Michael Zipursky: Hi everyone. It’s Michael Zipursky. Today, I’m very happy to have Tom Treanor with us. Tom is the founder of Right Mix Marketing, a website and a business that focuses on online marketing, SEO, business blogging and media. Prior to Right Mix Marketing, Tom worked for Hewlett-Packard in leadership roles and marketing operations at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Booz Allen Hamilton as a strategy consultant, and at Sony Electronics in product marketing. I invited Tom today to share with us his story and what he’s done to build a successful business. Tom, welcome.
Tom Treanor: Thank you, Michael. Glad to be here.
Michael Zipursky: Yes. So Tom, to start, can you share some details on the work that you’re doing now and some of your accomplishments so we can get a better sense for you and your work.
Tom Treanor: Sure. About three years ago, I decided to leave HP, the corporate world, and to start off on my own business, basically helping at that time companies with search engine optimization and have since expanded that into basically three things which is search engine optimization, content marketing and social media marketing. The reason I left was I realized that things had dramatically changed in the world of business and by doing the corporate jobs I was doing, I really wasn’t learning what I needed to be learning and I wasn’t going to be on the cutting edge of these industries. So, I decided to launch my own business and kind of take my future into my own hands, so to speak. Yes, since then, I’ve worked with a lot of amazing clients. I have written a search engine optimization workbook and I’ve created digital products where I’ve taught people how to market their businesses and I’ve had some great successes come from that. I’ve taught social media marketing at San Francisco State University. Yes, just generally have done some amazing things that I would never have expected. I’ve also recently been speaking a lot more, both online as well as in person, and have written for blogs like Copyblogger and Problogger and some other big blogs.
Michael Zipursky: All right. That’s great and you kind of took in there part of my next question. But that’s all good. So I want to actually better understand the work that you’re doing right now, you talked about SEO, social media, business blogging. Within those, can you get a little bit more specific about what you’re actually doing to help clients in those areas?
Tom Treanor: Sure. Where I find a lot of consulting clients are that they’re in a situation where they realize that they need to be doing something online but they really don’t know what and sometimes they actually have a presence. For example, they might have the beginnings of a blog or a few hundred fans on Facebook. They might have some presence but they really have no kind of purposeful plan for what they’re doing with all of this stuff online. So what I help them do in that case is basically incubate a social media program within the company. What that means is if they’re willing to develop content – and I strongly recommend they do – then I’ll help them basically understand why they need to have content, how it’s going to help their search as well as help them in social media and then we get their content plan in order and then, we get their social media profiles ramped up and I kind of explain to them and work with them in how to share content, how not to be so promotional and just featuring your products and services, how to grow their accounts and why it’s important. Basically, the cycle of content that’s very search friendly and then combine with social media all humming and then basically what ideally I have is an internal person who is kind of ramping up with me and they learn all of the techniques and they can take over from there with supplemental help from me as needed.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Okay. That sounds great. One question for you – and I’ve seen this over the years with a lot of different clients and all different kinds of industries, it doesn’t really matter on the size – and that’s when you’re trying to kind of push through an initiative like the ones that you’re talking about where you’re getting people to whether to write blog articles on a regular basis or to keep their social media accounts active or work on some marketing actions or initiatives as well, that on the client side, because a lot of times where clients have so many things going on that they really find it hard to get the stuff done on a consistent basis. Do you come up against that? If you do, I think there’s probably a lot of consultants listening to this thinking “Well, yeah, I’ve been in that kind of situation where I have a client where we agree upon deliverables, we agree upon actions that need to be taken,” and then for one reason or another, you check back with that client and they haven’t moved forward or there’s just been too many things going on and they apologize and maybe inside they now that they should be doing it but they’re not. Have you come up against that? If so, how do you get around that or how do you help your clients in that situation?
