Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Greg Shuey, founder of Stryde, an eCommerce digital marketing agency. Stryde works with women-owned eCommerce companies and eCommerce businesses that sell products primarily to women some of the brands we work with include Ergobaby, Crane, Lands End and others. We specialize in creating custom digital marketing strategies that focus on search engine optimization (SEO), paid search (PPC), paid social (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok ads), email marketing, and conversion rate optimization (CRO).
We’ve been in business for almost 9 years now and we’re hovering just over $2 Million in revenue. Our growth strategy has always been focused on bringing on the right clients vs volume of clients so we can service them with the utmost care and have the highest probability of seeing success.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have been in the digital marketing industry for over 15 years. I got my start in affiliate marketing, managing affiliate programs. After a few years of watching affiliates grow their website traffic and their revenue, I wanted to learn how they were doing it and stumbled across search engine optimization.
Just because there’s money in the bank or available from a lender, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. I probably could have done things a lot leaner and smarter in the initial months of getting started.
From there, I began my journey of becoming an SEO and learning how to do it for myself and my clients. I joined a small agency and threw myself into the practice. After spending a few years there, I joined a larger agency, SEO.com, and helped grow that organization from just over a million in revenue to 10 million in about the space of 5 years.
During my last year at SEO.com, I became interested in learning about omnichannel digital marketing strategy and felt that there was a better way to drive website traffic and revenue for businesses rather than just focusing on one channel. When I left SEO.com, I joined up with a few partners and started Stryde. Our main goal by starting the agency was to be able to serve clients better by tapping into other marketing channels and building custom digital marketing plans and executing those plans on their behalf.
It didn't take long to start generating clients for our business. Within 30 days we already had several clients that we were working with, mostly coming from networking and referrals from friends and other business contacts. Fun fact, our very first client is still with us to this day. They went from spending a few thousand dollars a month to over $30,000 per month with us.
Take us through the process of designing your services
The nice thing about starting another digital marketing agency is that I already had a skill set and a set of systems and processes that I could take and begin executing for clients. The tricky part was coming up with the additional services that we would offer outside of search engine optimization. I had to do a lot of research into the different channels, identify which we would be going into, and how we would leverage those channels to generate traffic and leads or sales for our customers.
It took a significant amount of time scoping these out, testing these on my websites, and testing them on some of our clients who were willing to let us do so. From there, it didn't take very long for us to be able to validate what was working and cut out the things that were not working and begin to scale the business.
All in all, it was probably about six months of really figuring things out before we had a real system and process dialed in across all of the channels we wanted to work in. The nice thing (but also a bad thing considering the barrier to entry for competitors) about digital marketing is that the cost to test is relatively low. You’re looking at human capital and minimal advertising spend. We were probably burning $4,000 a month on wages and ad spends to test and build out scalable processes.
When we started, we were doing digital marketing for anyone and everyone, but over the last few years, our target audience has narrowed down (remember - eCommerce businesses focused on products for women). When we decided to narrow, it took us a little bit to figure out what we wanted to focus on.
First, we spent time in our company data to figure out where we were the most profitable as a business. Second, we looked at how successful we were with certain client categories. Third, we worked with employees to understand where they were having the most fun and a sense of fulfillment. That led us to the eCommerce space.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started by working with our initial client by consulting with them on search engine optimization for their business. I was able to start working with them before I started Stryde, so we had a little bit of money and momentum that we were able to use to be able to start the business.
This same business that I was consulting with wanted to put some money into the organization in exchange for ownership and to be able to help us scale and grow the organization. It was super nice to be able to have these individuals to be able to consult with and to be able to have some capital to be able to grow in different areas and add headcount (before desperately needing additional headcount) without tapping into other credit sources.
I always encourage my employees to start side hustles while working for us and investing time and resources into building something they are passionate about.
As I look back, three of the biggest takeaways I learned while starting Stryde are as follows:
- Just because there’s money in the bank or available from a lender, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. I probably could have done things a lot leaner and smarter in the initial months of getting started.
- Never be too prideful to ask questions and for help from people smarter than you. I could have made some better decisions by showing some humility and asking better questions and getting help from others sooner than later.
- Outsourcing is not bad. You don’t have to do everything in-house. There are some seriously smart people out there who can do work better and faster than you. I could have saved a ton of time and money by leaning on freelancers and consultants to help fulfill for clients and help with other operational needs.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The way that we have typically generated new customers over the years is through our search engine optimization and digital marketing efforts. We needed to be able to develop content on our blog that speaks to our customer's needs and wants and then promote that content and get it ranking in the search engine so that we could bring in the right traffic that would generate leads that would turn into customers. A really good example of this is our Ultimate Guide To SEO For Ecommerce Businesses. You can see how thorough and helpful this post is and how it would build trust with our potential customers.
To this day, we seek out different content topics that our customers are most interested in by scouring forums, looking for related questions in the search engines, and listening to our potential customers and what they are asking regularly. We then produce content that speaks to those questions and needs, followed by promotion on social channels and link building to help with SEO.
