I've Grown My Agency To $240K/Year Consulting For Small Businesses

$20K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Juicy Pickles
from Singapore
started August 2017
$20,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
4.68M
alexa rank
272
followers
12
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I've Grown My Agency To $240K/Year Consulting For Small Businesses

Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?

Ciao! My name is Giulia Cian Seren and I run Juicy Pickles. It’s a small company that offers digital marketing consulting, training, and coaching to small business owners. I started my company 4 years ago in 2017, after moving from Europe to Southeast Asia and seeing how favorable the business climate was in Singapore.

Technology has always been easy for me. Yes, I was the tall, bony kid that can fix your router! There are so many amazingly talented entrepreneurs around the world, who have the best products or services. And yet, nobody has ever heard of them.

Juicy Pickles solves this problem. Through my flagship coaching membership, The Pickling Club, I teach business owners how to stop being afraid of technology and how to conquer the internet through simple, affordable, effective strategies. Members range in age from 27 to 72, countries (UK to Indonesia), and industries (parking equipment to silver antiques) - they all have in common a great passion for what they do and a dedication to their craft that’s hard to find these days.

80% of my time is spent working as a CMO/Growth-hacker for bigger small businesses who make more than $50k/mo. I love the practical, hands-on, technical side of digital marketing and I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it.

This combination of activities allows me to be location-independent and work asynchronously most of the time. I work with companies in 15+ countries and it’s exciting to be in contact with so many different realities: it’s like having 3 careers on the same day.

My monthly revenue is an average of $20,000, but I actually measure my success by counting how many unique businesses I help in a year (it’s July and I’m at 51 so far!) and how many good causes I can support (with money or time). I report on this every month on my blog.

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses
A photo from an event I organized in 2017 for a client with six other small businesses in Singapore

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

I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. I created a profile on Linkedin when I was 16 - and arguably had nothing to write there. I was reading business books way before it was legal for me to open a business.

When I first attempted to start a business in high school, I realized two things:

  1. “Build it and they’ll come” never works. You also need to learn how to drive traffic to your website, otherwise, it’s as good as not having one.
  2. There are so many talented people out there. I can’t possibly do better than them right out of the gate. It’s smarter to just help them and learn from them.

So, armed with more web development and tech-savviness skills than the average 18-year-old in Bassano del Grappa (my hometown), I went off to study Political Sciences and Diplomacy - with the hopes it would lead me to an international career.

At the end of my first year of uni, after religiously attending ALL lectures, I got pneumonia. What a nightmare: I was on bed rest for four weeks right before the exam session started, and I was panicking that I wouldn’t be able to pass the exams.

Instead, the opposite happened. Despite not attending lectures, I passed all exams with flying colors.

Don’t postpone life. Start small, and enjoy the process. The goal isn’t to start a business so you can be happy someday after that IPO. The goal is to be happy most days, including unglamorous Thursday mornings at the post office.

And that’s when it hit me. Attending lectures wasn’t as instrumental to passing exams as everyone said. The deal with my parents was that they’ll keep paying my rent as long as I passed exams on time. I couldn’t believe I had found a way to “game” the system! I stopped attending lectures and started volunteering and working instead because I just enjoyed “the real world” a lot more than pouring over Poland’s history books.

So after graduating in July 2013, I jumped straight into freelancing because I was eager to be financially independent of my parents and to have more freedom in how and where I spend my time.

There was never an “aha” moment for me since my companies have always been in the services are - not standard products. Rather, I evolved from being a penniless fresh grad who’d take on (almost) any client just to maintain my independence from my family, to a more picky entrepreneur with multiple income streams.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and creating your first services

The first angle of how Juicy Pickles was going to be different from the dozens of other digital marketing agencies out there is profit. Mine, and my clients’.

It was imperative to me that my services wouldn’t cost so much that my clients have to take a loss to afford them.

This is where most entrepreneurs would launch into offering high-ticket consulting to dentists, chiropractors, and similar high-earning business owners.

But to me, it’s a lot more valuable to help the bakery down the street and the 55-year-old woman who owns a retail shop in an era where retail rents are going up and up, and footfall is going down.

I see doing business as a synergy and a win-win between different organizations.

