2018 in Review

My review of wins and fails in 2018.

Note: I'm spending a couple hours max on outlining, writing, and editing this post. Sorry for any typos! For 2019 I  may make a massive post that I work on little by little for the entire year.

This is the first "year in review" post I've ever done. 

Not sure If I'm going to want to keep doing it or not. If you found it useful or interesting, let me know. 😊

The plan is to keep some sort of "log" for my ventures year after year. What worked, what didn't, etc, etc.

Before I get into this year...

Let's Go Back to 2017

Because this is the first "year in review" post, I want to catch you up on what happened towards the end of 2017.

It'll become relevant when I get to the failures of 2018 section.

Towards the end of 2017, I started to grow my revenue quite a bit. I even got on the Lion Zeal show because of it (was a long-time listener)

Pretty sure Daryl said I was the most popular interview of all time 💪 (okay, that's my one flex of the post).

Anyway...

Revenue was growing quickly, but I was also quickly going crazy.

Average work day was 14-18 hours. Sometimes I'd sleep at the office. 

I was living the Gary Vee lifestyle without the Gary Vee enthusiasm. 

So, I did the most logical thing. I fired most of my clients about 2-3 days after that interview. **Sarcasm implied**

I had no systems, needy clients, and I started delivering a piss poor service.

My thinking was that fewer clients means I get to work less. Then, I can use the extra time to build processes, systems, and figure out what I really want to do in the industry. 

With that context, let's get into this year...

2018 Achievements, Failures, and Thoughts

Achievements

I Gave A Talk in Chiang Mai

Matt Diggity invited me to talk at one of the pre-events for CMSEO2018. 

100-200 people in the crowd + being live streamed to a group with over 5,000 members.

This was the first talk I've given to the SEO community. I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

Not trying to flex there, I just think it's pretty incredible for my first talk to be in front of such a large audience. And that someone I respect a lot wanted to risk me being complete shit. Cheers, Matt.

If speaking is something I end up doing more of going forward, (wink, wink, Matt.) I'll definitely have to up my public speaking skills.

Not bad to listen to.

But, compared to what I practiced, I'm a little disappointed. 

We're our own harshest critic though, right?

Started Coaching SEO

No, I don't have a course. 

And I don't have any plans for one right now.

But, Daryl Rosser did invite me to coach the students for one of his programs. 

Over the past couple months of doing this, I've gotten a lot more comfortable in webinars and creating content quickly. 

No affiliate links, no pitch to join, just something I'm doing 😄

Reworked How My Agency Works... Twice.

I wasn't sure if I should list this as an achievement or as a failure.

At the end of 2017 and start of 2018, I looked at how I was doing things. I came up with a plan for how to do things better. 

So, I reworked everything. Took months to do.

Rebranded as Blue Dog Media

Decided what I did wasn't good enough. And reworked things again, less dramatically. 

The failure here would be the months of time wasted on making changes  to systems that never actually got used on clients before they were changed again.

Learned (learning) PPC

SEO has been my bread & butter for the past (almost) 7-years.

I've dabbled in web design and PPC before. But, for clients who requested it. 

I've done SEO because that's what I like, what I'm good at, and what I enjoy.

But guess what?

No one fucking cares about what I'm into.

I own a business. My duty is to serve my clients and solve their problems as best I can.

I help make service businesses more money (we're in a couple other niches, but that's for another post).

SEO can do that, but it doesn't always works. That's the nature of it. It also takes a long time to get results, if clients bounce early - they're not going to end up with more money. 

By offering PPC, we can quickly make them more money. Offsetting the cost of 3-8 months of investment before SEO becomes profitable. Our client base is mostly small businesses where we're dealing with the owner and they're not typically very marketing mature. 

By offering PPC, we'll be able to make our clients more money and massively reduce the amount of "early bounces". 

Doing Less Myself

I tend to want to do everything myself. 

Not because I can't trust people to do it for me (sometimes, that is the case), but because I like doing it or learning how to do it.

I love implementing new tactics, learning how to set up AWS, editing images with GIMP, programming, etc.

But, it's not a good use of my time and it leaves less time for me to work on other things.

This year, I've sent a lot more work that I used to do over to vendors, VAs, freelancers, etc. And manage the process, rather than the task.

