This is a follow up story for Growth Gorilla. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey there! My name is Alan Silvestri and I run Growth Gorilla, a link building outreach agency for SaaS companies. We do email outreach to acquire backlinks on behalf of our clients and we specialize in working with existing content that the clients have on their site, so we don’t do guest posting or anything else that requires creating new content.
We’ve grown a lot in the past year, we went from $10,000/month to about $20,000/month and from just me and 2 contractors to a team of 7 people, most of them full time.
A few months ago I also achieved one of my life goals: buying my dream car, a Delorean DMC-12.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
As mentioned above, the business has grown quite a lot, basically doubled during the past year. We hired 2 new link prospectors (the people who scour the web for your link building opportunities), 2 new outreach managers (the people who manage your emails and negotiate the link opportunities), and an assistant/project manager (helps with admin tasks and coordinating the whole team).
Feel free to try different things, but give yourself a deadline for any of those. If something fails, try another one and keep going until something sticks.
All of our link prospectors (RJ, Jesa, and Jasper) and the project manager (Cathy) are based in the Philippines, while the outreach managers (Tamara and Mirko) are based in Serbia.
I seriously believe the number 1 factor in our growth has been increasing the team size and outsourcing tasks that I was doing before. This has allowed me to have more time to focus on experimenting with new ideas, improving client relationships, marketing, writing, and improving our systems and processes.
I said experimenting because 2019 and 2020 I’ve tried a bunch of new things (spoiler alert: most failed).
Here are a few:
- A DFY HARO monitoring and replying service.
This failed pretty badly, HARO is such a slow channel to get press backlinks that it’s really difficult to guarantee results to clients promptly.
- An “Unlimited small SEO tasks” productized service.
This never fully happened, I tried spreading the word a bit but I guess the interest just isn’t there for this kind of service offering. People prefer hiring VAs and training them to perform simple SEO tasks.
I guess my willingness to try something new came from the fact that doing the same thing over and over for the past few years started to feel boring. I also noticed how link building (and really anything that involves cold email outreach) keeps getting harder and harder.
This initially got me a bit discouraged and looking for new ideas (i.e. shiny objects).
Ultimately, I got to the conclusion that, normally, our work is getting more difficult, it’s just part of the experience of growing any company.
Yes, cold outreach is a particular beast in itself, but the fact that it’s becoming harder and harder means that a lot of people are going to drop the ball. The ones that survive are the ones who have figured out a way to make it work, not despite the difficulties but BECAUSE of them.
In terms of marketing tactics and lead generation, we’re still going strong with word of mouth. I tried doing some outreach on Linkedin but that didn’t work well either.
The thing that keeps working well for me is just networking with other smart people, helping people out, and providing value for free with things like blog posts.
Here are a few reactions to my latest guide from other great people in the industry:
I genuinely believe that cultivating relationships with other professionals in your industry is one of the best ways to advance your career and business.
Best of all, it’s free!
Another thing I’m constantly trying to improve is my sales calls and sales deck that I use during these calls. I want my prospective clients to come out of the calls feeling that they know absolutely everything they need to know to make a decision.
I show them our exact process, the timeline and expectations for results, how much it all costs, and what they need to do next. It’s straightforward and I also try to make it all simple and visually appealing.
During the last year, I learned a lot about how to manage client expectations. It’s probably one of the biggest factors that have allowed me to outsource most of the work to the team so I don’t have to do it myself and constantly worry that things are gonna break.
Our clients know exactly what they can expect from our service and there are (usually) no other questions or doubts later on in the engagement.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
First off, I would say #1 the importance of experimenting with new ideas.
Even though most of what I tried failed, it allowed me to let my creative juices flow, do something new and fresh for a while which ultimately brought back the concentration that I needed to focus on the agency.
When you spend time on something that turns out to be a failure, it makes you think back at what you had going on before and you realize it wasn’t all that bad.
2) The importance of letting go and delegation. As I said before, by delegating most of the work to the team, I was able to experiment and improve our existing processes and systems. It’s crazy to think about how liberating it feels to be able to sit down in the morning and work on a blog post knowing that the guys in the team are taking care of the hard work.
The best thing in all of this is that when you leave more autonomy to the team, over time they might become better than you were at doing the work. For this reason, I always try to provide my team with “frameworks” instead of super-specific procedures (although we also have those). I want them to be able to use their intuition and unique skills and not just be a replica of myself.
3) I learned that my main strength and passion is not much the SEO and link building stuff (though I do enjoy that) but more the “creating a machine” that generates specific results and it’s reliable, while at the same time doing work that is considered “manual”.
Most people think you can’t productize an agency and that it’s always going to be a pain in the ass managing clients and team members etc.
I do believe that it is possible to systematize most of it though, in a way that the “human factor” is minimized and only present when necessary.
For this reason, I stopped doing custom proposals for clients after our sales calls. I show them EVERYTHING they need to know to say YES or NO, why should I spend extra time creating a custom slide deck just to reiterate the same things over and over again?
So, yeah, in short, #3 > Figure out what works for you > create systems around it > Repeat. Build > Maintain > Build > Maintain.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Nothing really special planned for the future besides keep consolidating our process and systems to make our clients happy and satisfied.
I do want to grow the business more to the point where eventually it’s just a matter of hiring more people to be able to work with more clients but for now, I still consider us more of a “boutique” agency. We want to work with a specific type of client and get the results.
One thing I would like to try out and eventually grow the agency into is an actual content-led link building agency, where we create the content as well as promoting it. I think the future of the industry is moving in this direction especially as cold email is becoming less effective.
You do need to have amazing content to be able to stand out and acquire quality backlinks, and so, most of the time, the content that the clients already have is sub-par and not good enough, making our work even harder.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I spent the last year diving deeper into Stoic philosophy.
It’s one of my passions and probably the biggest help in keeping me sane while running the business and dealing with the current pandemic.
Here’s a very nice list by Ryan Holiday (who was my first introduction to Stoic philosophy).
The main thing to point out about stoicism is the concept of knowing what’s in your control and what isn’t. I wrote about how companies can apply this during the pandemic and still thrive in this article here.
We have been faced with 2 options:
- Be sad, moan and do nothing about it
- Do everything we can to pivot, improve, be creative, and thrive.
We can’t control the pandemic and what’s gonna happen in the world (besides the obvious social distancing and wearing masks), but we can control how we react to it all (the 2 options above), I choose number 2.
My favorite podcasts are:
- The Art of Manliness
- The Daily Stoic
- The Tim Ferris Show
- The Money Podcast by Rob Moore
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Don’t give up! Feel free to try different things, but give yourself a deadline for any of those. If something fails, try another one and keep going until something sticks.
Something that has helped me in the past few months has been separating my day into “maker time” and “manager time” (I came across this idea here).
Maker time is usually in the morning when I’m more creative and awake. This is the time I want to use to be still, create things, come up with new ideas and systems improvements. During Maker time, I don’t check my phone or emails, it’s just me, some chill music, and my laptop.
The manager's time is in the afternoon. This is where I do admin work, check emails, reply to clients, and the team.
This separation has been a lifesaver and it helped me not feeling guilty for not checking emails first thing in the morning.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not right away, we are currently at about 10 clients and this is the most we’ve ever had.
I want to get to a very stable point where things don’t fall apart, but if we keep growing we’re soon going to be needing more link prospectors and more outreach managers.
So, if you are interested in joining the team, please do reach out!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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