My Story On Building My Own $8K/Month Digital Advertising Agency

$8,600
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Fantôm Agency
from Phoenix
started February 2018
$8,600
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
1.35M
alexa rank
287
followers
71
followers
58
subs

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

Hello, my name is Luis Camacho and I am the founder of Fantôm Agency and also the host of the SaaS AdLab podcast, which is a podcast where I interview SaaS founders to learn more about their story. Fantôm is a digital advertising agency which focuses on helping mid-to-late stage SaaS (software as a service) companies scale through paid advertising channels such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

This is done using a four-stage framework we created which allows clients to increase MRR & ARR. In order to accomplish this, we first identify areas of opportunities and execute a massive number of tests to understand the type of advertising that will resonate best with the client’s target audience while making sure that advertising is contextual and valuable.

Fantôm focuses entirely on paid advertising, I guess you could say that’s the bread and butter, it’s what I’m great at but it’s also what I’m most passionate about. There were attempts to enter different service offerings but did not have as much fun doing so. Now when clients have the need for other types of marketing, say, email marketing, I point them to one of my trusted partners who are able to execute and over-deliver on such service for them. Currently, Fantôm is making roughly $8,600 per month overhead is only a couple of hundred dollars per month, about $300, which go towards tools and software needed in order to provide the best possible results for clients.

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

When I tell my story I like to get into the details of how I landed where I currently am and where I am going. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. I ended up in the United States after my father got a job offer for a marketing position at a semiconductor company, this was when I was only 10 years old. To be honest, the move definitely had an effect on me. When I lived in Mexico I was a fairly outgoing kid and (I believe) the move caused a shift that made me more of an introvert so you could say that was a bit against me, since I didn’t necessarily enjoy being the center of attention or being “noticed” too much for much of my upbringing. I finished high school and went to Arizona State University where I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing alongside a certificate in entrepreneurship.

Right around the time of graduation from high school and the start of college I started a clothing line. I believe I was only 19 at the time and I didn’t have a budget to promote the new clothing line, so I turned to social media as my route to promote and sell the new products. I had to learn everything from Photoshop to constructing a website, content, photography, content distribution, supplier relationships, and many other skills. After seeing success marketing on social media, I quickly found that I was passionate about digital marketing. I then realized that there was a place where I could polish up my digital marketing skills, an agency, which to my surprise were not as concerned with academics as they were with real-world experience.

I went on to work for a marketing agency, after finally finding one was willing to overlook my lack of agency experience and realized that my entrepreneurial spirit and persistence would outweigh the need for the experience all the agencies were looking for. I was hungry. At this agency, I got hired on as a content writer (which I didn’t necessarily enjoy the most, but I knew I had to do it if I wanted to eventually lead the paid advertising department which was my goal). I was able to do just that within a year. I studied the ins and outs of the agency, how it operated, how it dealt with clients, how it made mistakes, and most importantly what helped it scale.

Keep in mind during this entire time I knew I would eventually own my own agency. I’d already picked out the name before I even knew how I was going to start finding the clients.

After working in paid advertising, several agencies and big clients I put more high-income skills under my belt, I invested in more education via online courses, conferences, books, podcasts, you name it. It was during these events took place that Luis discovered his true passion, which was SaaS (software as a service), not to mention I kept seeing SaaS ads everywhere and I wanted to work with those companies that essentially helped me put the systems in place to create my own agency.

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

The process was very trial and error-driven, as with pretty much any other startup or company you come across. Although you see people do certain things in certain ways and those ways work they’re not always 100% mimicable, there are many variables and moving pieces that will not align at the right place, and the right time. And if there were using a cookie-cutter approach would take the fun out of it.

Nothing will just “come” eventually. People will not just find you because you created a product or have a new service to offer you need to make sure that you’re putting yourself in front of people.

However the process for creating the service offering was very simple, and this is something that came from learning what previous agencies I worked at were doing wrong. They charged everyone in a different manner. If you’re familiar with advertising you’ll see that typically they charge a percentage of whatever is being spent, or a small retainer plus a percentage of ad spend, or a percentage plus revenue share, etc. That’s not something I wanted to do, it was too complicated, not streamlined and varied too much from client to client.

