Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Amit, the Founder of The Links Guy, a link building & digital PR agency based in the UK. We specialize in link building, and this is our core (and only) offering. We tend to work with very tech-focused clients, however, our client base has ranged in everything from cybersecurity, B2B SaaS, cosmetic dentistry, finance, and citizenship by investment. You name it, we’ve probably worked on it in some form!
We’ve undergone a re-brand (was originally Amit Digital Marketing). Since we started back in early 2016, the brand has gone through several changes, expanded in size, and especially in the last 2 years, has increasingly been improved by input from individuals in my team. We’re in a much more stable and fruitful position than when I started, and have worked with clients and built connections with people and organizations I never dreamt I would have when I first dabbled in link building all those years back.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My original background was actually as a pharmacist - however, I always had a personal interest in business, marketing, and especially the role of digital marketing and tech. So I had been stumbling about, learning, and dabbling in various facets of digital marketing since around 2013. I then fell into the world of SEO around 2014 - 2015, and met my old mentor, Dan Ray, at that time as well. He introduced me to this curious thing called link building.
Now, while this was going on, I still worked in a pharmacy as I was not financially in a position to drop the day job completely. Additionally, within the pharmacy industry in the UK and the company’s I worked for at that time, I found the industry in general, and especially that particular company was just so behind the times, that there was no scope to pursue anything in the area of digital marketing.
Anytime I did try to explain, I wasn’t taken seriously, and people thought I was some kind of IT geek that didn’t know what he was talking about! On reflection, this was probably a good thing and the company later ended up having some serious financial issues and was not doing well.
I then decided to work in my spare time with forward-thinking companies, and work on my craft over the coming years. It wasn’t always smooth sailing every step of the way. A lot of it involved testing the waters, calibrating as I went, and improving my strategies, processes, and outreach techniques all the time. But I got better at it with time, learned how to hire people and train them to do what I did, and eventually, get better at delegating and mentoring people.
One thing I did know was that there was a desperate need from many companies out there, looking for help with driving more backlinks, and organic search traffic. The problem for many of them though is finding someone (or a company) that is reliable and can deliver what they promise. Many either can’t build the links they say they can - or they build links that are simply rubbish and try to pull the wool over the client’s eyes. I aimed to fulfill this need - provide excellent customer service and deliver exceptional quality that is seldom matched. With time, I knew I could build up a client base and reputation without having to do a lot of heavy marketing or promoting myself on the SEO-speaking circuit.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Through from 2015 onwards, I’ve always offered the same core offering. Custom-built link-building campaigns, which are created with the client’s business in mind. It has been a monthly service, where we aim to guarantee a minimum number of links, depending on the client's budget and aims. However, at the very start when doing this by myself, I was working at pretty close to minimum wage - even though at the time, I could earn more than double that, from being a pharmacist. But the way I saw it, the only way I could be better at link building and know-how to create a business from it, was to actually do it day in and day out, and “learn the craft”. Once I knew how to excel at it, I could start to train a team, take on more clients and grow from there.
I also took advice from others throughout the journey as well, but a lot of this was about figuring things out. Where others couldn’t help me, I had to fill in the gaps and figure it out myself. It also allowed me to share what worked for me, with other newbies to the field.
E.g. a few years ago getting a link on a huge media outlet. Nobody knew how we could turn it into a link. Turns out all we had to do was just reach out to the right person.
Additionally, though, it wasn’t just about knowing the right people to contact, it’s also about knowing exactly how to craft the perfect email for that person, while also keeping in mind who we are reaching out as, what content we’re showing them, and what our angle is. What I realized is that, if I was able to spin all these plates at the same time, so to speak, is when I would be able to maximize the quality of the links I could build for my clients.
Along the way, I invested very heavily in hiring the right people for my team, training them, and giving them room to fail (within reason) so that we could all learn and grow, and come out of it better on the other side. Along the way, of course, we inevitably were going to have campaigns that didn’t work as well and were just not efficient or profitable. Or we had a client (the type that many agencies dread), that nitpicks everything you do, and inevitably fired us, because he didn’t like how we worded a line on one outreach email. (long story!)
But we also had some tremendous success that thankfully outweighed the low points. That allowed us to figure out what we were doing correctly, what type of clients we struggled with, and (this is most important), how to manage client expectations and have enough savvy to know when we are not overpromising.
I would say around 2020 onwards, is where I felt it was reaching the point where I could take a step back from day to day link building, and focus more on just supporting the team, and giving them what they need, doing their job effectively, and helping them upskill.
That's when getting huge wins like getting links on the likes of MIT, large nonprofit organizations, and huge media outlets like Business Insider and The Kitchn became a regular occurrence. But to add to that, it wasn’t just about the size of the publication. Our strategies became even more aligned over time to what our core business is about - knowing our client’s business inside out and being able to build highly relevant link strategies with this in mind.
Describe the process of launching the business.
