maintain three offices in Miami, Los Angeles, and Riga, Latvia,
We are a one-stop-shop for search engine optimization. Our primary focus is to help our clients to get visitors to their website and to convert them into clients. We offer a full array of optimized products: websites, content, pay per click packages, web development, etcetera.
We’ve rapidly climbed the rungs to become a reliable, widely recognized brand in the industry. In fact, we were listed as one of the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies three years in a row.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started working when I was 15. My first job was the night manager at a Quiznos in Cocoa, FL. My father owned an air conditioning company, so I started working there installing AC units. That lasted for a couple of years, but it involved installing ductwork in hot, unairconditioned attics in the Florida heat, so I knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do forever.
A very common mistake that I’ve seen over the years is focusing too much on product/service and not enough on the sales. Think about how you’re going to sell the product and then push for the execution.
One of our AC clients owned an internet marketing company called Labitat, and my dad got him to interview me for a part-time intern position. I was hired and that was the start of my internet marketing career. At that time, around 2007, the company’s biggest clients were in Fort Lauderdale, so I spent a lot of time in the South Florida area. When that client’s work dried up, I saw the writing on the wall with Labitat and decided to look for a new job.
I found an opportunity selling SEO/Website services over the phone, a sales job in Fort Lauderdale. I was there for about six months learning how to make sales over the phone.
By then, I had gotten tired of working for someone else, so I decided to start my own business. I had the drive and I saw an opportunity in the marketplace so I took it. By 2009, I started my own company On The Map Marketing and I was cold calling attorneys from my living room. For companies, especially small and medium-sized businesses, getting on the Google map was vital. Someone might search “coffee Miami,” for example, and then just look at the map to see where the closest shop is. If your business doesn’t appear on it, then you’re not getting that customer. So, we got companies “on the map,” which is obviously where the name came from.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The goal of SEO is to drive clients to our clients. To attract leads and get our client's business. Google came out with a new product, which at the time was called Google Local. So, we basically optimized our clients’ rankings to get the business. We didn’t design the product, but use the information that Google put out to get our clients’ business.
Google Local initially had ten spots, but over the last ten years, it’s down to three, so we needed something else to sell. About two or three years in, we started selling organic SEO and we also got into website development and complicated SAAS projects.
I’ve always been pretty averse to debt.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I bootstrapped, I was self-funded. Originally, I started cold-calling clients from my living room to start attracting clients. I grew as the business grew, little by little. Originally, I had a partner. We were in business together for about a year or two and I decided to buy him out.
I liked calling attorneys. Every law firm is named after the managing partner, so it was pretty easy to know who the decision-maker was. When you called in you knew who to ask for. Once in a while, you’d get the wrong person, but not often. It was a great way to get past the gatekeepers and it maximized my call time efficiency.
After about four months from the time I started in my living room, I realized that I needed some office space, so I rented some space in an office building in downtown Miami. I started hiring salespeople. I was able to rent one cubicle at a time, so every time I hired a salesperson, I would rent another cubicle. Back in 2009, the economy was really bad. We were in full recession, so it was easy to get really good salespeople.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are an SEO company, so we generate a lot of leads via SEO campaigns. By utilizing the same techniques that we market, not only can we bring in new leads, but we can use our own company as an example of how effective SEO is. The leads are followed up by a well-trained, knowledgeable sales staff who have a proven track record of conversions.
One of the most important aspects of customer retention is communications. We started with a relatively small Customer Success Management team. We’ve grown that team and hired a manager to run the team and several more staff members.
Customer retention is a moving target. We end up modifying our composition from time to time, but the main thing keeps our customers is that our product works. There are other people working in this space, but a lot of them are one-person and two-person operations, so when their customers call them, they don't even pick up.
We have a professional staff. We keep appointments, answer our phones, and rapidly address our clients’ concerns. We also have the reputation of a ten-year company that does their job well. Because of that, our clients are hard to poach.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are doing great. Our team is constantly growing. We have been named on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list for the third year in a row. We’re adding new products and improving our client retention. We’re breaking into SAAS development. Our growth has allowed us to take on bigger projects, like SAAS and custom app development.
Don’t rely too much on one big client. It’s better to have a solid pool of clients, so when you lose one, the impact on your revenue stream isn’t as severe.
Something that we’re really amped up about is the accessibility app that you can find in the Shopify app store. We were featured at the top of the store’s listings and we got about 2,000 installs in the first couple of weeks. The app helps makes sites ADA compliant and helps disabled people navigate websites.
In addition, with the rapid growth of e-commerce, we’re expanding into Shopify website development. This is a really important area for us. Shopify was the second-largest online payment processor in 2019 after Amazon.
We are looking at expanding into new markets and different business types. Currently, many of our clients are law firms. We’re looking at taking the great work we do for in the legal market to other fields that would benefit from our approach to marketing.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
At one point, we were growing so quickly that we overextended ourselves and hired too many people. Then we quickly realized that we were losing money, so we had to let some people go. It was an important lesson and we’ve worked hard to accurately gauge our staffing needs since.
Building out the accounting system was challenging. It took a while to get the proper people in place, and we had a few false starts. I like where we’re at now, but it was rough going for a while. My biggest takeaway from that is to hire smarter.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a number of commercial tools. AHREFS, Accuranker, Lightshot, SEO Minion, Fusebill, Upwork, just to name a few. We also do a lot of custom research that heavily relies on these products, but is also unique to our business.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning, and Freedom Without the 9-5 by Taylor Pearson really resonated with me and what I’ve been trying to achieve at On The Map.
For podcasts, I listen to Snacks by Robinhood Financial daily, which talks about various businesses and issues. And I get The Hustle’s email every day.
Also, a few other book suggestions that reflect greatly on some of the most iconic U.S. business-brand creators: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight; I Love Capitalism: An American Story by Ken Langone; and Sam Walton: Made in America, Sam Walton’s autobiography. I got a lot of value from these.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ve always been pretty averse to debt. When I started On the Map Marketing, not only was I unwilling to take on debt, there were no investors or lenders willing to risk their money in the middle of the recession. Things are different now, obviously, but you can always bootstrap. Having a strong balance sheet can help you get through tough times. Not only that but then you don’t have the overhead of loan payments.
Do not procrastinate. Getting started is important, and if you’re waiting for that perfect moment, it will never happen. Start making your move as soon as possible. Action is key, start with simple-executable projects and build on those. Also, a very common mistake that I’ve seen over the years is focusing too much on product/service and not enough on the sales. Think about how you’re going to sell the product and then push for the execution. Perhaps a simple formula could be to start with a basic MVP (minimal viable product), create it, and get actual cash flow before you start investing more money/resources into the product. If you can sell one, you can sell ten. If you can sell ten, you will sell a hundred, and so on.
Another bit of advice for people who want to build technical products: I strongly encourage them to build up a strong technical background, and if possible, find a technical co-founder who can solve various tech product matters.
Lastly, don’t rely too much on one big client. That killed the company that I had been working for before I started OTM. It’s better to have a solid pool of clients, so when you lose one, the impact on your revenue stream isn’t as severe.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We always need qualified people in sales, account management, web developers, and content writers. Again, we don’t ever want to overhire, but we are growing, which means that we need to expand our staff. Most of our employees are full-time, but we do hire interns and we have some freelancers working for us remotely.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our website and blog have volumes of information on the company and the services that we offer.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.