Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Roger Parent, and I started a digital marketing agency in 2014. We primarily focus on search marketing (paid search & SEO) in the active & healthy lifestyle e-commerce market. That sounds boring though. What we do is help scale the hell out of businesses and change the lives of entrepreneurs who in most instances are struggling to crack the nut that is digital marketing. We’re not afraid to use unconventional means provided measurable results follow.
We’ve scaled the agency to now over $330k/month in revenue, with our eyes set on $416k ($5mm) in 2022. The goal is to grow to $30mm before I turn 40 years old (2029)!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before starting Digital Position, I came out of college with a Computer Science degree (which is worthless, by the way) and worked in-house at a custom apparel company. At the time, I was doing SEO for the company and managing an agency that was controlling their Google Ads & other PPC accounts. Managing the agency was a nightmare; they took forever to respond, they would butter up results constantly, they weren’t transparent, and overall they just didn’t drive great results. On top of this, the company was paying this agency north of $150k per year to manage it.
It was only by being consistently overwhelmed that I learned how important choosing a niche and “staying in your lane” is.
I convinced leadership to let me take the account in-house, so we fired the agency. After that, the account grew by $1mm in bottom-line profit in the first year of transition, leading me to of course ask for a big raise and growth within the company.
They gave me “the best raise they had ever given”, which was the equivalent to a ~$4,000 raise on $1mm of value I had just driven. It was at that moment I realized that I would never be able to grow in the way that I wanted, I was unhappy being chained to a desk every day (per se) in an office punching in and out, and that I could provide a service better than a large agency. I had all the leverage.
Thus, I quit and started Digital Position, in hopes that I could convince the apparel company to hire my agency. They did just that; I got almost double the salary for half the hours and began growing my client base. The massive risk (I had student debt, car loans, and a mortgage at the time - it was wreckless in hindsight) paid off, and ever since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride learning how to become a legitimate business owner by jumping straight into the fire.
Take us through the process of starting your agency.
I made SO many mistakes when starting Digital Position, and continue to make them. I didn’t design, prototype, or create any process properly. In the beginning, because of my degree and background, I had such a wide variety of basic experience I thought I could do anything. Thus, I offered website builds & design, social media marketing, PPC, SEO, email marketing, CRO, you name it. I’d clean a client’s toilet if they wanted me to.
It was only by being consistently overwhelmed that I learned how important choosing a niche and “staying in your lane” is. Search marketing was what I was best at, it was my bread & butter. So over time I cut everything else out and focused on those - and business exploded.
Over the subsequent years we have refined our processes, created video documentation top to bottom, we’ve even hired a full development team who builds and adds to a full agency management software we call DataPulse. Refining our tech stack has been tremendous for us.
I was able to scale the business from $8k/mo to $100k/mo in the first 2 years:
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business wasn’t a “launch” for me. I just bought a domain (gradientwave.com actually), barfed up a terrible logo, and attempted to create an LLC which I did completely improperly.
It was only a year in that I rebranded to Digital Position (thankfully), and after a huge tax bill, I realized I needed to bring in experts to help me figure out all the financials and how to run a business on the legal side properly. That’s the part that goes completely unnoticed. When you own a business, you don’t realize you’re paying double the social security & medicare, and the amount of work required to just satisfy all the crazy federal and state regulations takes up an annoyingly large chunk of your time.
Luckily for me, starting an agency requires very little overhead (just enough salary to get by + a computer). I sat at my computer in my home for 12 hour days in a ripped t-shirt and shorts trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. No better way to learn!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Digital Position has spent virtually nothing on growing our client base. We have close to 40 leads in the pipeline right now, we’ve grown almost exclusively through word of mouth & referrals. I didn’t set out to create a “churn & burn” agency that just onboards tons of clients and constantly churns through them. I wanted to create a best-in-class performance agency, one that kicks every other agency’s ass. And I also wanted to give employees that work for me a better life than I ever had at work, with fully flexible work weeks and growth plans that align with their objectives.
Our business is in relationships. We of course drive awesome performances, but nobody wants to fire a friend. The average client sticks with us for 3.5 years, despite every agreement being month to month with a 30-day opt-out. That’s something I’m especially proud of. My team is made up of the best, most hard-working, kind-hearted people ever. I’m very lucky. I think clients feel that attention and love they get and jump to refer others to us!
Fail fast and cheap. Don’t waste tens of thousands of dollars on things that aren’t working, keep moving until you find what works, and then lean into it.
Even if you’re not an agency, connecting with other smart people is such a pro tip. I’m involved in PPC communities, I follow the PPC subreddit, I’m doing this interview! Get out there and you’ll meet amazing people who have been where you want to go and are willing to chat about the best ways they found to get there.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re exploding. Our biggest problem is we just can’t find talent. We’re now a team of 21 full-time employees, and we have 4 more roles open.
