Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Godson Michel, the founder, and President of Blue Surge Marketing Agency. I live in Long Island, New York, about an hour from busy Manhattan. A child of Haitian immigrants, my upbringing was a tumultuous story of struggle, persistence, and ingenuity. Initially interested in medicine, I somehow realized my passion for monetizing my ability to create value led me toward entrepreneurship.
Blue Surge Marketing Agency is a full-service marketing and website design firm that helps businesses across the U.S. conquer their most significant growth challenges.
Our core services fall under three categories: digital marketing, intelligent website design, and consulting. Through that comprehensive suite, my clients choose us to deliver services ranging from search engine optimization, paid ad management, social media management, email automation, and branding.
I've enjoyed working with brands in many different verticals, but e-commerce brands and nonprofit organizations are our specialties.
My firm is unique in that we are Black-owned, which gives us a cultural competency advantage over other agencies that don't have the inherent understanding of the types of clients that choose us.
Today, Blue Surge has one of the most highly sought Black-owned and multicultural agencies in the U.S., with an average rating of five stars. We were voted Top 20 Web Design Agency two years ago, an incredible achievement in a saturated market, and the only Black-owned agency ranked that high.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Blue Surge Marketing Agency is the brainchild of my first real business, KickBackz. To understand how it all began, I must take you back to where I was in middle school. My parents were immigrants who emigrated from Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, when they were adults.
Growing up, like other first-generation, American-born, Caribbean children, I was heavily pressured to choose a traditional career: medicine, law, or engineering. With little interest in the legal system and a lack of visibility into engineering, I chose medicine as my maker. I went to a Jewish college as a Physician Assistant major, juggling $7.25-an-hour retail jobs to pay for my transportation and expensive textbooks.
One of my retail jobs was at a sneaker store in my local mall. On Saturdays, I'd work the morning shifts where customers would line up in droves standing on line for hyped footwear launches set to release at 10:00 A.M. Forever treading the line of overdraft fees and sub-$100 savings accounts, one day, an idea sparked in my mind.
Why not capitalize on that consumer demand by selling the sneakers myself on the secondary market? And thus, KickBackz was born. Originally intended to be a side hustle to supplement my meager earnings, KickBackz grew into a meaningful business venture over five years.
During that time, I launched the brand into a complete sneaker marketplace website where I also upsold streetwear and accessories, held an eponymous trade show, opened a brick-and-mortar store, and eventually reached over $1M in revenue. At its peak, KickBackz had an organic-built, online social media following of over 255,000 followers with customers in over thirty countries.
The success of KickBackz attracted local attention where I lived. Business owners began reaching out to me to help them reach similar growth on their brand's social media accounts. At that point, I realized my marketing skills were a monetizable service.
However, this couldn't have happened at a better time. During the fourth year of running KickBackz, the secondary sneaker market underwent rapid changes that began eroding my margins. Manufacturers like Nike were pivoting to a direct-to-consumer model, thus rendering traditional retail distributors significantly less vital.
Since KickBackz relied on these retail distributors, I knew it was time to start pivoting myself. While this was happening, I moved into a shared office space with a few high school friends who were also pursuing their solopreneur businesses, mainly in creative photography and videography.
Working in a shared room with other creatives motivated me, and I began searching for ways to improve myself, consuming swaths of "growth mindset" content online. This led me to stumble upon serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk's content, who preached about how vital digital marketing was to struggling local businesses.
Our landlord Nik, also a crafty opportunist, sensed that my friends' skills could all collaboratively be put to good use under a creative marketing agency. Long story short, their agency never got off the ground.
However, being in such proximity to their daily conversations sparked another idea within me. What if I started my marketing agency? And thus, Blue Surge Marketing Agency was born. I already understood how to run a business, and I naturally was a good marketer who already was being approached for work.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Developing the core products for Blue Surge was challenging. Having come from the B2B e-commerce space, I didn’t naturally understand how to correctly price my skills into a product. How do you know how much to charge to build a website? Or to post three times a week on Instagram? Or design a newsletter?
The services themselves underwent many revisions, as I felt that I had so much to offer to businesses. However, I didn’t understand how to productize those skills in a repeatable way.
