How We Started A $30K/Month PPC Agency

Published: August 5th, 2019
Gabriele Contilli
Founder, Rocket PPC
Rocket PPC
from Emilia-Romagna, Italy
started January 2018
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi everybody, my name is Gabriele Contilli and I am the co-founder of Rocket PPC - a Pay per Click agency based in Italy with a highly-experienced team of specialists.

When Pasquale and I decided to launch our own agency, we had 3 clear objectives:

  1. To specifically hire highly-talented and experienced people
  2. To start and to stay fully-remote
  3. To work only for large clients and/or promising startups

The main idea behind Rocket PPC is to grant our customers the highest level of PPC management and help them discover new ways of growing their businesses through online advertising.

As marketers, we truly believe that Pay per Click is - nowadays - the best channel to grow any business and help CMOs and CEOs reach their business and marketing goals. It is the only way to support a business in this unstable and unpredictable market scenario, in which any goal can be changed, deleted, or modified in a matter of days.

We started our business with a very underrated business plan: our goal was to reach our break-even point (100k) in the first 12 months. The first year has been a true success and we exceeded our original expectations by reaching a double amount.

Our main KPI, however, was the churn rate of our clients: we were willing to keep it as low as possible, in order to keep growing on solid basis year over year. After the first 12 months, we only lost 10% of our clients due to internal changes and not to our errors or fault. I this way we were able to plan a second year with a +50% in revenues that drove us in the 30k/monthly revenue range.


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

Pasquale and I work in the digital marketing field since… ever! We started when Facebook was not yet existing - so you can imagine how many things have changed in all those years. We first met in a large web marketing agency in Italy and we worked together for a couple of years, side by side for large clients.

It is not easy to leave your casual work and start your own thing, but if you keep listening to that voice inside you every single day telling you “quit your job and start your own business” well.. you know you’ll get there, sooner or later.

After that, we both followed our growing path working on the client side or in other agencies, trying to get the best from all our jobs. It took something around 4-5 years to finally start talking seriously about our “dream job”.

We both wanted to start our own thing: a Pay per Click consultant service without compromises.

We are aware that digital marketing is not a perfect field and even if it allows to create mathematical models and to draw graphs and projections, it is almost impossible to define the results of each activity. That is, of course, alright, but many agencies and freelancers consultants use this unpredictability as a “shield” to protect themselves and their work from client’s objections.

We, however, wanted a new model, in which we were able to make a real difference in client’s business.

That is why we decided to sell PPC services and leave all the other “marketing services” outside: with Pay per Click you can obtain quick results and validate marketing ideas, so companies can better decide their next business goals. You can also make hypothesis in terms of budget and revenues , so clients have something to rely on beyond your promises.

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

When we decided that we were ready to launch our own agency, we started analyzing startup costs and break-even point. It was not very hard because we decided to restrict initial costs and let us say: start small!

We ran a simple business plan including:

  • Minimum salary
  • Fixed costs
  • Tools and Hardware
  • % overall margin

We expected a slower launch, but we made a ** 2.5x in revenues**. That’s an important lesson for anyone who is planning to launch a business: plan & analyze as long as needed, but get ready that your assumptions can always get better tuned!

Since we had a significant experience with the Italian digital marketing area, the process of launching our company was quite easy:

  • We analyzed all the contacts and potential clients we could reach in the first 6 months
  • We also checked all the active contracts or projects we recently worked on in our spare time

At the end of the process, we had something between 10 and 20 potential customers to contact and start proposing our services.

In addition, another important theme was our ability to send out highly specific quotes: we sent out files with budgets, ideas of campaigns and paid channels to activate, and even revenues and overall ROAS. These are preliminary analysis that beat our competitors since we were able to actually generate models and make accurate predictions for our clients.

The first 10 clients signed a contract with us in less than 90 days.

Launching Rocket PPC was very easy. During the few last months before our first presentation to the digital marketing world, I worked in order to get the first clients onboard. During that process, I was mainly exposing an idea to them rather than a real agency. We also had friends and ex-teammates who were working with clients that we would have liked to collaborate with them, so I simply contacted them and explained what we were going to do.

Our expertise and our preliminary analysis seemed to be a good warranty for them.

Once I heard Eric Siu and Neil Patel in a podcast saying “Start a business when you are around 30s” and I think that’s a great advice. If you start a business when you’re 32 or 35 years old, you should already have good connections in you market: if you browse your LinkedIn network or your address book, you should see a lot of opportunities in them and that’s a great way to start something especially in the Consulting field.

You also need a professional image, and it is very important to work on it before starting.

We decided to create our brand image since the beginning, even if with a very “simple style”. We found out a small design studio in our area and decided to hire them to:

  • Define our logo and brand identity
  • Help us create templates for PowerPoint and Word documents
  • Develop our website

Having these materials helped us sending out, in the first weeks, very professional quotes and analysis: I am pretty confident that this attention to detail helped us a lot in winning some clients against other agencies or consultants.


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

Our business is basically based on relationships and proven results. We can be the best in class but we need connections with people to have a chance to “sell” our services and our results. Especially in Italy, the market is full of digital marketing agencies which are composed of 50% or more by sales people. We are not.