The second pillar of my business is passion. Running a business is hard work in any industry, so I want to work with entrepreneurs who have a real passion for their craft - not just the money it makes.

I don’t work with “online coaches” or “hands-off entrepreneurs”. I want to work with small, cottage, traditional businesses that are struggling to transition into the digital world. Coffee roasters, kombucha makers, artisan wine-makers, silver antique dealers, and custom wood furniture designers.

So developing my offering for them was very hard. On the one hand, they needed help with everything. On the other hand, they could only afford to pay so much.

I have never focused on quantity but rather on quality.

I started by offering 3 months retainer packages that were all-inclusive (website management + social media + content + email + ads) and not just limited to a very narrow scope, so I was able to integrate different channels and get results for my clients.

I decided to start with 3 months as a duration for several reasons:

  • Digital marketing is never an overnight success, so seeing results takes time. 3 months is the bare minimum duration to start seeing changes after implementing different strategies.
  • Financial stability! I work alone and business development takes a lot of time. I wanted to focus on serving clients - not wooing new ones.
  • At the same time, in case the client was not a fit, 3 months was a short enough time to work with them.

Nowadays - I have three different small levels of engagements to “test” my fit with a client before I sign a yearly or bi-yearly contract: my group membership, a 90-minute consult, or a 1-day intensive session. No more 3 months retainers right off the bat!

It was basically free to launch. I had to pay an agency to incorporate my company in Singapore (Pikohana) and I bought a new iMac, but that was it.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Juicy Pickles was started and grew through word of mouth, almost exclusively. For a digital marketer, I did a very bad job of marketing myself.

In February 2017, I attended an entrepreneurs retreat in Bhutan organized by Triip. There, I met Carol Chen who was at the time running Covetella, a gown rental service in Singapore. She hired me to help her scale the business and became client #0.

A few months later, she introduced me to her CFO, who needed help with his website…

I have never focused on quantity but rather on quality. Luckily, I had no operational costs (office, staff, bills) and I was working from home or the clients’ offices so I achieved “ramen profitability” right away.

The only expense I indulged in was business cards which I still use to this day - but there was no logo because I didn’t want to hire a designer.

I’m extremely cautious when it comes to spending money. I only spend on things that can make me or the business materially better. Courses? Books? Training? Yes, please. Brand photography? Fancy logos? No way!

I only published a serious website in January 2020, after 3 years of running the company profitably. After 10 years of making websites for other people, I finally created my own!

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses
Carol (second from right) and me (third from right) just off the plane

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

I focus on going above and beyond for my clients, and I know they’re going to be my business card around the world. That means I relentlessly focus on making their experience with me as great as possible.

My focus when working with clients is always, always, always on long-term relationships over short-term gains. I offer a 100% refund guarantee on my first invoice to every new client, and my fee is almost always based on financial results - not just how many hours it takes me to do X.

Some of the different things I do include:

  • Random, super personalized gifts. Not for Christmas, but on random occasions, I would mail my clients a physical gift they’ll love. Which I usually purchase from another client.
  • I travel to hang out with them and get to know each other as people first.

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses

From the left: myself, Lucy Walker and Vennice Aw from Lucy Walker Jewellery + Lola and Lenny, two of their adorable dogs

  • I customize all my transactional emails so that they’re fun and effective.

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses
My invoice text

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses
My thank-you for your payment email

Usually, consulting clients need my hands-on help for 12-24 months. Then they “graduate” to running all the digital marketing activities on their own or hiring a team, and I stay on as advisor or run ad-hoc sessions with them once a quarter.

I am still working with some clients I first met in 2016 - 2017, so it works!

My focus when working with clients is always, always, always on long-term relationships over short-term gains. I offer a 100% refund guarantee on my first invoice to every new client, and my fee is almost always based on financial results - not just how many hours it takes me to do X.

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses

A small meetup of members of The Pickling Club at my home in Singapore in 2020. I’m the last from the right.

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

Four years in, I’m glad I decided to spend more time on creating a website, a blog, and a few social media channels last year. It’s allowed me to keep growing even in the last 18 months of a global pandemic, which is no small feat.

My website is a simple Wordpress site. I use Elementor Pro and ActiveCampaign to make it interactive and useful, and I’m in a constant redesign mode. I edit my homepage almost every week, based on the feedback I get from friends and customers alike.

