From Freelancing On Upwork To Building A $90K/Year Email Marketing Business

Sean Gee and Sean Barnett
Founder, Electric Sauce
$7.5K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
Electric Sauce
from Houston, TX, USA
started April 2021
$7,500
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
2.87M
alexa rank
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From Freelancing On Upwork To Building A $90K/Year Email Marketing Business

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

Hey, we’re the Sean’s - Sean Gee and Sean Barnett. We started Electric Sauce, which is a data-driven, retention-focused, email marketing agency. Well, micro-agency since it’s just the two of us. But we like to think of ourselves as the sauce that businesses need to enhance their revenue and build loyal customers. Who doesn’t love some sauce on their food? We’re the digital sauce.

We are currently making $12,500 a month and will soon be at $17,500 in revenue as a micro-agency.

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

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

It’s been a wild ride. We had heard about each other for several years through a mutual friend, but one of us worked offshore most of the time, and the other lived in a different city so we hadn’t ever met. Once SeanB moved back to Houston we finally got to meet each other and started talking about starting a social media marketing agency and taking courses on that.

We would meet up and share what we’d learned and make plans, but that didn’t ever flesh out into a full business. I think this was partly because we were still working our full-time jobs during that time.

SeanG was working offshore on a tugboat transporting different types of oil. “My schedule was 30 day on the boat and 30 days off the boat. Sometimes I would stay on the boat even longer. The longest time I stayed was 3 months. While I was on I would work a 12 hour shift, but since I only needed 7-8 hours of sleep. I would wake up early to study HTML, CSS, and Javascript. My original plan before the agency idea was to land a front-end web developer job at a shopify-specific agency. But what this allowed me to do was see the opportunity in the ecommerce space. Now that I had a good understanding of marketing and a decent understanding of the Shopify ecosystem I started to think about what was needed in the ecom space for marketing.”

SeanB had been working in sales roles across various industries. I had always been interested in Real Estate as an investment vehicle. In 2020, I decided to move into Commercial Real Estate as a way, I naively thought, to be around other investor mindsets.

As we all know, everything quickly came to a halt in 2020 and I turned to unemployment as many did to stay afloat. I used the time to build skills in value-investing, stock market trading, and front-end development along with SeanG. The turning point for us was deciding that we both really wanted to be able to work remotely and start being able to have more control over our time and schedules, which I think a lot of people can relate to.

That decision was a catalyst for us. We saw that coding was a growing industry that wasn’t slowing down anytime soon, and that companies were hiring remote workers for these types of roles. This led to a series of pivots that got us to where we are now.

We got together in March of 2020 and actually started out as Shopify developers. COVID really created an increase in eCommerce development, so we were determined to meet those needs and build online stores for businesses.

But we quickly realized that a majority of these clients really needed something else - they requested email marketing strategies that transformed one-time purchasers into loyal, repetitive customers. Basically, building a cash register for them (the store) wasn’t as powerful as creating strong cash flow (consistent purchases).

SeanG: “I had been studying marketing for close to 10 years by that time and had some hands-on experience through starting various brands, like t-shirt brands. I have a passion for brands and learning through taking courses.”

SeanB: “My background came from working in startups and seeing the inner workings of how small business ideas can turn into large operations with the right product/market fit and a great team to build it. I used to loathe the idea of Sales, but was introduced to it through a then mentor of mine, and I would say that learning that skillset and reading books is what got me where I am today.”

We knew we were on the right track when we started seeing thought leaders in the email marketing industry saying things that we were doing. I would also say that when those thought leaders would say something like “you can scale to 10k/month with 1 focus and 1 outreach” we listened and that’s how we got to where we are today.

Take us through the process of designing your services.

We started looking at other agencies and seeing what they were charging and what services they were providing. Then, we took a look at what we could offer and priced our services where we thought we could provide value and still make enough to pay our overhead and ourselves. Although the first few months we were only able to pay our overhead and living off our individual savings.

You can really become proficient at anything and offer that value into the marketplace if you dedicate yourself to the process and studying the industry and skills you need to become valuable in that space. It’s all about choosing and putting in the work.

We scaled up our outreach program to begin talking to more business owners to see if our product and pricing would work. Our first client came to us through a larger paid social agency that responded to our outreach and contracted us to come onboard as their white-label “email gurus”.

This was HUGE for us because it both solidified our belief that our pricing was in-line with the value we were providing as well as gave us the opportunity to see how an 8-figure brand operates and what their expectations were.

With our pricing and really with everything we do, we try to keep things extremely simple. All of our systems and processes are very simple. Simplicity is one of our core values. So for pricing it depends on the brand but if they are making at least $25,000 a month we charge from $3,500 - $5,000 a month.

We also have a one-off service model for more startup focused brands which range from $1,500 - $2,500 one time charge

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

Describe the process of launching the business.