Networking

To say I'm an introvert is an understatement.

Cyanide And Happiness explosm.net

I'm very out of my element when I'm with other people.

However, since my interview with Daryl, and my talk in CM - I've been introduced to a lot of people and people have introduced themselves to me.

More on why this is important below.

Failures

Became Lazy

I went from working 14-18 hour days to sometimes only working 14-18 hour weeks.

Sure, I could afford to do so. But, it became a habit. 

It became really difficult to put in long hours when I needed to, to choose work over Xbox when I should have, and to reach the goals I did have for the year.

It was nice to "take it easy", but not as nice when I look at where I wanted to be this year.

I'll be balancing pleasure and business a lot better next year.

Didn't Seek Out New Clients

When I got rid of my clients in 2017 and started to rework my business, the plan was to get everything figured out around Q2 and then make a big push for more clients. 

Because I started to work so little, what could have been done in 3 months took 6 months.

The couple clients I did take on this year came inbound from one of my websites or Upwork.

This meant that MRR was pretty much flat for the entire year.

Some personal things required me to spend a lot of money in areas that are not business related and won't generate a return. So, my overall net worth dropped a decent amount.

Things I wanted to invest in this year will have to wait for 2019.

Wasted A Lot of Time (and money)

I tend to jump into things.

When I learned how to skateboard, it was by going down a massive hill towards a busy intersection.

Learned SEO by offering my services and then trying to figure out how to do SEO.

Sometimes it works out.

Other times, it doesn't.

I changed our project management system like 3-4 times this year. In fact, yesterday I decided to change it again. (more on this cluster fuck below)

That's because I did basic research, thought it sounded good, spent a lot of money on tools, and started moving things over to realize the tool wouldn't work for what we needed it to do.

Spending the money is whatever, it's the wasted time that really bugs me.

I'll talk about this in the "lessons" section.

I bought a bunch of courses I never did anything with, and attended some trainings that weren't really worth my time to attend.

Same for several tools. I'm a sucker for lifetime licenses. 


Thoughts

These aren't necessarily wins or losses. Just things I've either come to realize or haven't said publicly but believe. 

Everything Works

I'm relatively active on most of the FB groups. Granted, by "active" I mean I lurk but do read most posts.

People often seem to get stuck on how to make something work.

"How to write a good cold email"

"What's a good cold call script?"

"How often should I follow up?"

"If I do [marketing activity] will I get clients?"

Do whatever, it works. Maybe it's not optimal, but it works.

Customizing each cold email 100% works, so does mass spam to 500+ people per day.

Throwing your business cards out of a helicopter works too. 

Maybe it takes too much money to be profitable or is too complex to worry about right now, but that's just a challenge to solve.

Instead of trying to figure out if you should send a short cold email or a long form one. Send both. Figure it out. 

They'll both work to some extent, go figure out what works best. 

The "O" in SEO stands for something. Compared to what we have to do to figure out G's algos, this should be child's play for us.

Showing Up is 90% of The Battle

Another point on acquisition and business.

If you just show up, you'll make it. Again, maybe not optimally. You may be just scraping by - but you'll do it.

If you keep sending cold emails every day, you'll eventually get a client. 

If you keep trying to improve rankings, you'll eventually do it.

If you keep writing half-decent content and promoting it, you'll eventually get some sort of audience.

It's basic statistics. 

Working hard does pay off. While you're working hard, work smart too and things become a lot easier. 

You're not making progress by spending the next 6-months reading about and rewriting email sequences. 

You're not making progress by taking SEO courses but never doing SEO.

There are plenty of people who have made it that are complete idiots. Why? They kept showing up.

It Really is Who You Know

Back on the point of Networking...

By being close to people "in the know" you'll learn things months before they make their findings public.

You'll have access to people who used to be where you are now, and are happy to give you advice and take the time out of their day.

You won't have to do things like ask a stranger to be on their podcast, to write a guest post, or interview them on your platform.

Networking:

"Hey Bob, can I be on your podcast?"

"Fuck yeah, man. Let's do it".

No Networking:

"Hey Bob, I've followed you for.... BS BS BS BS"

"Cool, I'll note you down with the other 500 strangers that asked me today".

Don't Be A Master of One

My entire life I've been told to "specialize". 