Tom Treanor: Sure. I can talk about several different ways because it just varies depending on their capabilities and resources and motivation. For some of them, it’s a lot about modeling. I’ll go in there and bring my flip camera and working with one of the big wine maker up in Sonoma and I’ll go shoot videos of him making wine. Then we’ll edit those and post them and I’ll share them in the blog and then we’ll share them on social media. So kind of show them how it all works and just go up there and do it and have the person that I’m training with me as we go through that. So that’s one case is kind of modeling or I’ll create unique Facebook posts based on their content and share it and show them “Hey, look, this one did really well and this is why.” Then you just start basically get them understanding how it all works. I think it’s really valuable to have people looking over your shoulder and seeing what you do and then they go “Oh okay. It’s not so hard. Now I get it.” But, you know, if you just tell them you have to do this and this, then they just really don’t get it.
That’s one case. Let’s talk about another case where I have exactly your situation that you described: one client who gets it, but they just are not putting in the time to do the content and it’s really holding them back. In that case, some of the things you have to do is remind them of the strategy. So I sit down with my picture of how social and search and content all work together. I show them their analytics and the few things that they’ve done and how they have bumped up their numbers and get them believing in it again. Maybe they just need to be reminded. Then I support them and kind of help cheerlead their efforts and say “Hey, that video…” This is a high-end caterer so I took them into the kitchen and start shooting videos with her. Then the first ones were a little rusty but after I left, they shot some of their own videos. I went in there and reviewed the videos and yes, I said, “You know, those are good. Those are ready for prime time so let’s get them up on YouTube, let’s get them up on your blog, start to get that that out there.” You just have to motivate them to have the content sometimes and they just get stuck. In fact, I ended up editing one of their videos just so it would be more ready and I said, “You know what, I’ll do this and take care of that video so we’re ready to post it.”
Michael Zipursky: It really sounds like the modeling aspect for you works very well and I know we’re going to touch on that a little bit later on in more detail with regards to the sales and how you have this fabulous way of really closing deals and projects much more in an effective way. So we’ll get to that. But that sounds good. I want to jump back for a second, Tom, to 2010 or so when you did decide to leave your job at HP to start your own business. I know you said that you felt that you wouldn’t really be at the cutting edge if you stayed in your position. But were there other things going on? It sounds like you had a pretty cushy job. What else was kind of in the mix going through your mind? If there’s people listening to this right now, they’re in a similar situation where they have a good job, it’s providing a stable income, but there’s something inside, is there anything that you can share of how you were feeling inside? Were there other thoughts going on that really helped to spur you to take action to start your own business?
Tom Treanor: Sure. First of all, I believe in trying to kind of do innovative things and that’s just kind of what I like to do is not just be doing the check in, clock in at 9:00, leave at 5:00. I want to do something different so I actually had submitted to our innovation office at HP in the PC group and my proposal was accepted for a pretty major project working with the executive vice-president and the CTO for the group. So I’ve been working on that for about four months as a night job. To be honest, I was getting a little bit burned out but when there was a re-org and the function of the group changed and my project basically kind of went by the wayside, that was one trigger that said “You know what, I’ve tried and that’s kind of the last straw.” In the meantime though I had also been doing consulting with clients and have been seeing some great success with mainly search and I figured between the two of those things, that trigger point and the fact that I had paying clients who were seeing success, I thought, you know what, I can make this work and it’s going to be tough and we’re definitely going to have to dip into savings which is basically investing in yourself and your own company rather than getting Angel or VC funding. I just said it’s time to invest in myself and if I look, a long-term business is strategically the right move. I have to say you need to have something solid enough so that you know that you can bring in some money and that you have to see some points of success before you leave.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Looking back now, when you say that investing in yourself, as you said, was probably one of the best investments you’ve made.
Tom Treanor: Yes. It’s hard to make a step change unless something happens. Sometimes changing companies is the biggest way to kind of make a big move or to put yourself on a better path. In this case, for me, the best move was to take a break from corporate and actually invest in my own company and learn a whole lot of new skills and do a lot of things that I could never have done as part of that corporation.
Michael Zipursky: Right. You mentioned that you had some clients while you’re still working a full-time job. How did that happen?