Researching a new business is important if you want to succeed, so I knew I had to look at how other agencies looked and felt. I had a personal assistant at the time, so I had her create a spreadsheet and list nearly 100 different marketing agencies with links to how they packaged their services. Doing so allowed me to better understand how to holistically sell marketing services, and gave me price ranges on what to charge.
I took that data and with a whiteboard in hand, wrote down four separate tiers of services, and listed each with what I felt was a fair price. Since then, I’ve moved towards standard pricing.
Part of the fun of starting a business is learning new things or concepts.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I put more intentional thought into launching Blue Surge Marketing Agency than my first business.
Two friends, a lawyer, and an IT specialist expressed interest in joining forces to start the business with me. We met weekly for about a month to discuss launching the agency.
I remember brainstorming for two hours to develop a strong brand name. After rattling off a dozen names, we settled on "Blue Surge." I wanted clients to trust our firm. Blue conveyed a sense of trust, accordingly to color psychology. The word "surge" implied growth or a wave, which I felt correlated to the boost I wanted to give companies.
I contracted a freelancer to design our first logo, which looked oddly reminiscent of the former AT&T Mobility logo. After a round of revisions, we landed on a clean icon, a singular light blue wave with the words "Blue Surge Marketing" underneath.
With the logo in hand, it was time to build that digital brand presence. I already knew how to make websites, so designing the first iteration of thebluesurge.com wasn't too challenging. I had researched what a digital agency site should look like, and with the help of Envato Marketplace, used those sites as inspiration to design my agency's first site.
As far as social media, I selected "@thebluesurge" as the handle for all our accounts, as it wasn't claimed. I drafted copy that explained our core value proposition, created business hours, and went to work creating a set up templated static graphics that could be used for content posting.
However, by the second month, the IT specialist friend and lawyer fell off from contributing to the agency as they got busier with their respective projects. Fortunately, their departure gave me the green light to go full speed ahead with the agency model, even if I was alone.
Running a company alone can be challenging, especially with limited funds. Financing Blue Surge was done through bootstrapping. I was still making some money from KickBackz, so I used those funds to pay for all of the early software tools I needed, whether it was Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) or Buffer, a social media scheduling tool.
This meant I didn't need any loans or angel investments from friends or family. Overall, I didn't have a big splashy announcement when I launched Blue Surge, but it seems to have all worked out.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Throughout the agency's years, I've fine-tuned what worked well for attracting and retaining customers.
During our early days, in-person networking was the primary source of new leads and led to our first "real" client." However, COVID-19 put a hiatus on networking events, so we pivoted to traditional inbound marketing strategies, including creating valuable content people want to consume.
Our most significant wave of growth happened during the 2020 summer of the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of George Floyd sent shockwaves across the U.S. nation and helped create a wave of awareness around the systematic racism and ingrained discrimination Black people faced daily.
Companies without previous diversity, equity, or inclusion policies were suddenly interested in hiring and allocating budgets toward firms founded and operated by people of color. On top of that, Black-owned businesses themselves increasingly began to want to work exclusively with Black-owned marketing firms, citing cultural competency they couldn't find elsewhere.
This two-fold occurrence coincided with the most significant number of new leads in our CRM and made SEO our primary traffic driver.
Aside from search engine marketing, we use email marketing automation tools to engage with new and existing contacts. Regularly scheduled marketing emails educate and convert leads to book discovery appointments. Clients we've worked well with are sent automatic re-engagement emails reminding them we're available for additional work.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re profitable and learning to grow in more sustainable ways. We’re more selective about our clients and increasingly choose to work with more established brands and organizations versus companies that are just starting out or don’t have staff.
This aligns with our decision to shift away from being a general agency. In the past, we offered services to everyone. Now, we’re niching down on the verticals that have best served our agency: nonprofits and professional services.
Focusing on only one or two verticals makes automating our workflow and better predicting monthly revenue easier. Being a specialist makes it more likely that a brand will select your firm, so that’s something we’re leaning toward.
Down the line, I’d like to expand our offerings by selling courses online. Everyone isn’t always ready or can’t afford to partner with an agency, so having a lower-ticket item, they can use it. At the same time, they’re still getting started, would be a great revenue driver, and provide future upselling opportunities.