"Jack of all trades, master of none"...

"better than a master of one."

But, that's pretty much impossible as being a master of something requires a few or sometimes many soft skills.

Teaching myself how to code over the years has immensely improved my technical SEO and automation abilities (allowing me to do more work, faster, and for less cost).

I've spent a lot of time learning about sales, basic accounting, basic law (to talk to my lawyer and accountant in more intelligent manners), basic video editing skills, half-decent copywriting, basic CRO, basic image editing skills, basic & intermediate skills for dozens of marketing practices, etc, etc.

All of these skills have been completely invaluable for me as an SEO, marketer, and a business owner.

Being a "master" of SEO (no such thing if you ask me) requires you to be at least half-decent at a dozen other things.

Be Cynical

Believe nothing, trust no one. 

Okay, maybe not that extreme.

You don't really know how successful someone is or if they're telling the truth. Whether they're a respected member of the industry or some random dude on FB.

You don't know for sure if that's a real analytics screenshot or some half-decent photoshop skills to sell their course, consulting, or to get you to follow their blog.

Be careful and do your due diligence before following someone. It will save you a lot of time and money.

Redacted

I had 2 more points under this section that I decided to remove. 

Partly because I don't have the time to write everything I want about those points, and secondly, it became a bit of a rant. So, here's the short version.

  • Be a business person

Hire an accountant, a financial advisor, and a lawyer. Don't ask for legal or tax advise on a random FB group - or any FB group.

No, you don't "deserve" money. Who are you, again? You'll get paid what you're worth. Charging $5,000/m because you feel like it you're worth that much is stupid, prove you're worth it.

Focus on long-term growth.

If you're scared to spend $1,000-$2,000/m or your own marketing and sales - why should someone else give you that much or more?

  • Don't be an asshole to your clients

I'm all for standing your ground in client management, that's not what I mean by this.

I'm talking to the people who think clients should worship them because they did what they were paid to do.

Lose the god complex.

You're in the service business, your job is to serve the client and do what you're paid to do.

Put an effort into retention beyond getting results. Send gifts, forward them relevant articles that you know would help their business, ask them how their kids are, get on a plane and go visit them.

And do what you're paid to do. Don't charge $5,000 and put $500 towards the campaign unless you're somehow providing that much value.

6.5 Lessons From 2018

Systems, Systems, Systems

Over the past year, I've become very systematized. For better or worse.

I'm not one to typically be serious when I say "I regret" but if there is one thing I really do regret, is not creating processes, systems, and SOPs years ago.

I used to have the mentality "it's just me, I know how to do this". 

But, even if it's just you - systems make you operate so much smoother and help keep things consistent. Getting systems in place when you're small is also going to help you a lot in the long-run. 

When it's just you, it's easy to create a process, system, or SOP and edit it as many times as you want until it's perfect, you can also make a super simple version of a more complex process as well. It's easy to pivot when it's just you that needs to know the way you do X has changed, and not making sure that 20 other people need to be on board.

Talking about systems is nothing new, I'm sure you've heard it 5,000,000,000,000 times before. The E-Myth is considered the bible of the industry after all.

But, because the E-Myth is so highly regarded, and based on how the agencies I used to work for operate, as much as I've tried...

Every Client is An Outlier

Whether it's your process for doing keyword research, onpage, links, reporting, etc. Every client becomes an outlier in some way shape or form.

You're never going to be able to do the same thing, for every client, every time, successfully. Even if you're super niche.

It can sometimes be something as simple as you having to use a different backup plugin due to the way their site is set up or optimizing their site in a completely different way due to how it didn't respond to your original optimization.

Perhaps the site has a bad history and Google seems to be punishing it so you use a much different link strategy that any other client.

This is one of the main reasons why we create custom strategies for our clients. I talk about this in my CM talk that I linked above.

I could write an entire post about this so let me be brief:

If you have your VAs that are not trained SEOs complete tasks that an SEO should do, they simply don't have the experience to know when you need to divert off of your SOP and how to change course.

If you follow the same process for every client, you're providing a cheap service. You're setting out knowing that x% of clients are not going to get results as if there were a step-by-step ranking in Google formula - we'd all be billionaires. 