Tom Treanor: Basically, I started to understand the space that I wanted to be in and again, at that time, I had a long history in search and paid search.
Michael Zipursky: Was that the area that you were focusing or were you doing like PPC and things like that? When you say you had a history, what do you mean by that?
Tom Treanor: I had run a search engine company around the year 2000. This was before Google and Google AdWords was a big thing. I was using – and I think it was GoTo.com. It was basically pay-per-click advertising before AdWords became so popular. I was actually advertising my search company using pay-per-click ads. After that time, I still stayed online and was experimenting and doing some small businesses. So I was always kind of tinkering around. At HP, I was doing a lot of strategy and some operations, so I was not really doing as much search or pay-per-click or marketing. That’s why, and even if I had moved into a role there in a marketing group, maybe I would have been doing like 20 or 30 percent online. I just wouldn’t be as deep as I am now. But yes, so I started at first, you know, I would definitely recommend this for people that are maybe looking to make a move. I started with some pro bono clients, two or three, experimenting with different search engine optimization and pay-per-click models. Like I said, I started to see success with those and then I started to take on some paying clients. These would be businesses that I ran into where they were struggling or they just had no idea what to do online and I’d say “You know, hey, let me propose something for you to help you advance yourself online.” I did some client work and started to, again, those were working really well. So I said, you know, worst case, if I feel my business full of these kinds of clients, I can survive and learn and grow. So that’s when I made the choice.
Michael Zipursky: Yes. It’s always nice. That’s definitely one thing that I recommend to consultants as well. I mean, if you have the savings built up, if you have that confidence level, there’s nothing wrong with just jumping in. But everyone’s circumstances are different and to have a situation where you still have a job going, but at the same time you get to start working with a few clients on the side and build that experience, get some of the income coming in from different sources, it makes the transition a lot easier and usually a lot smoother as well.
Tom Treanor: That’s right.
Michael Zipursky: Okay. That answers now one of my other questions which was how did you get your first clients. That makes sense. But how about now? You talk about different methods of speaking, teaching, writing. What’s working for you right now to get clients? What’s kind of the one method that you’re using to attract clients, to your prospective clients that is working for you the best or are there a couple?
Tom Treanor: I’m a very naturally curious person so I ended up spending a lot of time on a lot of different platforms. Some people are very focused like, say, they’re kind of a Facebook master or they’re really good on Twitter. I’m basically across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn. I’m more of the “be everywhere” kind of approach than some other people aren’t and there’s kind of two different camps on that. That’s how I’m out there and exposing my brand and doing public speaking and webinars. I basically have a brand that’s out there. What happens is people who know me see these things and they go “Oh okay, if there’s a question about anything online, I go to Tom because he’s obviously speaking, he’s working with clients, he’s producing content.” So just basically, that’s my marketing. The way that I get clients is a lot of times people who have seen me or know me will ask “Hey, I have this company, a VC company and they want to work on something,” or “I’m working with a start-up and they’re a little struggling.” That’s one way. Then also some of my clients have referred other clients. It’s basically I have a lot of word of mouth, a lot of things coming from social media and then I do have people contact me for my site and just say either via search or having seen my articles, they contact me and ask me for, you know, “Can you speak?” or “Can you help my company?” It’s a variety of ways.
I definitely think if you look at it from a strategy, producing content and getting it out to your audience whether it’s in a very targeted fashion or whether it’s in a broader fashion like I’m doing can be very effective because what happens is people see you, you’re always top of mind, people kind of naturally assume that you’re an expert because they’re seeing all the things that you’re talking about and you’re showing your expertise. You have that aura of authority. They feel very comfortable to contact you and know that you’ll be able to help them out.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Now I just want to get this thing on the record here, Tom. You just said that you’re actually getting clients from social media. Is that correct?
Tom Treanor: Yes.
Michael Zipursky: Because there’s a lot of people out there that say social media gurus, this and that, and you can actually get business from it. But obviously there’s a lot of people working on social media. So you’ve actually tracked it down to see a direct result from your social media efforts that has actually put money into your bank account.
