Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m James De Roche, the founder of Lead Comet. We’re an SEO agency that caters specifically to B2B organizations without the retainer marketing agencies typically require. Instead, we use sprints to rapidly deliver results that drive revenue from organic searches.
Every client account starts out with a strategy sprint. We dive deep into the client’s site, their competitors, and their market. Then, we put together an SEO roadmap that contains all the actionable steps the client needs to take to improve their organic presence online.
From there, we work with clients building links, creating content, setting up analytics, and improving their sales funnel if they’re interested in those sprints. Each sprint runs for 2 - 4 months. There’s no obligation for the client to choose any type. And they can continue to order new sprints as long as they like. Our goal is to ensure they do.
This puts the risk and pressure on us to succeed because we don’t lock anyone into a year-long contract.
We’re trending toward $120,000 in annual revenue for our first year and are projected to double that by year two. Clients enjoy the freedom to test our services first and work with the resources they have or with us to knock out deliverables.
There’s a lot of noise out there about SEO. Everyone seems to be a guru.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Marketing was not my first profession. I started off waiting tables and teaching in Denver, Colorado. After 5 years in the classroom, I was burnout and frustrated. It felt like I had backed myself into a corner professionally. I was waiting tables at night and earning more than 2x my salary as a teacher. And I was sitting there, looking at my future, wondering if I was doomed to working 80-hour weeks to just make ends meet.
I left teaching and the US behind, traveling the world on multiple working holiday visas and teaching myself content creation and SEO. Eventually (after a ton of late nights and long weekends) I ended up at a PPC agency and doing some freelance work on the side. The agency didn’t have an SEO service line, so I built one for it.
It took about a year, but I managed to create a strategy that delivered results. I learned that there was a gulf between what SEOs talk about and what they deliver. In short, it’s easy to say “build great content.” But, actually creating the right content at the right time is a lot more challenging.
I enjoyed working at the Agency for a while, but there was a growing rift between where I thought we should go and where the owner wanted to take the company. I believe in niching down and focusing on delivering a truly premium service. To do that, you need to fight the urge to chase down stray dollars and focus on building up the workflows and processes you need to deliver better results faster.
It’s also more expensive than you’d think. Lawyer, design, and accounting fees were a lot more than I thought they’d be. But, you can’t cut corners. Otherwise, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot trying to save a few dollars at the start.
Earlier this year, I amicably parted ways with my previous agency and started Lead Comet with a long-term friend and client of mine. Our goal was simple, build the systems and processes needed to deliver the highest quality SEO strategies that deliver results for B2B organizations.
Most agencies don’t do this. They’re afraid to turn away revenue. It’s that whole feast or famine mindset. The problem is that you end up tied to clients that don’t grow your business.
They may help you keep the lights on. But, you miss out on those unique campaigns that deliver incredible results. Instead, you’re starting over from scratch every time you get a new client. And your client is paying you to learn their niche. Neither is beneficial to success.
I had achieved a lot of success at the previous agency, but I had blown up my friend’s business online. In just one year, we dominated their niche. His competitors were calling him to ask him how they were able to outshine them in the search results. Their website went from being nothing more than a business card to a lead generation machine. It was unreal.
That was the kind of result I wanted to provide for other similar businesses.
I had been saving up money for a while. I’m not a materialistic person. And I enjoy what I do. With COVID and recession fears, I was stuffing dollar bills under the mattress for a rainy day. But, the longer I worked at the agency, the more I realized that we were going to part ways. So, when the time came to leave, I had my bills paid in advance and enough money to cover operating expenses while we got started.
That has been key. Not feeling like you have to rush out and grab the first clients that come your way is a relief. It allows you to stay true to your business goals and vision.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Building the service line took a lot of trial and error. There’s a lot of noise out there about SEO. Everyone seems to be a guru. And there’s so much conflicting information because of this. It took a couple of years to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
There is a lot of content out there on SEO. Unfortunately, a lot of it is written by SEOs for SEOs. It's like teaching on teaching. It works great in the SEO bubble, but it does not apply to other industries.
You need to focus on what's going to have the biggest impact. There are a lot of actions you can take. But most of the time, the return is minimal.