My social media growth has been nothing but slow and steady since I started. I started a Facebook page for Juicy Pickles in 2017, but never really posted regularly until the beginning of 2020. I’m very close to 300 followers, so if you’re reading and you own a traditional business, please head over and give me a follow!

Growth on Instagram has been faster instead. I started a business profile in October 2020 and it’s a similar story to my website. I’ve been managing accounts and creating organic & paid strategies for clients for YEARS, yet couldn’t be bothered doing my own. Maybe it’s because Instagram is so visual and my work is so “invisible”. Or maybe it’s because after years of being behind the scenes I thought there was plenty of good digital marketing advice out there already, I couldn’t possibly say anything new!

But I’m glad I pushed through and started an account anyway. I’m actually having fun creating Reels now that Instagram Music has finally launched in my corner of Indonesia and connecting with people there.

Slow growth - compared to the dozens of viral accounts out there. But having many followers isn’t my goal. Rather, it’s connecting with the ones I have and creating content that feels meaningful and genuine.

Here are my insights for the last 3 months!

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Most of my best customers are people I already know or 2nd-degree connections. I limit all my new clients' meetings now to only 4 half days per month (Tuesday afternoons), so it’s important to me that my website and social media do the heavy lifting in explaining who I am and what I do to people.

Revenue wise, every year has been better than the previous one so far. In 2020, I launched my first digital product: a group coaching membership for small business owners called The Pickling Club. It’s been growing at a rate of 10% MoM and I’m at $2000 MRR right now - but most importantly, I’m helping 30+ entrepreneurs conquer their fears and tame the Google monster to grow their business!

My focus in 2021 will be to donate an even bigger part of my revenue and time to charitable causes.

To do this, I’m going to launch self-service online courses for small businesses (such as “Digital marketing for tattoo artists” or “Digital marketing for bakeries”) that can help hundreds of people every month without requiring additional time from me.

I’m also dedicating more time each month to speaking and training, so I can reach more people with my message that anyone can learn digital marketing and use it to grow their business!

i-ve-grown-my-agency-to-240k-year-consulting-for-small-businesses

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

I’ve learned to appreciate the value of mental health above anything else.

Business-wise, I’ve learned that it’s often the simplest digital marketing strategies that work best. 57-step systems are too complicated to be sustainable. So, keep it simple and never miss a week!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Discovering new platforms is one of my favorite “productive procrastination” activities. That said, I believe that strategies are more important than the tools you use and that’s what I always tell my clients when they are tempted to switch!

My courses, CRM, and scheduling are handled by FunnelGorgeous - which I love using also because it’s an all-women founding team! I also use Piktostory to repurpose my videos, ActiveCampaign for email marketing and RoamResearch as a note-taking tool. As you can see, I’m quite minimal. I don’t use social media scheduling tools or fancy webcam editors.

I use Google Meet for online meetings, Loom to send clips or async meetings, and Data Studio to create reports.

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

Extreme Contracts by Jacopo Romei is probably the most influential book that has shaped how I work with clients, price my work, measure my results. His book is only in Italian for now, but I hear an English edition is coming out soon!

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz has been instrumental in understanding how to manage my business finances in a way that makes sense and I think every entrepreneur should read this.

Julie Stoian’s podcasts are also a very helpful resource to learn more about digital marketing.

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

Don’t wait to achieve a certain revenue number to be happy. Be happy today. Happiness is a choice. Having more customers, employees or investors won’t make you happy unless you are.

So, don’t postpone life. Start small, and enjoy the process. The goal isn’t to start a business so you can be happy someday after that IPO. The goal is to be happy most days, including unglamorous Thursday mornings at the post office.

I’ve suffered from depression in 2019 and that made me realize how important real self-care is. That means: go to therapy, get help, talk to your friends, exercise regularly, don’t stress-eat, and sleep enough. No amount of palo santo can replace sorting out your traumas and limiting beliefs.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I’m not hiring and I don’t think I will for some time! My goal is to keep growing better and better, not bigger. However, I refer clients to others all the time so if you think your services are complementary to what I do, or you’re a podcast host looking for guests, please reach out: [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

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

-  
Giulia Cian,   Founder of Juicy Pickles
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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