To build links to these pieces we engage in outreach to other bloggers and journalists. We’ve done quite a bit of link building through using a tool called HARO where we can pitch journalists writing content about similar topics and getting links back to our resources.
From our marketing efforts, we consistently generated 30-40 leads per month for us to qualify and work to close.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Honestly, Stryde has never been in a better position than it is right now. We have been hyper-focused this last year on improving our margins, putting in place technology and processes to help us do work better and faster for our clients, and improving our bottom line. Some of these include the following:
- AI - We are seeing lots of different artificial intelligence tools hit the market right now designed to help perform analysis and provide strategic direction based on algorithms. We’ve been able to tap into several different AI data partners to help cut some of our strategy and fulfillment times by up to 30%, in some cases higher.
- APIs - We’ve spent a significant amount of time looking at processes and how we’re using certain tools to collect data for analysis. By tapping into these APIs and creating our tools and technology to harvest the data, we’re predicting it will save us at least 10-15% time in data collection so we can spend more time on analysis and execution. We’re hoping to have the first of our in-house tools rolled out by the end of Q1 2022.
- Process clean up - I’d say one of the biggest mistakes that business owners make is assuming that their processes are being followed by all and that they stay effective for more than 6 months. We’ve found that no matter how many times we train on our processes, our people will take them and tweak them based on their wants. We’ve spent a significant amount of time simplifying processes, building flow charts that are visual so it’s crystal clear how they should operate, and making sure that they are always up on their screens and being followed.
As a result, we are seeing stronger client retention, seeing our clients spend more money with us and on ad platforms, and generating more net income than we ever have as an organization.
As for the future, we plan to continue to grow slowly, while continuing to focus on our bottom line. We only want to attract and acquire new customers that fit very specific criteria. We have a proven process for clients that fit this criterion so it allows us to almost guarantee a certain percentage of growth in their first year while allowing us to run as efficiently as possible. Having this dialed in is a rather beautiful thing and reduces stress across the board.
Our goal for 2022 is to stay flat or grow by no more than a few percentage points. Our goal for the next five years is to grow the agency by no more than 20 to 30% while keeping headcount as low as possible. We are planning on investing a significant amount of capital into new technology and artificial intelligence to be able to service our clients better, deliver stronger results than we have in the past, and keep the business as lean as possible.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I make mistakes every single day. I think that the two biggest things that I have learned over the last eight years of running this business are first, specializing as early and as fast as you can. We started out doing digital marketing for everyone, it didn't matter to us what industry they were in. As a result, we had to recreate the process, learn new Industries, and how to approach them every single time. By doing this you lose efficiency, you overwhelm your employees, and you eat into the profits of your business. If you specialize, you cut out a lot of that. You can create processes that are repeatable and produce consistent work and results for clients. You can do the work faster and better by doing so.
The second thing that I've learned is the importance of having a mentor that you can work with who has deep experience or expertise working in your space. This individual has industry knowledge that you can tap into and has different contacts that you can be introduced to to help grow the organization. The mentor will also hold you accountable for what you said you would do and help you level up over time so that you can break through the ceiling and reach new heights, not only as an individual, but as a leader, and a business owner.
One last thing that I will add is making sure that you always have a plan b or a contingency plan. I think that most businesses learned this the hard way during covid. Honestly, we never had a plan b or a contingency plan and as a result, saw a significant decrease in revenue at the beginning of covid. Had we been better prepared, we would have been better positioned to weather the storm and had less disruption in those first few months.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a ton of different third-party tools to help us run and grow the business. On the sales and marketing side of things, we use Hubspotto manage our pipeline and different prospecting tools like Outreach and Lead IQ.
On the services side, our tech stack is even deeper and has far too many tools to list. The core tools we use are Teamwork for project management, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Bright Local, Click Intelligence, Joot and other tools to help analyze, set and execute strategy for our clients.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Traction is a book that helped me and my team put in place an operational framework to systemize what we do and help us get focused on priorities and apply pressure on those priorities to get massive results.
Deep work is a book that helped me learn the value of cutting out distractions and hyper-focus on the task at hand. From it, I’ve adopted time blocking where I have a very focused set of to-dos that take 100% of my focus and energy. Like traction, this practice has helped me to apply pressure in the right places to get massive results.
Lastly, High Performance Habits is a game-changer for anyone in any role. If you want to go from a 6 to 10 in any type of capacity, this is the book for you. There is a set of deleveraging things you should be doing every day to unlock your full potential and, again, get massive results.
If you can’t tell, I like to only read things that help me get massive results.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
First, get started as soon as you can and grind hard. I always encourage my employees to start side hustles while working for us and investing time and resources into building something they are passionate about.
Second, I also can’t stress enough about self self-educating as much as you can. Always be listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Read blog posts and scour Twitter and Linkedin for pro tips. Doing so will give you a leg up from the competition and give you the best chance of success.
Third, run as lean as you can for as long as you can. Hire freelancers to support you when you’re stretched so thin that you want to curl up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep. To me, nothing is sexier than a smaller business (people-wise) with serious cash flow and profits vs a larger business with insane overhead and barely scraping by.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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