Link building is a great example. There are lots of strategies out there. They tend to work great for the people creating the case studies because they're established brands in the space. But, they're exceptions to the rule. When you try these strategies out at scale in your client's industry, you run into lots of problems (most people want money or something in return.) Success rates are much lower as a result.
To get better results for your clients, you need to separate the ideal vs. pragmatic.
I’ve got a background in process improvement, so I’m huge on processes. So much time is wasted with people staring at a blank screen, so to speak, wondering what to do. Hammering out what needs to be done at each step was key. And then taking the time to go over the steps, reviewing, reflecting, and refining them so they make sense is key.
I do everything in Basecamp. And we build out directions with videos and screenshots that are crystal clear so our team and jump in and knock out tasks. Without that, you have to reteach and double-check everything your contractors do.
Describe the process of launching the business.
There was so much I didn’t know about running a business. Getting your accounting set up from the start, working with a lawyer to create your exact legal documents and getting advice, building a brand. To do it right, it’s way more time-consuming (and expensive) than you’d think.
The E-Myth is a must-read for any entrepreneur starting out. Having a mentor or a coach helps, too. My business partner is just that. He’s built a successful business and he helped me avoid critical mistakes at the start.
It’s also more expensive than you’d think. Lawyer, design, and accounting fees were a lot more than I thought they’d be. But, it’s critical to do it right the first time. You want a brand that looks professional, so you can’t cut corners. Otherwise, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot trying to save a few dollars at the start.
During COVID, I did pretty much nothing but work 60-hour weeks. We were trapped inside, and there are only so many Lord of the Rings Marathons you can do. I took all the work I could and saved everything. That helped cover costs without having to use credit.
I started as a freelancer. It was a bit of a grind trying to find people to work with at first. You're constantly messaging out, trying to find people you can help. You hear a lot of crickets, but eventually, you find someone who's in the SEO market.
LinkedIn and email have been our bread and butter. LinkedIn helps establish trust. But, it's sometimes better to reach out directly to someone through email as they check it more often.
I used to do retainer models at $2,000 - $2,500 a month, depending. I raised my rates over time as my experience and technology stack improved. When I transitioned away from freelancing, I was at $5,000 retainers.
Starting Lead Comet, I wanted to do away with the retainer. I found them problematic in so many ways. They put unnecessary stress on both parties. Instead, we offer Sprints. Rates vary, depending on the niche, business, goals, etc.
The biggest lesson I learned was to start early. I didn’t want to leave my agency and then start. That’s a huge risk/fear. Instead, I managed to juggle work and start learning/knocking out tasks while setting myself up to leave. By the time I left, I had a good chunk of the legwork done. So, it wasn’t overwhelming to make the change.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Organic search is hyper-saturated in SEO. But, we firmly believe that we need to practice what we preach. Our blog is a great way to test strategies and teach our writers how to create content. Plus, it helps us showcase our abilities to prospective clients.
We generate most of our leads through referrals and outreach. People like what we do and share the results. Or, we find people who need help and give them some tips to open the door.
We’re organized and professional. Once we get people to our site, they can see the level of detail we put into our content and the results we’ve earned for our clients. It’s that level of professionalism that helps ease any anxieties prospects have about working with us.
Our main selling point is a huge help, too. We don’t do retainers. I never liked them. Set retainers limit your success.
SEO takes time, so it doesn’t make sense to throttle your efforts so you can maintain cash flow. We use sprints instead, and that allows us to knock out huge chunks of work quickly. The quicker we get new assets and fixes out there, the faster we see results, and the more clients want to continue working with us.
But the onus is always on us to deliver because there’s no contract to lock businesses in place for years.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re starting to grow and expand, bringing on new business. Our projections are around 600K for the first year and double that going into the second year.
Additionally, our processes and procedures keep us lean and profitable. We have much higher margins than other agencies because we don’t waste time on menial tasks or endless back and forth. Plus, we have more time to focus on our clients and bring awesome results.
Coaching is hard. Avoid the urge to jump in and do the work for your team, though. You have to find the right people and inspire them to help your business grow.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My background is in teaching, writing, and SEO. I’ve never started a business before. There are a lot of tedious tasks you have to knock out to get things rolling. These tasks take time, so your speed to market tends to be set at the start.