The process we use is (watch the CM talk to understand) to break tasks out into puzzle pieces. Use those pieces to build the campaign. Then, look at the SOPs for those puzzle pieces (tasks) and determine if we need to adjust how we do that task for a client.

Sometimes this is breaking up onsite into more steps or only doing a small portion of the work split across several months, to not building any links for the first 4-5 months. Looking at the client, their market, and their website to determine what they need to be successful on Google.

Super strict SOPs followed to a T are great if you're McDonalds. Not great for the client if you're a marketing agency.

Automation is King

if (task = takesTimeToDo){

task.automateAsMuchAsPossible;

}

There's a lot that can be said about automation. 

It saves you time, saves you money, increases your profit margin, and gives you a massive edge over the competition.

Between Google sheets functions, Google Scripts, and some small scripts i've wrote this year. I've automated the jobs of at least 2 full-time VAs. 

If each VA would have made $15,000/yr, that's an extra $30,000 (minus any costs the automations require) for the company.

Whenever I'm doing any task, if it takes more than a couple minutes, I come up with ways to automate it. It's not always practical, but for the ones that are, it's saved me a lot of time. 

The easiest tasks to automate and the things sent to your VAs. In fact, you can then have them manage the automations. 

When we send VAs tasks, what do we do?

We create a clear, step-by-step process to follow. That's exactly (let's not get too technical here) how programming works. You give the system a set of rules to follow.

Automations don't have to be complex or built by yourself either. Look at everything you do, can you do it faster? Can you hire a developer to make if faster?

  • Create document templates which already have your equations (sheets) and formatting
  • Learn how to use Excel/Sheet equations that speed things up rapidly. VLOOKUP and QUERY can save you a lot of time and allows you to do some pretty fancy data parsing automatically.
  • Use batch analysis on Ahrefs rather than site explorer when you're looking at a bunch of domains.
  • Have a developer create a schema script that just needs text inputs so your VAs or employees don't have to edit HTML or JSON
  • Use the API from your rank tracker to build a custom dashboard and notification system for data visualization and saving time looking for wins and losses.
  • Use Screaming Frog's custom search feature to find code or text on a site
  • Use Screaming Frog's GA, GSC, or Ahefs APIs to gather all the data you need on URLs in one place
  • Doing the same thing on WP all the time? See how much getting a plugin to do it for you would cost

Those are just a couple ideas. The more you automate, the more you'll notice what you can automate. It's not really what you can automate, but how

Let's look at an example of how it can help your business.

Here's a real example with a made up competitor. I had my VA take a couple hundred keywords for a client + variations ([best,top,etc] xyz) (which ended up with over 1,000 terms) and use Google to determine if a map pack showed up.

Took her about 8-hours at $6.5/hour. That's a $52 cost, it's not much. But, when you consider that if a client is at $1,000/month and that this is a task that's normally done during month 1 (we do this in the Blueprint. Again, explained in the CM video), A little over 5% of the budget is being spent on a task that won't directly bring them more money. 

Keyword research is important, we took an extra step to be comprehensive. But it requires an entire day of my VAs time and 5% of the budget (assuming $1,000 client for simplicity).

Not only that, but you know how we send "boring" tasks to VAs because we don't want to do them?

They don't want to fucking do it either.

There's also a large margin of error, searching 1,000 terms on a spreadsheet, you could easily miss a row, or add text to the wrong cell.

Most people, especially in local SEO, don't take the extra effort for clients and use a simplified version of everything.

So, if we can manage to do this, it's something 95% of others aren't doing. but, I don't want to spend an entire VAs day or $52 on getting it done, especially when it's something that's normally done during those crucial first 3-months.

Long story short, using a method I won't share, we're able to scrape Google to determine if a keyword has a map listing and then export a CSV that merges with our keyword research template. No extra costs like servers, proxies, or tools that we didn't already have.

It takes 5 minutes to set up.

Let's look at us doing this task compared to a fake competitor that didn't automate it.

US

5 minutes * $6.5/hr = $0.54 or 0.054% of budget

Them

8 hours * $6.5/hr = $52 or 5.2% of budget.

$52 isn't a lot of money, and you could disagree that spending 5.2% of the budget early on for this task isn't a waste. But, imagine you could automate 10 more tasks even 10% as well as we managed to do for this one.