We started our outreach in March 2020 on Upwork and formed our LLC in April 2020. In the beginning we were focused on Shopify store development, but once we saw the writing on the wall, that most of these stores need marketing, and that the recurring revenue was there we quickly pivoted and began learning everything we could about email marketing.

Starting with the free courses Klaviyo has so much information. It's free so start there. Next would be Chase Dimond’s course. I think it's like $800. This course really helped instill the confidence to get on Upwork and look for simple projects. I think after taking a few projects I started applying for more and more difficult projects. And then eventually landed the main client that we still have today.

We also looked at the thought leaders in that space and what they were saying and doing. The internet is such a great free resource these days and so many people are willing to offer and share information.

One of the great parts about starting this business is the overhead costs are relatively low and we could survive the first few months by living off our savings.We started with just the basics we needed, and truly you don’t even need these:

  • An LLC - $500 through Zenbusiness.
  • Business emails through Google Suite - $12 per person per year.
  • A website: We use a platform called Carrd. It's really meant for one-page websites, but we like it because it’s simple and it's $19 A YEAR.
  • LOTS of outreach on UpWork - (Pro Tip: record a video of yourself to add personal touch)
  • Taking courses and learning as much as you can. Most platforms (Klaviyo) have TONS of free resources and even courses on their own product!
  • A co-working space - $200/month per person. We saw value in being able to work side-by-side with each other for the first few months. It was such a great experience!

from-freelancing-on-upwork-to-building-a-90k-year-email-marketing-business

We developed a website right away but that didn’t matter, and still is only somewhat helpful. The strong outreach, I believe, is what mattered the most and just being honest with who we were and being highly accountable. We haven’t taken any outside funding and thankfully haven’t needed any.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that you can really become proficient at anything and offer that value into the marketplace if you dedicate yourself to the process and studying the industry and skills you need to become valuable in that space. It’s all about choosing and putting in the work.

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

Man, Upwork was our best friend in the early days and still is. It's how we found our main client who we’ve now been working with for half a year - so the platform set us up for success by building our clientele foundation. And we hit the ground running. As soon as we had our client, we purchased an LLC and were working around the clock.

We’re fortunate to have found each other because we’re both extremely diligent and dedicated to Electric Sauce and dependable partners can be hard to find. I like to think of our partnership as me (Sean Gee) being the visionary/thinker and Sean Barnett being the implementer/doer. We have the best combination of strengths vs weaknesses.

There are 2 best times to plant a tree, The first one was 20 years ago, the second one is right now!

But we wanted more. We didn’t just want to have a couple of clients on our hands. We missed that connection and relationship-building aspect of an in-person office, so we purchased a co-working space and it was probably the best decision we’ve made to date.

If Upwork set our clientele foundation and experience, the co-working space helped us absorb the entrepreneurial vibe and build real relationships.

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

So far today we're doing great! As I said before we are a “micro-agency.” So we now have 2 high ticket clients. We are in communication with an account manager to help balance some of the workloads. So we can focus on bringing a few more clients while the AM handles the operational side of the company. We want to get to a point where we can start a holding company and acquire a few e-commerce brands.

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

Yes absolutely! It was extremely helpful for us to be frugal in our lifestyle. We were both living off our own personal savings for the time being.

Once we landed our first big client we paid ourselves very minimally to survive. The rest stayed in the business. If you can afford it I think working in a co-working space is very powerful and could land you some really good opportunities and even better relationships. We work at the WoCo Space in Houston,Tx. Matt is the best “landlord”.

Hire fast but fire faster. It’s sometimes hard to see people's work ethics in the beginning so you need to be able to let people go when things don’t work out.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We love ClickUp as a project management tool, but there is a little bit of a learning curve with such a powerful tool. It’s worth it though.

Most of our outreach has been on Upwork and I would encourage people to start there to find customers and clients. You’d be surprised at the size of the clients you can find there.

Most of our communication is done through Gmail and some on Slack, although you don’t need Slack or ClickUp starting out. You can easily bootstrap like we did and start with the free resources available to you.

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

We love this question because it’s so practical. This list is never-ending haha. The main takeaway here is NEVER STOP LEARNING!

Just learn and absorb all the information. Read, read, and read I can not stress this enough. A few books that come to mind

Books:

Youtube:

Courses- if you have the budget do not hold back here. This will speed you up tremendously!

All of the free resources from thought leaders in your space that are on YouTube

For us, Klaviyo puts out a ton of great resources and any platform you use is probably doing the same thing so make sure you dig into those as well.

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

  • You have to be relentless
  • It has to be something you enjoy or you will not stick with it.
  • Have the right co-founder that is good at what you’re not.
  • Always be learning and don’t be afraid to pivot. ( Shopify developers to email marketers)
  • Time management
  • Get on a freelance platform now and build up your skills and profile. One of my favorite quotes “There are 2 best times to plant a tree, The first one was 20 years ago, the second one is right now!”
  • Stay focused on one thing at a time.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

-  
Sean Gee and Sean Barnett, Founder of Electric Sauce
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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