Although Fantôm agency is solely focused on paid advertising it wasn’t always like that, I thought that the more I offered the more I’d be able to make, right? That was wrong and it things, especially since I’m not an expert at every form of marketing out there, this is why I realized I had to double down on what I was really good at (paid advertising) and get rid of (delegate to a trusted partner) what I was not really good at. The pricing eventually ended up being custom for every client, a fixed retainer that did not change if the client decided to spend more or less, this is simply what worked best for everyone.

Here’s an image of a late night at Fantôm Agency headquarters “home office” in my room when I get home from my full time at one of the previous agencies and I would go right into a work session:

my-story-on-building-my-own-8k-month-digital-advertising-agency

Describe the process of launching the business.

I got started by creating a website, I figured since I was a digital marketing agency, the most important thing I could have would be a website, otherwise, it wouldn’t necessarily feel like I practice what I preach (digital).

Although I love all things SaaS, I’m no web developer, so I got started with a very simple Squarespace website. I’ve always been a fan of simplicity, and it came in tremendously handy when it came time to put together a website since I made it fairly minimalistic, monochrome and straight to the point. That was only part of it though, this also meant I would need accounts on all major social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ (back when it was still around). Here’s a screenshot of the website I was able to get from Wayback (if I recall correctly, there was some form of background, I think it got stripped by Wayback). And to be honest, if you go to our website now, you’ll get a very similar feel, except this time on WordPress.

my-story-on-building-my-own-8k-month-digital-advertising-agency

Many people wonder about the financing of the business which is an important factor. I’ve always been very good with money and I prefer to invest it in things that could potentially make me more money. As at the beginning of Fantôm I was still working at a full-time agency I had a steady income coming in, you can call my journey a by-the-book side hustle, as I decided to finally pull the trigger on the resignation letter when I was averaging 2x what I was making at my full time, on my own. The costs (which I like to call investments) of building out Fantôm from scratch can be broken down into two main items and no credit cards or loans were necessary:

  1. The cost of things needed to do the work.
  • Website
  • Software/tools
  • Energy drinks
  • Online courses
  • Online communities
  • Books
  • Mentors (one of my biggest mentors is Jeremy Haynes)
  1. The cost of my social life since I didn’t want to go out and do anything as I was fully invested in making this happen and I wanted to keep a steady income (9-5) while doing so.

Actually getting the agency up and running with clients was the biggest challenge of them all. There were a lot of different things that happened as far as prospecting goes and new ones are still being tested. There was a lot of email scraping early on as I was trying to get as much lead volume as possible, then I would send out mass emails, would have a ton of bounces (because I didn’t know I was supposed to clean email lists). Many people told me it was a numbers game and to an extent it is but there’s only so much I could send out and hoped something worked, while at the same time making sure that I don’t get banned by email service providers which actually did happen, so I had to buy a new email domains and repeat that process a couple of times until I learned it wasn’t going to work for me.

This was before I realized that I wanted to focus strictly on helping SaaS companies, so it was easy to scrape just about any company within an industry with the right tools. Fast forward to when I knew I wanted to focus on SaaS companies (again, this is all happening while at a full-time job). Facebook Groups became the next big thing for me, not just that but actually providing valuable content to the people within those groups.

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

So far it’s come down to building relationships and providing real, actionable and practical value which people can run and implement with regardless of whether or not they engage in a business transaction with you. As I mentioned in the answer above, things started to take off when I hung around the people that had what I wanted to work with, SaaS companies. There I began interacting with them, providing value without asking for anything in return, becoming friends with the individuals before I even introduced my company.

The steps used to increase sales are broken out into a couple of different sections, which I will walkthrough below:

  • Generating large lists of people that might need the services we provide. The lists are pulled manually by some virtual assistants (highly encourage anyone to go this route, as scrapers tend to just grab whatever email they find on the site and don’t go the extra mile to get the right contact info). This list is then handed over to one of our sales contractors where they take care of putting together a highly personalized video pitch in order to get the attention of the decision-maker, provide actionable feedback inside that video that they can literally send to whoever they want and aiming to get on a call with the decision-maker in order to move to the next steps (typically a Zoom call and proposal if they ask one or we get started right away if they are ready).