To launch the business it didn’t take much investment - other than buying hosting, domain, WordPress theme, and getting a logo designed, this probably added up to less than $200 or so.
Taking imperfect action is better than pondering and thinking about what to do. That's the only reason I made any kind of progress and have had any success
Thankfully it wasn’t a business that seemed like it was going to take a lot of capital to get going. However, what it was going to take was a lot of sweat equity, and time to get to the stage where I could either attract clients without having to actively get them, or get to the stage where I knew which clients to approach, and close them efficiently.
The first iteration of our business operated under the domain amitdigitalmarketing.com (at the time of writing this is still active), and the main aim of this website was to have a core content piece that explained my entire link building process step by step. If a potential client landed on that page, I could pretty much convince most of them that I knew what I was talking about and could do a good job. The variable factor was whether they had the budget and if I could stand out from all the other link builders.
But I had a few things going against me:
- As I had no pre-existing contacts in the SEO industry, was not a “big name” by any stretch.
- Since I was just a pharmacist by profession, I could not even trade on the fact I had experience as an employee in the marketing sector.
- And (get the violins out!) I was an ethnic minority and had an Indian name. This was a factor despite what many thought, and I had to work harder to get anywhere near the same standing as my peers who were white.
I didn’t let these things deter me though, and if anything, it challenged me to strive to do more and try to give customers the best possible experience.
I knew that long term, with an industry like SEO - it can be hard for clients to find someone trustworthy and even to measure what a consultant is doing, to determine if they should trust them. If I focused on providing clients with great experiences and getting them the results, even if it meant giving them a bit too much for their money - I would win in the long run.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Surprise surprise, our main method has been, link building!
But to break it down further, it's mostly been a mixture of doing guest posts on really big sites like Foundr, Search Engine Land, and others. As well as getting quoted or mentioned within the articles of other big publications like American Express, Forbes and countless others.
The article I’ve written for Search Engine Land for example showcases one of the core beliefs our agency has about a common misconception many have about link building - which is “domain authority” and third-party metrics in general. The article was driving occasional leads even a year after being published, and it is an evergreen article that is still applicable today, and probably still picks up a bit of traffic even now. It's also been shared on social media by others and was even linked to by sites such as BrightLocal and SEO Roundtable.
I also recently found out that one client that we still work with, actually only reached out to me because they had been reading an article and had seen a quote I had given about an SEO topic, and they decided to click through to my site to find out more. That one action led to us having a call and resulted in upwards of $30,000+ in business.
It's not just about the referral traffic though, as you may know, the link building we did had benefits when it comes to improving rankings and bringing in organic search traffic. So this also resulted in us ranking for a few keywords over the years which brought in some extremely relevant traffic. To streamline this, I set up the site so that potential customers could submit their details, which would get recorded into a Google Sheet, for me to contact them later.
Mixed in with that, I also spent a lot of time giving mountains of free advice in various Facebook groups like SEO Signals. Any time someone asked something about link building, I’d chip in with my advice - the key being that I’m just being honest about my experiences and knowledge, I’m not being directly promotional, nor have I got some hidden agenda to push them towards using a product.
It’s even resulted in me being banned from a Facebook group by a very well-known “black hat SEO”, as I was told, my advice could result in making people wary of using their link-building service because of the nature of it. But what this has resulted in is for people to reach out to me via social media wanting to learn more about what I offer, and in many cases, rather than try to figure out link building in-house, they just end up hiring us to do it for them.
An occasional, subtle flex-post on social media helps as well when we share results we’ve got for clients, for example, email conversations, etc.
Example of a recent post.
It showcases what we can do, and while some could always argue that things can be photoshopped, or there’s trickery involved, the fact remains that out of 9 clients we have right now, 2 of them have been with us for over 3 years, 4 of them for 1-2 years, and 1 of them for 6 months.
I did also start up a YouTube channel that receives small trickles of views here and there, nothing huge. However, I think along with the methods above, it all had a cumulative effect.
If someone wasn’t interested in our services on the first touch, at some point they might watch one of our videos and then may become interested. We would also retarget them on social media, and they would be redirected back to our website.
Dr Jeffrey Kant’s“Rule of Seven” for example, states that you need to contact a prospect at least seven times for them to remember you. The rule of seven is something that’s commonly shared in marketing and sales - and while there are many caveats and exceptions to the rule, I think the point is, being able to make contact with a potential customer multiple times is going to be crucial. So I see any way of interacting with people, no matter how small that interaction, to all, play its part in a much bigger picture.
For example, we have put out very niche content on platforms like YouTube, spent countless hours contributing thoughtfully written comments on large SEO industry Facebook groups, writing guest posts on large publications (like StarterStory) or I will write a soundbite for articles that journalists are writing about SEO, with this same principle in mind. If anyone sees that piece of content or comment we’ve written and it resonates with them enough that they do more research and even click through to our website, it could be a potential customer. We also retarget people who visit our website using a Facebook pixel, so if we didn’t convince them on our first interaction- we may get them once we retarget them.
