Paper Box SEO Update: How Upwork And Referrals Doubled Revenue

Russell Michelson
Founder, Paper Box SEO
Paper Box SEO
from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
started August 2016
alexa rank
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

I’m the founder and managing director of the SEO agency Paper Box SEO. We improve search engine rankings for small to medium-sized businesses. Half our clients are local businesses and half are online businesses. Almost all our revenue comes from clients paying us a monthly retainer long-term to continuously improve their SEO and get them more customers.

We’re a remote agency with 3 full-time employees and 4 part-time employees. Now in our 5th year, we’re on track to do at least $600,000 in revenue this year.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

For the fourth year in a row, revenue has more than doubled. This is due to a growing client roster from Upwork and referrals. About a year ago, it got to the point where I was so busy trying to manage everything and everyone, that the quality of my work was dropping. I realized I needed managers to help run the business.

While choosing to take time off usually isn’t good for the bottom line, it’s important to remember why you do what you do. Money is important, but it’s not everything.

Over several months, I trained two employees to communicate with clients, make strategic SEO decisions, and assign work to other employees. This has freed up a lot of my time to focus on sales and my mental health.

During this process of delegating, we’ve solidified processes so now that the company runs smoother. I feel like we finally have the people and processes to scale as much as we want. It’s just a matter of finding the clients.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

It’s cliche but it’s worth repeating. The right people on your team are the key to success. Find the right people and prioritize keeping them happy. My employees make my life a lot easier and help me make more money. In return, I treat them better than most bosses would. It’s a win-win for everyone.

I’ve also learned that the best measure of success is freedom. I can only speak for myself, but I’m happier now that I’m working less. There will always be opportunities to work more and make more money, but I won’t always be young and healthy, and those I love won’t be around forever. While choosing to take time off usually isn’t good for the bottom line, it’s important to remember why you do what you do. Money is important, but it’s not everything.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

This year, we’re getting a new website and will start advertising on Clutch again. We were advertising there before but the traffic wasn’t converting (and my hunch is it’s because our website is not great).

I’ll also be delegating more responsibilities to my leadership team as the company (hopefully) continues to grow.

Beyond that, we’re in the early stages of generating revenue a bit differently: through affiliate sites. I figure that our skills can be used for more than helping businesses grow, so we’re dipping our toes in the affiliate world. It also can’t hurt to have a more diversified revenue stream.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Do something you like. If you’re not at least somewhat passionate about what you do, three things will happen.

  1. The quality of your work won’t be as high
  2. Customers will sense your lack of passion and it will turn them off
  3. You’ll burn out quicker

Where can we go to learn more?

Russell Michelson   Founder of Paper Box SEO
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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