  • Creating a Facebook group where you provide value and allow others to provide value to one another. Again, the idea is not to go and sell everyone on the service, but to interact with them, and provide value, examples of work, etc. They’ll realize they want to work with you if you’re doing this right.

  • Being part of large Facebook groups where people tend to ask questions about the specific thing you are going to help with. There are hundreds of Facebook groups where people are looking for help for Facebook ads, Google ads, etc. and some of them are rather large. People who are aware that these groups exist will go to these groups as a job board to try to find the individual or the company that will help take them to the next level. That is exactly what happened many cases but most recently with one of my clients who’s based in the UK and is ready to take their company to market. I mentioned early that we focus mainly on mid-to-late stage SaaS companies but this was an exception and the reason for that was the amount of potential I saw with them. Below’s a screenshot of when he reached out after he saw that I worked with SaaS companies inside of a Facebook group, the one after is when they decided they were ready to move forward (please notice the dates here, as during the interim I followed up and helped with other questions that came up, providing value, building trust and most importantly a relationship).

my-story-on-building-my-own-8k-month-digital-advertising-agency

my-story-on-building-my-own-8k-month-digital-advertising-agency

  • Creating content and distributing it. One of the best decisions I took was to create my podcast, the SaaS AdLab Podcast, which is directly connected with the community I am currently building and will be the most elite place for SaaS entrepreneurs to come together. There are two main reasons why this is incredibly valuable. Primarily, I get to personally connect, understand, expose, and be-friend individuals who could potentially be dream clients as I’m giving them a platform where they can speak about themselves and their companies, hear what kind of problems they are dealing with and creating real relationships. Secondarily, I instantly get access to their connections, and most of these people tend to be well connected as they are entrepreneurs themselves and understand the value of relationships. Since they share the podcast with their audience it has an incredible compounding effect, now I’m not only getting Fantôm in front of them, but also in front of all of their connections (which are typically also somehow involved in the SaaS industry).

  • Creating strategic partnerships with other people within the industry that are not currently offering the same service as us, but are offering a service that is complementary to ours. There are a lot of different ways to find people to partner up with, for example one of our partners is an explainer video company and that’s all that they focus on, so sometimes they’ll get an individual that is looking to get an explainer video done and send it our way because the reason they want that in the first place is to use it as an ad. This also works vice versa as if we find anyone that is looking for explainer video we know where to send them, we then kick back a percentage of the sale (typically for the lifetime of the client). This can work with a lot of different services, such as video, copywriting, email, etc. Below’s a screenshot of an initial conversation with one of our current partners from when a mutual friend introduced us (this was after we’d been talking for some time, I try to create a relationship beforehand).

my-story-on-building-my-own-8k-month-digital-advertising-agency

Although currently profitable, I still like to take a very bootstrapped approach to the marketing of Fantôm. I’ve personally had the opportunity to have been featured in a couple of publications regarding Fantôm including Medium, Disrupt Digital, as well as SaaS Mag (a physical magazine pictured below).

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I’ve also had the opportunity to be on a couple of expert roundups that SaaS companies have put together in the past, one of them was the Expert RoundUp Vol. 1 – Conversational Marketing: Can it Boost Sales? by Woodpecker.

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

Growing and currently in the stage of growth. We’re looking at ways to scale and systematize as much as possible. It’s definitely easier said than done and it’s a lot of trying new things to date, seeing what sticks and getting rid of what’s not working and double down on what is.

Fantôm is currently profitable, as mentioned above the overhead is very small. There are a couple of contractors doing certain tasks, all people who work or have worked are remote and plan to keep it that way as it brings for more freedom which is what people like and what enables them to do what they are passionate about. Gross margins are typically high since most of the work that clients receive is currently being done by myself, so I’d say about 90%+ profitability. The cost of doing business is mostly software that allows us to deliver amazing results to our clients and there is also no office space being leased out.

Currently, there are no plans to expand into different service offerings and there are a couple of reasons for this. We’ve already got strategic partnerships that take care of most of the things that our clients would typically like to compliment our services with, be that email marketing, user onboarding, or video creation. Figured it’s easier to send our clients to these strategic partner than to learn new things, or hire talent that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to vet since I’m no expert in those fields, instead we pass them on to our partners, take a small piece of the cake without having to increase our workload, and let them deliver amazing results for our clients.

