I Went From Part-Time Marketing Freelance To An Agency

Mark Subel
$20K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
Two Wheels Marketing
from Columbus, Ohio, USA
started June 2011
$20,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
471K
alexa rank
123
followers
57
subs
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My name is Mark Subel and I started a digital marketing business back in 2010 called Two Wheels Marketing, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. We specialize in search engine marketing (PPC and search engine optimization) as well as paid social advertising - Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and even experience in Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Pinterest Ads. Our clients typically come to us to help them drive more leads, more sales, or more traffic and brand exposure using digital marketing.

We work or have worked with various sized businesses from small businesses to mid-market and larger, in a variety of different industries. We don’t necessarily specialize in a specific niche, but rather have a lot of experience in many different industries.

The company started as just a freelancer type of business helping people grow their presence online with just a few clients, to a boutique agency now helping a wide range of clients across multiple industries and various sizes. We are poised for even more growth in the next year with a continually growing client base.

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

It’s funny really how I stumbled into digital marketing and even started to freelance and eventually start a business. I graduated college and had no idea what I wanted to do. I served and bartended for a couple of years and played music in a band in the evening - nothing even close to my degree in the college of Finance and Telecommunications. I just wasn’t ready to jump into a career in banking or Finance and just knew that I sought a different career path, I just didn’t have a clue what.

I started looking for a new job and stumbled upon a guy from my alma mater who said his brother needed help for his marketing firm who did digital marketing for online poker and casino companies. I interviewed for the marketing position and later was hired to help the firm with some aspects of digital marketing - of which I had zero experience.

I jumped in headfirst and just started learning and soaking things up. I learned about the digital marketing landscape (which at the time was much different than it is now). I learned about affiliate marketing and generating traffic for websites through search engine marketing and SEO. I just kept learning and learning and asking questions and researching and just doing, and eventually taught myself several skill sets about digital marketing that helped me to progress to where I am now.

I was also very inquisitive and when we went to conferences in the industry, I would spend time with those that were experts at digital marketing and just asked a lot of questions and learned a TON from them. The more I learned, the more I asked questions, the better I got, and eventually I started doing SEO on my website that I bought from someone in the industry.

I thought that the only way I would become an SEO expert was if I did SEO on a site that I owned, that I wrote content for, that I promoted. And I was right. After getting the basics down at the agency I was working for, my experience managing my website and writing content, and doing SEO for my website, was the best experience I could have asked for. I learned the ins and outs of SEO and how to get a site from nowhere to ranking for various keyword terms and driving lots of traffic. I ended up earning some decent money with that website, but more importantly, it gave me the confidence that I could actually do digital marketing (SEO) for any website - and then earn money by doing that for others.

So after several years in the industry and at that marketing firm, and then the experience doing SEO for my website, I decided that I could consult with others and help them get their websites ranking for their desired keywords. I started doing some freelance SEO work for a couple of side projects I got through friends and friends of friends.

As I slowly built up a few clients, I started to think that perhaps I could go out on my own fully and run a business.

So before fully jumping into running a business full time, I was approached by a local marketing agency at the time to help them do digital marketing part-time for some of their clients. It was a great fit because I could have something stable with a part-time job helping the agency do digital marketing AND have my own few clients on the side and start to get more reps and slowly build my own business.

I thought that the only way I would become an SEO expert was if I did SEO on a site that I owned, that I wrote content for, that I promoted. And I was right.

After about a year or two of splitting between a part-time agency job and doing freelance for several clients, I went out fully on my own and didn’t rely on any revenue from the part-time job, and just revenue from my clients. And that’s the exact time my business fully started.

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

When I started the digital marketing business, it was kind of an ad hoc offering. Since I was doing mainly consulting and taking most anything that came my way, I offered services I knew how to do, or could do, in any way that the client needed it. This led to a lot of custom proposals and custom service offerings that weren’t efficient from a business standpoint, but I was also trying to just “make it” as a digital marketing person full time, so I wasn’t so concerned.

As I worked with more clients and learned about what I could and could not do well, I started to reshape the service offerings and focus on those areas that I knew I could do well and deliver. And eventually, the more you do things the more things become more standardized with the services and pricing you offer.

When I first started, I was primarily offering SEO services for either a monthly retainer or hourly fee. I didn’t have a great grasp on a good pricing strategy, so I came up with estimates in terms of how many hours it would take to complete the tasks and then assign my hourly rate. My recommendation for people starting is to assign an hourly rate noting that as a consultant or one-person shop, your rates should be lower than an agency's and agencies charge anywhere from $125-$200+/hour.