Automation gives you a lot of flexibility too. Let's assume both of us have a 50% operating margin. Meaning, $104 would be charged to the client for this task. Or 10.4% of the budget.

Because of the automations,

  • I could keep the 2x upcharge. 

This allows me to do a lot more work for the same price, with the same margin as my competitors. 

  • Increase my profit margin

Instead of charging the client based on 2x costs, for this task, if I billed them $104 for the task still (keep in mind, it's the same quality and value as the competitors version), I would be adding a 192x to my costs.

Obviously, not every task can be automated to this extend.

  • A mix of both

I could also charge the client $20 for the task which is 37x. 

Now, I'm able to charge less, make more money, and do more work for the same price as my competitor.

Acquisition Never Stops

I've made this mistake 3 times in my career. 

It's never ended well any time.

Sure, fire was hot the first two times I put my hand in it. But third times the charm!

When I got rid of most of my clients and decided to rework the business, I stopped looking for new clients. 

That was really stupid. 

I don't get even 10% of the inbound leads as I used to because I stopped trying.

What I should have done was continue to take on client but be more picky about who I wanted to work with and how much I charge. 

Even if you can only handle 10 clients and you have 10 clients, please don't stop your acquisition efforts. Raise your prices, look for easy to work with clients.

Make Friends

Be friends with your competitors, vendors, influences, and active FB members.

It can lead you to getting more referrals, exclusive discounts, access to information, the ability to publish or have your content shared to a much larger audience, and it makes the generally lonely world of entrepreneurship a lot less lonely. 

Slow Down & Plan Ahead

Before diving into things, take a second to map out what you're trying to do. Just last night, I was ready to pull the trigger on a possible new project management tool.

I had just spend $120 on a tool that wasn't actually going to work. This would be another $120.

I was frustrated as no tool really seemed to have everything I need. Sure, sheets (what we use right now) works fine and I love it - but it can run pretty slowly and doesn't have some features that an actual project management tool does.

Frustrated that it was now almost 3am and I had wasted a lot of time moving stuff over to a new tool that wouldn't work, months of research on dozens of tools, and not wanting to have to spend the time to learn the ins and outs of this tool or waste $120 on it.

It seemed like every tool would requite a handful of integrations in order to do what should be basic in any PM tool.

I didn't want to spend the money on 5 tools and the time to set them all up for what should be out-of-the-box for most tools.

I put my head down.

Am I looking for a tool that I can move how we currently manage projects to? Or, am I looking to rework how we do project management based on a new tool?

What features and functionality does sheets not offer that I want? Could I use my decently extensive sheets knowledge to hack together a solution?

What features does sheets have that I like that these tools don't? 

Can Zapier fix some of those issues?

After a little more research, I mapped out a some ideas for how I can build certain functionalities into our current sheets and have a developer help me build out some other features. 

Yeah, it sucks to have spent the past several months doing research, demoing and buying tools, setting things up, and then realizing it was all a waste of time and money to just stick with what we already used.

But, if I had slowed down and mapped everything out before hand, it would have been much more simple.

What's the end goal?

What features do you need a SASS product to have?

If you buy this course, do you have the time to go through it? The time to implement what's inside it?

Is your new blog post about how to write a title tag in 2019 really better than the other 2,000,000 other articles on the topic?

Will doing X bring you closer to Y goal?

Should you spend your time doing this, or really doing that?

Take an hour to think about something rather than wasting hours, days, weeks, or month doing something you shouldn't.

What's in Store For 2019?

I'm not going to go into growth or financial goals. But, there are some things I want to do that I will share.

One-Day Analysis

The term analysis paralysis comes up pretty often in our space.

We've all encountered it at one point or another.

Instead of taking action on something, we continue to do more research. That research leads to more articles to read.

Those articles have conflicting arguments, which leads to more research about who was right.

Next thing you know, it's 6-months later and you still haven't written your first blog post because you're not 100% sure if Helvetica or Times New Roman is going to give you that extra 0.0001% time on page.

So, I've come up with a method I'm going to use this year (already did it once for 2018). 

It's the one day analysis to avoid paralysis. 

Basically, I dedicate a day. One entire day (if I need 2-days, I'll do it over the weekend) to do any research I need before moving forward on something. 