A short term goal, for now, is to double the number of revenue while keeping the number of clients as low as possible, which means closing bigger fish. The way to do this is by delivering amazing results to our current clients and creating more case studies from them, using them to showcase expertise and what we’re able to do for their company. As far as long term goals go, continue to build out the SaaS AdLab Facebook group into the most elite community of SaaS entrepreneurs where they can go and get their questions answered when it comes to paid advertising for SaaS companies. It’s also in the plans to take on bigger consulting deals where the amount of work is low but the amount of value being delivered to bigger clients is highly actionable. An idea that has also run in my head more often than once is a non-profit organization which will help kids in underserved communities get the education needed in order to become entrepreneurs.

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

One of the biggest lessons from early on was that nothing will just “come” eventually. When I was first building out our first website I wasn’t sure of where to go next, so I was waiting for people to find us, that never happened. People will not just find you because you created a product or have a new service to offer you need to make sure that you’re putting yourself in front of people, whether it be through advertising (if the money to do so is there) or if needs to be some other form of non-scalable activity. You need to put in the work when you think you’re finished.

I feel most people are scared and think way too much on what is going to happen after they decide to make the first step. Literally the moment you think of an idea or want to start something, write it down, and then come up with ways in which you’ll execute.

This is related to the previous paragraph but it’s still relevant and can stand on its own. Obscurity is a default, and you need to get outside of it. This might mean that you need to step out of your comfort zone because no one else will sell your product as good as you and if you can’t sell it you don’t have a product or there is no need for your product or service. Make yourself known, get out there and explain what it is you do, whether it be through Instagram videos, or blog posts, podcasts such as SaaS AdLab, or any form of speaking engagement, anything that will put you and your product or service in front of more people will be beneficial, and one of the most beautiful things about that is that you don’t know who’s watching.

Get rid of self-limiting beliefs. From very early on when we’re kids, we begin to form beliefs about the world, people, how we fit in, what we can and can’t do and much more. Our brains are very good at spotting patterns and making associations and dissociations, so we are continuously processing mounds of information about the world around us and use it to form beliefs.

Most of the time these beliefs are made up of fears from past experiences and our brain subconsciously creates them to “protect us”. Our brain wants to take the past of least so it’s always looking for the easy way out, take for example me, when I first moved to the US my English wasn’t the worst, as I’d gone to bilingual school my entire life, however I always felt uncomfortable speaking in front of people or being the center of attention mainly because when I get nervous I could feel my accent become stronger, that caused me to be uncomfortable so naturally my brain wants to keep me away from talking in public. Identifying the limiting beliefs is the first step, and implementing a plan of attack should be next.

Habits are some of the most powerful things in life, I’m currently reading The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg* *and it really helps understand how much of what we do is a habit and why they are so important. I have many hobbies, some of them which have helped me become more productive are the following:

  • Wake up early (I’m an early riser and like to get to the gym so I’m up at 4:00 am)
  • Journal every morning and before going to bed
  • Writing three things down that I’m grateful for in the morning and before bed
  • Read for 30 minutes every morning
  • Take some time to meditate and breathe - 10-20 minutes every morning
  • Block time in my calendar (I live by my Google calendar)
  • Go to sleep at around the same time (10:20 pm I’m in bed)

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Given that we’re big on SaaS we have tried a lot of different tools for many different purposes and for many different reasons. So what I’m going to do here is just give you a rundown of my favorite tools and platforms that we’re currently using.

For project management and pretty much any other thing you can think of and find a way to use we’re using Notion, seriously one of the most powerful project management tools I’ve come across and the fact that it has both a desktop app and an iOS app are game-changers, you can do anything from boards, CRMs, Hub pages (which are specific to certain tasks, at least how we use them). The list goes on with what you’re able to do with it.

Hubspot, one of the best CRMs out there in my opinion in terms of usability and learning how to actually use it properly, plus Hubspot gives a ton of support to help you get the most out of it.