Tom Treanor: Absolutely. Then there’s different ways to look at it too. It’s the people that I’ve been connected to via social media; it’s people that I’ve known from before who now see me in social media and who’ve become clients. Then there’s people who let’s say, I meet them in the street or they find me in search and then they see things that I’m doing in social media and I’m including my blog in that one, then they decide that I’m worthy of a phone call. So yes, it’s a variety of ways.
Michael Zipursky: Do you approach and think of your social media as a direct marketing lead generation tool or do you look at it more as, you know, it’s more for visibility and brand awareness and you’re exposing your people to your content and many different means, but this is just the way to kind of keep top of mind awareness?
Tom Treanor: Yes, a lot of it is keep top of mind awareness. It’s also an ongoing asset that I’m building because my site gets found more and more through search and so, people are finding me via search which could be new leads. They can either get on my list, my email list, or contact me directly. Let me paint a scenario. Let’s say that – and this has happened people are searching for a social media speaker and I’m focusing on the Bay Area mostly just because of convenience. But yes, they can find me, they do find me and contact me and say “Hey, can you speak for us?” So that’s a great way to get leads and whether that’s a paid speaking engagement or whether it’s free and basically it’s an opportunity to sell to the attendees, those are ways that things are coming in.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Okay. Before I move on here, I want to touch on one other thing which is you mentioned that there’s different camps when it comes to should your marketing be very focused or should you, in some ways, kind of be a jack of all trades and just kind of get, have your hand in all different types of tactics and techniques and platforms. You said that for you, it works best, that’s your approach to have to be doing some Facebook, some Pinterest, LinkedIn, so on and so forth. Would you say that that would have been the same when you got started, when you just began working with clients? Or more in the last, let’s say, couple of years as your brand has really been more developed and you’ve had already some clients and you’ve been working with, and it’s given you maybe the flexibility or just the leverage to start kind of testing different things. Or going back from day one, is that what you have been doing anyways?
Tom Treanor: I’m in a unique situation because I get too benefits from doing that in social media while most of my clients get one benefit. What that means is because of my role, I need to learn these things anyway and experiment in these areas. So if I go on to Pinterest, it may be just curiosity but I also know that if I happen to do well with it, I can potentially get clients or get people clicking back to my site or get search engine optimization benefits. It’s kind of serving me two ways. For me, it makes sense for me to jump in and learn and become more of an expert in these platforms. For a business that is not going to get that second benefit, I will say they will serve themselves better by being more focused. For example, for a consumer or in a company, I think creating content is excellent and then maybe getting into Facebook and Pinterest and possibly expanding to Instagram and Twitter, so kind of going in that order would be helpful. Again, they might hit a point where they just can’t go any further so maybe they start with new platforms and that’s kind of where they focus their time.
Michael Zipursky: Right. I think that’s an important distinction for people listening but it really depends on your situation. Too often people just jump on the latest trend because someone says that it’s great and that it’s hot and that it’s going to take over the world. But it really depends on your situation so I can see how those kind of two points leverage both. It’s education for yourself as well as marketing and brand awareness and how that ties in to make sense. Tom, you recently wrote a post on your blog that shows your website’s year-to-year traffic grew considerably. I’m wondering how much did it actually grow by? You know what I’m referring to?
Tom Treanor: Yes. That’s a good question. I’d have to check because I mean, literally, the funny thing about – you know, I told you my evolution from search and then to basically search content and social, I actually changed names as well. My original brand was DirectionSEO.com. That was the website. I was spending all my efforts there. Really, Right Mix Marketing was, in a way, a kind of languaging. I mean, literally we’re talking two to five visitors a day while I was spending more time on DirectionSEO and some other sites. It went from 2 to 5 visitors a day in the last couple of years to now, it’s about, I’d probably get between 500 and 1000 visitors a day, depending on things. Sometimes they can spike up. But yes, it’s a huge increase and over the last 6 to 9 months, as I’ve decided to just increasingly create content because it’s working so well and again, I’m thinking strategically is that I want to have a nice foundation with kind of an ongoing traffic from search without much more effort. Anyway, I’m building quite a bit of content and over the last 6 to 9 months it probably doubled.