Even customers who enquire and we don’t close for whatever reason, we will (with permission) add them to our small email marketing list and I’ll send an email blast now and again, with the sole purpose of providing value and educating them on some specific link building topic, or something very current which is affecting SEO.
I have done some outbound cold outreach, and used platforms like PeoplePerHour and Upwork to get business. However, I relied on this mostly in the initial years of the business. After that, we were able to rely mostly on inbound inquiries, word of mouth, and referrals.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’ve always been profitable, however, we’re now at the stage where we can turn a more healthy margin in comparison to the previous year. A lot of this is from making drastic changes in how we train and hire people. Reducing waste, unnecessary duplication of work, and using automation strategically in certain parts of the link building process.
It's a bit cliche, but the success of a company does rely on the strength of its employees. And even with the strongest employees in the world, you need to ensure you’re utilizing them effectively.
To make these improvements, we’ve sacrificed a slice of our profit in the last year or so, we could invest in upskilling the team, invest in certain tools, or even hire a few outside consultants to come in and improve very specific parts of the business. It was worth it, however, as we are now able to build links much more efficiently and can hit targets and deadlines more comfortably - which I know in the long term will benefit us from a financial standpoint, and the ability to retain (and attract) clients.
I spend almost nothing on my own agency’s marketing, and in the last 12 months, have been coasting off the traffic our site receives organically - be it through social media (we find organic Facebook posts and contributing valuable comments to Facebook groups the most successful), referral traffic, or Google.
As you can see here, on our old site we got over 6,600 unique visitors over a year - only an average of 550 a month - but the traffic has been targeted enough to bring in at least 15 good quality, solid leads. Some leads were closed, some dropped off, and others are at various stages of discussions or are considering our services (I’m not super pushy when it comes to sales). We’re at the stage where we have more projects than we can even take on at once - which is a good problem to have! I’d recommend anyone to read this book, Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley.
But, since we have now rebranded, we’re going to have one arm of the teamwork on marketing ourselves a bit more, and have quite a few ideas, which is going to help us leverage social media a lot more.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest things we had to change and where you can make or break any business - is improving our ability to hire and retain the right people, and also improving the processes that our team follows.
Listen to your team more! They’re doing the job day-in, day-out. They may have fresh ideas they can bring to the table
Even if things are going well, you’re turning a profit and doing ok, you have to constantly be thinking about how you can improve things and stay ahead of the curve. It's a bit cliche, but the success of a company does rely on the strength of its employees. And even with the strongest employees in the world, you need to ensure you’re utilizing them effectively. If they follow the wrong processes, they may get burnt out, work inefficiently, or get frustrated.
In addition to that - listen to your team more! They’re doing the job day-in, day-out. They may have fresh ideas they can bring to the table, stuff they’ve learned from their previous companies, or just things about the way your company works that they think needs improvement. You may be the owner/CEO/manager - but that doesn’t mean you always have the answers and it doesn’t always mean you’re always right.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We try to stay lean, and not use a huge amount of tools. However, there have been certain tools that are necessary to help speed up certain processes. Main ones we use:
- Respona, is a new email outreach platform we use which has been incredible for us and has helped our outreach team immensely.
- Bitrix24, which is a project management system we all use to plan and set tasks and communicate day-to-day.
- Grammarly, our outreaches, and QC team members use this to make sure they don’t miss any glaring spelling or grammar errors.
- Google Docs and GoogleDrive, have been a staple for us, and while it’s nothing fancy, has been extremely reliable and is great for being able to share our work in real-time with clients and automate or streamline certain processes.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I mentioned Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley - this was great even just for shifting mindset. If you want to get out of the cycle of scrambling for customers in a crowded marketplace and think about how you can have people queuing up to hire you instead, I thoroughly recommend this.
Other than that, I don’t tend to read a lot of books or listen to podcasts, as I did that a lot when I was younger, and feel I have to now learn by doing, and figuring stuff out along the way.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
This is cliche and you’ve heard it before, but can’t emphasize it enough - stop thinking about what to do and just take action!
Taking imperfect action is better than pondering and thinking about what to do. That's the only reason I made any kind of progress and have had any success. Whether it’s with regards to me getting clients or being ballsy about getting some particularly big wins for clients.
For example, we’ve connected clients with Forbes and got them a speaking engagement off the back of that outreach. We’ve connected one client with a major YoUTube channel with over 3 million subscribers, and even got someone a meeting with someone on Mark Cuban’s team. None of those are even remotely connected to building links and those kinds of things are unpredictable. But the difference was, I was willing to take a leap of faith and give it a shot.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always on the lookout for good email outreach and generally would want them to be full-timers. Link building or SEO experience is not 100% necessary, but we vet people carefully to make sure they have something they can bring to the table and have some kind of creative flair. You can check out our job post on LinkedIn here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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