Start early and work hard to get things up as quickly as possible, but understand that you’ll be waiting on other people for about 50% of it. (Lawyers, designers, accountants, etc. They’ll have to fit you into their existing schedule.)
Working with someone who has experience building up a successful business has been a huge help. It has allowed us to scale much faster without making costly mistakes. For example, you need to have your accounting in order from the start, not at the end of the year. It can get VERY expensive if you procrastinate on that.
You also need a good lawyer. Copy/pasting SOWs or MSAs from the internet is dangerous. It’s amazing what small businesses will use for legal documents. If you didn’t have a lawyer make it for your business, I’d be surprised if it stood up in court.
I’m lucky to have a background in education, writing, and SEO. This has helped me build a great service that gets results while creating the systems needed to be successful and having the patience required to coach new team members. While teaching burnt me out, the skills I learned in the classroom are invaluable.
You also need to put the time in.
My goal is 32 hours of work a week. This is not “time at my desk”. Nor is it time spent BSing around in meetings. This is time spent knocking out tasks. It’s like going to the gym. If you’re on your phone most of the time, it doesn’t matter that you go six days a week for two hours. Others will outdo your effort with much less time. So, get up. Get to work. Focus. And then walk away.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Clearscope for SEO research, website crawls, and strategy. And we use Buzzstream for outreach and Clearscope for content creation.
We also use several tools from Blueprint Training to track data and share work with clients. (This is key because clients don’t want a barrage of spreadsheets. And with our client portal, they see everything on their account from one link.)
For accounting, we do everything in Quickbooks. Everything’s hooked up to the account, so we can track profit, payments, and expenses with ease. Plus, taxes is much, much easier.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
TheE-Myth is a must. You don’t have a business without processes and procedures. You have a side hustle that will trap you. If you want to have more freedom and a better quality of life, you need to build your systems.
Blueprint Training (BPT) has been extremely helpful in increasing our time to market. It’s essentially an out-of-the-box SEO business that you can tailor to your needs. Lots of decks, templates, and tools to automate agency work. We blended their ideas with ours to create a lean business.
I do tons of professional development for SEO. Search Engine Journal (SEJ), Traffic Think Tank (TTT), Ahrefs, and Clearscope for videos and blogs to keep the skills up-to-date and sharp. TTT and BPT have great communities with other SEO professionals you can bounce ideas off of.
Copyhackers. Anything their team does is worth reading. Because SEO and content without conversions is just a hobby. You need to know how to convert traffic into revenue. Joanna Wiebe is purely amazing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Ace your field before starting a business. You don’t need to know everything, but you should have a high level of understanding and proven results. This allows you to set up the systems and workflows your team will follow to be successful.
You’ll eventually pull yourself out of those roles and focus on growing your business. But, you should still have more than a foundational knowledge of the service you provide. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time and money on things that don’t work or move the needle.
Coaching is hard. Avoid the urge to jump in and do the work for your team, though. You have to find the right people and inspire them to help your business grow. A lot of people simply want to clock in and out, your business is not their passion. And that’s okay. But, they should care about doing their best work. They won’t do that if they don’t believe in what you’re doing.
We believe that our business plays a vital role for our clients. The success of our campaigns can mean more jobs, better pay, and improved lives for our clients, their employees (and their families), and the people they impact.
That means we need to bring our A game. We’re not simply an agency that shows up and collects recurring revenue. Once our team members see how we’re different and how much they care, they do, too. And it makes the work much more enjoyable.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re looking to bring on an SEO strategist to help us manage more clients. This person will be required to run website quality audits for clients and set up SEO roadmaps (detailed strategy decks that plan out actionable steps to help drive results.) All the processes are laid out, so the team member simply needs to follow the plan and apply their critical thinking skills and SEO knowledge base to knock out the tasks.
We’re also looking for a link-building specialist to create, conduct, and monitor various link outreaches through vendors and buzzstream campaigns. They’ll identify and avoid SPAM sites to find quality prospects for backlink negotiations. Link building is a critical and difficult aspect of SEO, so they would need to have critical thinking skills to find unique ways to get results.
Both roles are contracted remote work. However, the SEO strategist would eventually transition into a full-time position as we grow.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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