Michael Zipursky: This is very interesting. You’ve had exponential growth and traffic and visitors to your site. I’m sure there are a lot of different things that you’re doing to make that all work for you. What would be the main thing or one thing that, again, someone’s listening to this and thinks, “Okay, I have a blog or a site that’s getting ten visitors or fifty visitors a day, but I know I should be getting more.” What would you tell them? Is it just crank up the content, write more content? Or do they need to be thinking about it in a different way? What’s kind of the big takeaway there?
Tom Treanor: Yes. I think the benefits will vary. Sometimes the benefits could be massive depending on the company. Ironically, it can be the most obscure companies that benefit the most. What I mean by that is, number one is you focus on good content. In other words, don’t do average, dull, boring posts with no pictures and bad headlines; so, really kind of ramping or raising your game in content can have a huge impact. That’s number one. Number two is knowing about search to be dangerous so that you actually get some keywords in the right places and maybe actually write posts based on keywords that matter to you. For example, if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer in San Jose and those keywords are not showing up on your website or your blog content, then that’s probably a big mistake. It’s kind of being thoughtful about your search and knowing enough or having an expert in there to kind of help you get your search fundamentals correct. The third is once you create that better than average content, you have some search in there, you need to promote. There are a lot of ways to do it but the most basic are via social media and finding pockets where your potential clients or other industry players spend time. If you write value added posts, then maybe some of them will start sharing your posts or maybe other bloggers or maybe there’s press that will come resonate with what you are writing about.
Michael Zipursky: When you say pockets, what are you referring to? What kinds? When you write a post and it’s a good post, it has, as you said, the right kind of SEO structures and maybe the right title tags and some keywords inside of the post, which I’m kind of guessing that’s what you’re referring to or missing something -
Tom Treanor: Right. It is good on pages and search engine optimization, yes.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Then you take that and what do you do with it? Like you’re saying, pockets. What does that mean? Is that just you’re posting it up on Twitter or are you sending emails to people to say “Hey, check out this new post I wrote.” What are you actually doing there that’s working for you when you’re talking about finding pockets?
Tom Treanor: Yes. If you’re in an industry where you can find, let’s say, a LinkedIn group with you’re in a more of a business to business or even B2C, you could fine a LinkedIn group where other people in your industry or potential clients are hanging out. You can engage a little bit with people and comment on their post but you could also share a post. LinkedIn groups are one great avenue. There’s across a variety of industries and geographies. There’s a bunch of different LinkedIn groups. There are Facebook groups. There’s your own Facebook page if you happen to have fans – enough fans to support that. Let’s see. If you’re part of an organization, they may actually, what you’re trying to do is get your content in front of some people that could either learn something from it or potentially share it. If you’re part of an industry organization and they have a newsletter and they take content from other people, you could say “Hey, I’d love to write a post for you” if I can include a link to my site on my bio line. That wouldn’t be the first thing you’d ask for. Or you could potentially there’s a forum where you could share a post if you thought that was value added for the members. So yes, it’s finding those pockets of interest groups that are related to your industry or the industry of your customers in a not really obnoxious way of sharing that content.
Michael Zipursky: Right. Okay. That makes a lot more sense. Thanks for that explanation. All right, Tom. Let’s end off here with today’s action bite. You told me that you use an approach similar in some ways to a private lesson to win consulting business, to win business. Tell us what that’s all about.