Zoom, it’s a must-have. For some reason, I hate phone calls, most likely because I’m always getting spammed by someone telling me my social security was suspended for some reason and I tend to ignore every call I get, thankfully clients are all tech-savvy and prefer to do Zoom calls anyway. Not only do I use it for client calls or prospect calls but I also use it to record my podcast, SaaS AdLab.

Slack, I’m a big fan of slack, I love being able to communicate in that manner, it’s actually the preferred way to communicate, not just internally but also externally with clients. It gets rid of all the unnecessary threads in emails and keeps me away from checking my email every 3 minutes.

Fronter, being that we’re handling a lot of paid traffic we need to make sure that the landing pages that we’re sending traffic to are top-notch, so we like to use Fronter to give our clients recommendations on CRO changes that should be implemented on their landing pages in order to get the most out of their ad dollars. Fronter does an amazing job at keeping all the feedback and communication in one place and we can export any actionable items into our other tools with seamless integrations.

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

This is a pretty hard question, considering I like to read quite a bit so I will give you two books, one podcast, and one online course from one of my mentors that have had a huge impact on me and my journey thus far.

The One Thing by Gary Keller, this book was absolutely eye-opening to me early on. The book goes very in-depth about the value of simplifying one's workload by focusing on the one most important task in any given project. And if you don’t have one thing, then your one thing is figuring out what your one thing is. I highly recommend anyone that is currently stuck or that has a number of things on their mind that they want to accomplish to read this book as it’ll give you insight on how to take actionable steps on what you should do next.

Influence by Robert Cialdini, personally I’m a really big fan of Psychology and how the human brain works, which is probably why I love marketing and advertising so much, as I’m able to position things in a way that will make someone want to do something by touching on specific queues that will trigger certain actions and responses. In here, Cialdini talks about the seven key influencers of persuasion (which are based on 35 years of evidence-based research). I highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in what influences people to make the decisions they make.

Jeremy Hayne’s DMM (Digital Marketing Manuscript), this has been one of the most impactful and influential resources as a digital marketing agency owner. Jeremy’s online course is one in a million, he’s put everything in place in order for you to build and scale your digital agency, step-by-step videos, and resources that will help reduce the number of times you feel stuck, not to mention the online community that comes with this. Jeremy’s built a community of highly successful individuals, including himself and continues to find time to personally provide help and guidance to all of the students he mentors.

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

Just do it. I feel most people are scared and think way too much about what is going to happen after they decide to make the first step. Literally the moment you think of an idea or want to start something, write it down, and then come up with ways in which you’ll execute.

I recently had an idea for a chrome extension that would make life easier for some digital marketers, I know very little when it comes to coding (not enough to get by whatsoever), so immediately my limiting beliefs started to kick in. As soon as I noticed that happening I started to look for a way to make it happen, do I learn how to code? What language are Chrome extensions written in? Can I learn on YouTube, Udemy? After tossing the idea of teaching myself how to code enough to make a Chrome extension I realized it would take too long, but I wasn’t done. I decided to see how else I could make it happen. I went on Upwork to see if there were any developers that would be up for, then I reached out to one of my clients (given that they are SaaS founders they either knew a bit of code or knew developers), they connected me with one of their trusted Chrome extension developers the same day, within 48 hours the Chrome extension was built. GetAds, a simple extension digital marketers can use to get all the active Facebook ads from any website URL, and they have the ability to export it to create swipe files or competitor analysis.

Surround yourself with like-minded people and find people who are doing better than you or that have already done some of the things you are trying to accomplish. Having a group of people who have similar goals as you will be absolutely crucial to building your business. You can talk about similar things, and hold each other accountable, which is invaluable and will help not only your business grow but it will also take your personal growth and development to different heights.

Be ready to do the work and whatever it takes to achieve your goals. Absolutely nothing will happen overnight. Make sure that you’re doing something that you’re passionate about or you’ll be working towards misery. Create meaningful relationships along the way and most importantly enjoy the process, grow, and never stop learning.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Currently, we’re looking for some highly skilled salespeople to come on board part-time, this would be a commission-only role. You’ll have to understand some digital marketing, be a fast learner and able to work on your own. The earning potential is big with low responsibility after the sale is done. If this is something of interest please be sure to get in touch with us.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

-  
Luis Camacho,   Founder of Fantôm Agency

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