Do not focus on money. Remember that any kind of business is based on trust: do what you are good at, be nice and transparent and money will follow.

Our marketing strategy is simple: do the best you can to provide results, document them and attract new customers with similar needs.

That makes our best “sales weapon” our actual customers who can spread the word about us and help Rocket PPC build new relationships and connections. We have been lucky enough to start with highly prestigious clients since we started, and as we were expecting, good clients lead to other good clients.

But I have to be honest: since Rocket PPC was our first entrepreneurial adventure, we were not totally aware of actual costs of it, thus we started by accepting all kinds of clients in the first 6-10 months in order to “make money to pay bills”. We knew that it was important for us to reach our business goals and since we did not know how the sales process could affect our revenues, we basically seized every opportunity. I have to say now, 18 months later, that this was not a good strategy. If you want to work with highly prestigous clients, you should only go for them and ignore the others even if it seems “quick money” to help your growth. Managing and onboarding small clients usually requires the same effort as big ones, but revenues are incomparable.

My “Pro” tip is: define your market positioning and stay consistent. It could be hard at the beginning, but it is important to laser-focus your energies and send out consistent messages to your audience.

You also may notice that Rocket PPC is highly specific and there is a real reason behind it: we were also seeking the possibility to “connect & partner” with other agencies without feeling competitors. Thanks to this, in the very first months of our agency, we have been contacted by 3-4 agencies that would need our specific services for their clients. We do not work “behind the scenes” since we need to speak directly with clients, but it is a strategy that works since it is a win-win: we gain a new client, the client gets a high-level PPC management, and the other agency gets a happier client and usually a referral fee (10-15% on the contract value).


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

I’m glad to say that we are profitable, and with higher gross margins than a “normal” agency in Italy. We cut down costs (no offices) and increase profitability by selling a professional consulting service.

Today we are focusing on putting ourselves in front of other big clients, and expand our team.

It is usually hard to have a chance with this kind of clients, but we are pretty confident that our network and good case studies would help us to become the agency we wanted from the beginning. During the second year we started sending out real case studies to prospects and attend at web marketing conferences with dedicated speeches and workshops. Talking with people and prospects during conferences is always a good idea if you work in the consultancy field: you can share with them ideas and suggestions and if you give them value, they usually “want more” from you.

So, do not be afraid to share your knowledge and give suggestions and tips for free to prospects. It’s usually a good way to show your skills and your passion and people love it. If you can create a real trust, then they will buy from you.

Our gross margins are now quite high: since a lot of work is done by Pasquale and I, these are on average between 60% and 80%.

At this point we are obviously discussing about growth of our company. We want to hire new talented people and define work processes, but that is not easy either.

Let me be honest, sometimes we also question the “growth”. Do we really need to grow? How big?
I mean, we are happy with our revenues, clients and workflows: adding more people, especially in a full-remote team, may require extra procedures, more controls, and usually, lower quality. You have to carefully choose collaborators and employees and that is not easy. A couple of months ago we added Andrea to the team. Hiring Andrea was easy: he is a +10 years experienced PPC guru, with a lot of personal skills that are perfect for Rocket PPC, and more importantly, we already knew him and trusted his expertise by experience. You know, finding people with all these characteristics in one place is not easy. How can you fully trust people and test them before hiring?

We are an agency based 100% on people: on their talent, skills, and passion. It is difficult to find people that truly fits in your company vision and mission.

So the point is: can we keep going on with our actual setup (maybe with a couple of other people) and keep getting new clients and avoiding the “usual” descending curve in quality of a high-growing company? Or not?

Who knows… we will find out in the next few months, or maybe years!

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

Shut your fears up.

It is not easy to leave your casual work and start your own thing, but if you keep listening to that voice inside you every single day telling you “quit your job and start your own business” well.. you know you’ll get there, sooner or later.

We did it in a 6 months period, just to be sure to “prepare ourselves” and save a bit of money for the first months. I think that it is important to have some money in your pocket before starting a company because you need to be calm and confident with no fears about you upcoming future in terms of money and sustainability.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Slack for team communications and for clients too. It works just fine. We don’t like it for calls (it is a bit buggy on that side) so we usually switch to Google Hangout just for video calls.

Asana is our project management tool and it is great even if some very useful features are only available at the most expensive plans. The most absurd missing feature is time tracking: we actually need to use Toggl as a third piece of software to just track time spent on specific tasks in Asana and that’s not so useful. I hope they will add this feature quite soon.

All the emails and file storage are in Google Suite: Gmail is by far the best email provider and Google Drive just works fine, so it is easier for us to have all in one place.

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

A lot! I read all 37Signals’ books and I think that a lot of my mindset has been shaped by them.

I think that ReWork is by far the best business book I read in the last 12 years: it is quite easy but it reshaped the idea of having a business several years ago and I think that is fascinating.

Now a lot of companies do smartworking, agile meetings and so on, but 37 signals guys were among the first… in 1999!

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

Do not focus on money. Oh well, you should have a Business Plan and a clear vision of you revenue goals but do not let it drive your business.

Remember that any kind of business is based on trust: do what you are good at, be nice and transparent and money will follow.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are hiring PPC Specialists with +4 years in experience. Want to try? Join us.

Where can we go to learn more?

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