The future is bright — while people in the marketing industry are worried about AI taking their jobs, I’m planning to learn how to incorporate it into our workflow as a tool. Tools like Open AI’s Chat-GPT and Google’s Bard will be stepping stones to revamping agencies' operations. The only constant changes, so preparing for that will make those changes less disruptive.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Part of the fun of starting a business is learning new things or concepts.
Get the money straight. The number one reason why businesses fail is due to a lack of cash flow.
With Blue Surge, I learned the importance of vetting your clients, not just letting them pick you. When I started my agency, I was hungry for work, so I took on every job that a client would send my way, often quoting them low rates to outbid other firms. While it helped me get more reviews, it hurt in more ways than one.
These types of clients would often want extensive revisions or would want to add in out-of-scope work that consumed too many hours for what I was paid. Choosing poor clients led to poor outcomes and lower profitability.
Another major key I picked up was that communication was vital. When working with clients, you must commit to certain response times. Responding promptly is a crucial part of building a positive relationship. When I was running a B2C company, I didn't have to individually message every customer status updates on their orders all the time; UPS and FedEx handled that for me.
However, once you're offering professional services, you will need to find a way to ensure you're sending consistent messages to keep your clients happy. Otherwise, they'll leave for someone else who does that better.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When you're a marketing agency owner with more than one or two types of clients, chances are, you'll use many different tools.
Regarding e-commerce, Shopify has been my go-to platform for clients looking to launch online stores.
Asana is my favorite project management tool, having outgrown Trello early on. Asana's portfolio view lets me quickly see the status of different projects at a high level, something critical for an agency owner.
Zapier might be my favorite tool overall, and it's not necessarily a marketing tool. Understanding how to automate is a game-changer, and that's what Zapier does best. I view Zapier as an additional staff member who can: send messages to the team whenever certain events happen, create deals within my CRM, and onboard a new client seamlessly into our workflows.
Having Zapier saves me from wasting time completing menial tasks that are critical but otherwise time intensive as an aggregate.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I'm a big proponent of getting 1% better daily, so continuing my education as an entrepreneur by consuming books and podcasts is essential.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is the most influential book that has propelled me forward as an entrepreneur. Without it, I wouldn't understand why understanding the difference between assets and liabilities determines financial success in the U.S.
48 Laws of Power is a book that gets a lot of negative attention; it helped reinforce for me that everyone has their intentions and motivations. Understanding those principles can help you maneuver how to get ahead and avoid trouble.
Michael Gerber's, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It is probably the first book I pitch to start-up entrepreneurs. People get so excited about the idea of a business that they often don't understand the dirty, hands-on, administrative side that allows it to thrive. This book will give you the confidence to pursue your idea or encourage you to quit while you're ahead.
Gary Vee's YouTube content inspired me to start an agency. His videos are very straightforward and appealing to someone who isn't interested in making excuses about why they can't get something done.
For those who don't have the time or attention span to read a book, I highly recommend checking out the illacertus YouTube channel. Illacertus' channel is animated book summaries focusing on strategy, power, and seduction with a flair for history. It's a great launch point to get you to understand the concepts of a book without having to read it from cover to back.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I've got three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs just getting started.
One, get the money straight.
No, seriously, the number one reason why businesses fail is due to a lack of cash flow. Michael Gerber eloquently explains this in his book, The E-Myth Revisited.
Two, build a team. If you get sick, have errands to run, and can't make money due to your business, that's a problem. A good company can run itself without you present. You must learn to hire and delegate tasks to others to operate strategically versus handling day-to-day minutia.
Third, get a mentor. One of my biggest regrets about my first business was not seeking mentors. I operated independently and made silly mistakes that caused significant problems years later, from not hiring a bookkeeper, not setting up my business structure correctly, and being unwilling to pay for good talent to help me grow.
Having a mentor or someone who had built something similar to me that I could've asked for guidance would've saved me tens of thousands of dollars and hours from inefficiency.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for great talent to join our team. Blue Surge has so much untapped growth potential, so someone who’s hungry and can prove they can be an asset is always welcome to join.
We offer internships during the fall and spring semesters to college students who are interested in pursuing a career in marketing/advertising. Learn more.
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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