We run between a 45% - 30% profit margin depending on how we’re operating the business. There’s this interesting balance I’ve learned here if you over-hire your business so everyone isn’t stressed out & has the bandwidth, you’re not keeping them safe. If revenue drops or you lose a key account, you don’t want to have to lay someone off. On the other hand, if you run your business TOO profitably, everyone is overwhelmed and complaining - but their job is super safe!
Thus, we’re trying to grow our staff at a consistent rate with our client growth but clients are just absolutely flooding in. We’re at the point where we’re connecting with others and passing them leads for a commission. Culture is everything, we need to make sure our staff comes to work loving it every day.
One last note - always try to share in the value or upside you create, no matter the business or role. Our invoices scale with the client’s success, so if we’re driving success for them we get paid more. Aligned incentives like that can be really powerful!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
So many things, I’ll add some bullet points of the key ones here:
Always be hiring
You shouldn’t buy a car when you need a car, because that snake oil salesman will get ya. If you’re always hiring, meaning you’ve always got jobs open and interviewing, if you find a gem pull the trigger. You won’t regret it.
We work with such a wide variety of clients, I’ve evaluated hundreds of businesses at this point. The ones who are aggressive and willing to lower their ROAS goals to try and test new things, who are willing to take risks on new unproven ideas, etc. almost always come out ahead. Always be thinking about what you want to accomplish in the long-term with the business and don’t get caught in fear in your day-to-day.
Know your brand
If you’re selling kids umbrellas, be the best damn seller of kids umbrellas on the planet. Stop trying to branch out into anything and everything rain-related because it seems like easy money. Yes, you’ll cross-sell some people and make more money but the opportunity cost of becoming extremely distracted by some new market or service that you don’t live & breathe is enormous.
Also, know your brand story. What makes your BRAND unique? If you’re just trying to sell a product, good luck. We have a client who sells a jump rope. They’re now one of the top jump ropes on the market, if not the top because they took a jump rope and made it into a complete fitness experience with an app showing workouts, heatmaps showing what muscles you’re working, and so much more. You can tell they’re not just selling a jump rope, they’re an authority on that subject.
Fail fast & cheap
If an employee isn’t working out, and you feel it in your gut, move on. Trust me, you’ll know. If a marketing tactic isn’t working out, cut it and move to the next because there’s so much to try. Don’t waste tens of thousands of dollars on things that aren’t working, keep moving until you find what works, and then lean into it.
I’m wrong so much more often than I am right. At this point, I’ve hired experts all around me that are better than me at each skill. Trust your team and always be learning. Ego in my opinion is the #1 killer of businesses! It ruins relationships, it ruins your ability to grow, it’s the worst. Every mistake is an opportunity to get better, embrace being imperfect.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Monday.com for task management (we’re all remote FYI, so a lot of this is centered around that)
- Slack for chat
- Zoom for conference calls
- Outlook / O365 for email (Gmail sucks!)
- SEMRush for keyword tracking & website performance metrics
- DataPulse (proprietary, our custom built platform) for reporting
- Google Sheets / Supermetrics for custom reports
- Screaming Frog for website crawling
- Dropbox for file storage
- OBS for video documentation / recording process videos
- Whimsical for flowcharts / org charts / process docs
- ~75% of our clients are on Shopify so we use an agency account there
- Rippling for HR & payroll
- Quickbooks for accounting
- Bitwarden for password management
- Steam & Discord to play video games with our staff
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I prefer articles & YouTube videos to books, but here’s a couple:
- SearchEngineLand’s daily searchcap email, great for keeping up with rapid changes in the PPC/SEO market
- Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller (book), great guide on making your brand more than just a name but something that truly resonates with people.
- Joe Rogan because he’s fun to listen to, HA
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Do it, you wouldn’t do it.
In all seriousness, be careful about trading time for dollars to an extreme degree. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, I mean this. It’s f’n hard and requires major sacrifice. I’m a former pro volleyball player and consider myself an athlete, so I thought I was mentally tough. Having a business is like having another child (of which I have 2 with a 3rd on the way), it’s one of those things you just can’t relate to others unless they’ve done it. At times I’ve gone through severe anxiety with heart fluttering, I’ve had insomnia obsessing about client friction at times, I’ve lost weight at some points and been unhealthy, I’ve had to work 70 hour work weeks for far too many months at times falling asleep in my chair, etc., etc.
The grass always seems greener, and it certainly can be over here once you’ve gotten to a point where the team can manage everything and you can start to take steps back while also getting paid for all your hard work - but that doesn’t happen overnight. Even at $330k per month, you’d be surprised at how not liquid a growth company can be when you need to continuously reinvest everything into it, even 6-7 years in. I’ll be honest, there were many points at which I thought to myself “man I should have just kept an easy job and spent more time doing the things I love”. It’s a commitment to get to high levels of success, a huge one, so know that going in.
All that said, I have the best team in the world and I love it. I’m very grateful for all that I’ve been blessed to accomplish with Digital Position:
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, always! Our open positions can be found here.
Where can we go to learn more?
We’re always open to chat. If you have any questions about this interview or want to get in touch with me directly, fill out the contact form on our website and mention me and I’ll get back to you personally!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.