Tom Treanor: Here’s my theory. When I’m online doing my blog post, my blog basically conveys a lot of authority and I think that a lot of people become successful by creating a post that lends some authority. Same with teaching, when I teach at San Francisco State or when I’m teaching elsewhere, it kind of gives you some authority. I basically apply that into my sales meetings. What I do is I usually kind of pull together some – I have some general slides that basically explain the environment of how content, SEO, and social work together and how it supports a company, how it can drive the traffic, how it can lead to sales, kind of what’s the pathway from someone discovering your content and social media to becoming a lead. What I do is I educate them on how that all works. So they get it; the light bulb goes off. Then I apply some of that to their own business. Maybe I’ll show, well, yes, you’re not ranking for any of your keywords and here’s why or here’s what your competition is doing or here’s some statistics or here’s some analytics from a site similar to yours where you can show once they have content and they’re promoting it, you can see the traffic has doubled.
Basically I teach them not only about kind of how it all works – the light bulb goes off – but how it applies to their business specifically. Then there’s no proposal as part of that. It’s just education. I didn’t ask “Oh can I do a class for you?” I just said “Okay, let me just explain a little bit about how it all works.” After about twenty minutes, fifteen or twenty minutes after that, then I say “Here’s the kind of things we can work on for you: content strategy, SEO ramped up. I’ll be training your staff person.” Basically then lay out what I would do. Once they see that education light bulb goes off, they really felt compelled like “Wow. We have to do this. I get it now. I finally get it. No one has been able to teach me what this all means.” Then they’re just kind of so ready to buy and then I don’t necessarily have the quote right there. I mean, if people can generate a quote instantly, but what I do is then I customize the plan based on what the need. I don’t just have a boiler plate. Then I say “Okay. We’ll do these components but maybe later we’ll do this other thing” and then I’ll come back and have a quote within a day or two. They’ve had a very good close rate with that.
Michael Zipursky: That’s very interesting. Really what you’re doing is you’re giving them a taste of what it’s going to be like to work with you before you even start to work with them in some ways, right? You’re educating them not just – I mean, I guess you’re almost empowering them because you’re giving them the knowledge to understand so that they can almost envision the value that they’re going to be receiving and you’re making it very relevant to them because you’re demonstrating different examples, how it connects to their industry or even more specifically their business.
Tom Treanor: Exactly. We talked earlier about that content creation problem that they have. I actually brought back out some of the same slides when I had that client who was really struggling with actually getting the content that they pretty much had, just getting it out there. I just reeducated them and said “You know, let’s take ten minutes before we get started with this meeting and let me just remind you kind of how it all fits together and why we’re doing this.” Yes, it’s very helpful because they don’t want a bunch of actions and just say “We’re checking the box but we really don’t know why it’s working or why we’re doing this.” You really want to remind them as to why this is so important and that definitely helps in the sales process.
Michael Zipursky: Would this be your first meeting with a prospective client?
Tom Treanor: Yes. Let’s say I get introduced and someone says “Hey, this client of mine wants to learn about what you can for them. They’re struggling online.” I’ll come in there and again, do about an hour of prep just looking at all their platforms and kind of see the things that are obvious it feels to me. Then based on the generic framework and then the specifics to their business, yes, that’s all it takes.
Michael Zipursky: That’s very powerful. That makes a lot of sense. I can see how that is… For your closing rate, what kind of numbers are you seeing from implementing that?
Tom Treanor: This is not statistically accurate but I’d say it’s probably like 50 to 60 percent and then a lot of the other ones, the ones that don’t close – for instance I was talking to one the other day who’s a big San Francisco business and it’s a husband and wife company. Based on the presentation, she was in. She’s like “Okay, I’m signing today.” But her husband, they had problems with their previous SEO so they said no. Those kinds of situations, I think it’s hard to fight against especially when you don’t have the chance to present to the other person but yes, I’d say it’s like to 50 to 60 percent.
Michael Zipursky: Great. Well, Tom, thank you for doing this interview and being with us today. I really do appreciate it and having you share just this last action that it’s so powerful. I really think people are going to be able to, as they give that some thought and think how they can use aspects of that in their own business, there’s a lot for them to benefit as well. Thank you again, so much.
Tom Treanor: Thanks, Michael.