I did this recently for a marketing campaign I want to run in 2019.

Did I get the entire campaign mapped out, all the copy written, landing pages, etc. Done in one day? Of course not. 

But any questions I had about scripts, copy, tools I needed, different methods of the campaign, etc. I did in that one day. 

The goal by the end of the day is to have a clear checklist of actions needed in order to do the thing. In this case, run the marketing campaign. 

No more research. Just action.

Produce More Content

I'm not great at producing content. 

I lose my train of thought while I'm writing (even if I have an outline). 

It normally takes me months to write a simple post. And I usually scrap 3-4 posts that were a couple thousand words along the way because I didn't like how they turned out.

If I create a video, it requires dozens of takes before I'm happy with it. 

It's a long and painful process. 

But, I have tons of ideas on topics. I have dozens of automation sheets I want to share. 

I'm not committing to x amount of posts per week or month. But, I want to do more than ever before. 

Considering by 2018 contributions were:

  • 3 guest posts
  • 2 YouTube videos
  • 4 blogs posts (assuming this goes live before 2019)

It's not going to be a high bar to reach.

Network More

I want to connect better and more often with prospects, clients, the SEO community, and the local NH business community. 

It's really out-of-my-element to do, so this is going to be the most difficult for me.

Read More

I already read a lot.

Mostly just to keep up with the SEO industry and its constant changes.

But, I own dozens of books I've never opened and there are a ton of blogs I haven't had a chance to dig through that go beyond marketing and are more in the business and business development niche.

Value My Time More

I don't value my time as much as I should.

When people send me emails or Facebook messages (the ones that aren't spam) with questions about SEO or their business, I usually take the time to answer. 

Even if takes 30 minutes for me to write out a good reply. 

That's all without charging them my consulting rates.

I enjoy helping people, and I don't plan on not responding to people. But, I'm going to be more firm about spending time on things that don't make me more money.

Have Fun

No point in doing things if it's not fun. 

Author: Jarod Spiewak

Marketer by day, frustrated programmer by night. I build businesses through digital marketing, without all the BS.

2 thoughts on “2018 in Review”

  1. Jarod (website above just one I bought to screw around with)

    Honered to make the First Comment. What I see is a very smart young man who knows how to make a living at what he likes and is good at. You should be HAPPY and Enjoy Life Because before you know it You Will Be an OLD Prick Like Me. Let me tell you something that you heard probably before. Youth is Everything along with Health, so slow down and Smell the Roses and Meditate & (Yoga for 2019) if you want to be HAPPY & Peace of Mind.

    Everyone should have peace of mind and allowed to be Happy whatever they do. Shit I am just getting into this Internet Stuff and it has given me a lot of New Energy since it is all New To me & Learning New Shit is what I like to Do. Been On my own and have my own Business for a LONG LONG Time, as I said I’m an Old Fart. !!! I have been Up & Down so many times can’t even count that high.

    Bottom Line I enjoy your company and your teachings and look forward to 2019 and doing Business with you as I expand my internet Business whatever that Niche Turns Out to Be. Problem is, wasted a whole year chasing to many as they say Shining Objects and Spent way to much on Courses and shit from JV Zoo that will just sit there an rot I guess.

    So as You, Going to Learn by my Mistakes from 2018 & Get Focused on one or two things this year and hopefully will be back here end of next year Reading your Post and Maybe even Write One Myself.

    My Son is a Writer and if he Read this well would not be a raving review. Should of had him Write it I guess. Any Copy will be for Him to Write for me, hopefully I will be able to Afford Him.

    Look I am oppsite to you, can talk To anyone and Sell Shit if and when I decide to. So anytime you like to chat let me know YOUR KNOWLEDGE & MY BULL SHIT CAN GO A LONG WAY !!! ha ha ha !! HAPPY NEW YEAR MAN & GOOD HEALTH TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

    You already know what you doing and what your Good At. Say Hello to Daryl for me, Sorry I Missed you Guys Yesterday I think for the Lessons with Jarod Spiewak. See you on the Next One For Sure so I can Bust you & Daryl’s Ass, all in Fun. Time for a little Toke and Football. Talk to you Soon My Friend.

    Paul McAuliffe (check out my FB profile and see all the kids and grandkids !!!!! ha ha to know me little better)

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