The tough part about all of this is all the other “costs” of doing business that people don’t think about or consider before starting their business. Things like legal (contracts, agreements, NDA’s, etc.), accounting, networking, and the time you are not doing any work, but getting out there to “get” work. I think most people think that when you start consulting in a service-based business, you spend most of your time working on the clients. But there is just so much other time spent on other things as mentioned above, that you have to realize that you’re not going to have 40 hours a week to dedicate to “just” your client’s work. And that’s hard when you first start, but you learn that quickly.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

In terms of an official launch of the business, mine was more of a slow gradual launch when I felt I could go full-time doing digital marketing. I didn’t have a start date in mind but just knew that if I was going to launch a business, I needed to have some clients first and some sort of cushion to get started. So it was a slow process over several years to get to the point where I could run a business full time doing digital marketing.

Even if you’ve been burned or have a distaste for someone for whatever reason, remain professional and courteous and don’t burn any bridges.

The main thing that changed was that I was getting more and more clients, so the workload began to increase. With existing clients, I was working with and projects I had successfully done in the past, I started to get referrals to other companies based on the quality of the work. I slowly started to contract out help in some areas to help take on the increased workload.

Everything with my business has been self-funded and I’ve financed everything. But this was relatively easy to do in this line of work compared to say opening a restaurant with huge initial costs. In a service-based business, you have more of a luxury of using your expertise to start generating income right away with less overhead. I just needed a computer and a phone and could “launch”. But some of the other costs like legal and software come very quickly. But all in all, nothing compared to a brick-and-mortar business where you need more capital to start.

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

It’s funny because to this day, we don’t do a ton of advertising for our own business, even though we are experts in digital marketing. Having known and networked with several business owners over the years, I feel like that’s more common than not. You just don’t work as much on your own business as you do on your clients.

What has worked the best over the years to attract and retain customers has been a solid reputation and referrals from our clients and industry contacts. We routinely get referrals from current or past clients or people in the industry we have networked with that have helped fuel our growth.

About 85% of our new business comes from referrals and networking. And between referrals and networking, it’s probably 75/25 referrals. We get several new clients per month on average based on referrals and now some inbound marketing through SEO and some paid campaigns we’ve experimented with.

But what gets you the referrals is doing quality work and professionally and clearly from the start. You only get referrals if you’re able to prove your worth to your customers and net them a positive return on their investment - whatever that looks like and means to them.

We have done some of our marketing in the form of Facebook Ads to drive new leads, the occasional Google Ad campaign, and our SEO, but we work hard on developing relationships that yield us referrals from our network. For our service-based business in digital marketing, this has served us well for a while now.

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

The business is the strongest it's been ever. We have a great team of people that are experts in their craft, and we have developed processes and strategies to help our clients grow their businesses. We are very confident in our strategies and processes and feel given the right situation, can help any business grow through digital marketing if they are a good fit for what we offer and how we approach things.

We expect our growth to continue and particularly in certain niches that we have had more experience in. We have found certain processes and strategies that work well for specific niches of industries where we can provide that level of expertise to multiple clients within those industries.

We are continually working on our product offering to help provide the best possible solution for the clients we work with to grow their business and provide them the best return on their spend as possible. We have expanded our service offering to specific strategies to do that.

I think the most important thing is to always be looking for ways to improve your services, your products, your crafts, and never settle. You have to always improve what you are doing to provide better services to your clients, as they will be your best sources of referrals.

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

I would say to trust your instincts more. 9 times out of 10 your instincts are right about a given situation, a client, a potential partnership, a campaign, whatever. Your intuition is there for a reason and I think listening to it more, not just in business, is something we all need to do more of.

Never turn down a networking opportunity. If someone wants to introduce you to someone that you think is never going to be of value to you in your professional career - meet with them. You never know where a conversation can lead you. The longer I have been working in this career, the more I have realized that anyone you meet is someone that can potentially help you in the future either professionally or personally.

To that same extent, never burn a bridge. Even if you’ve been burned or have a distaste for someone for whatever reason, remain professional and courteous and don’t burn any bridges. Your reputation is your business, so by remaining professional and staying out of any drama, you can maintain that professionalism that will lead to more business.

Make sure that you are working for yourself. What I mean by that is there will be many people along the way telling you what you “need” to do to be successful. But always remember that what you deem successful is not what someone else deems successful. Success is a pretty open-ended word, it could be $X in annual income, it could mean freedom in your career, it could mean flexibility, it could be anything. If you get caught up in what other people think you need to do to be successful, you’ll only be successful for their vision and not yours. So work for you and your vision of success.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use several tools, including:

Where can we go to learn more?

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

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Mark Subel, Founder of Two Wheels Marketing
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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