If you into being a consultant and advisor, you need to know how to provide services to your clients. Our guest for today is business owner and consultant David Jenyns. David started his SEO business fourteen years ago providing done-for-you services to clients in the areas of video production, SEO services, and systems and processes. In this episode, host Michael Zipursky talks with David about his shift from a services business to a product-based business and why selling consultation work is a great place to get started to do an SEO business. Diving into how you can provide the right services for your clients, David highlights the value of content and shares what you can do to accelerate your success through content as well as what’s working right now with the changes in the SEO landscape.
I’m very excited to have David Jenyns joining us. David, welcome.
It’s a pleasure to be here.
David, you’ve been a consultant, advisor and you’ve provided done for your services to clients in the areas of video production, SEO services and systems and processes. You started your SEO business I believe back in 2008. Can you tell us how did you get into that business?
My business just prior to that, I was the marketing guy in a partnership where my partner and I created some courses around trading the stock market. Here in Australia, they had some changes in the financial law around what financial advice you could give and what you couldn’t. That ended up my business. My partner headed in one direction and I headed in the other direction. I’d built up marketing teams. I had a good number of team members around me and I thought, “What are we going to do now?” We’ve developed these skills and ways that we do things for ranking. It was in the heyday of search engine optimization. I thought, “Let’s start up a digital agency. Let’s take what we were applying in a very competitive space, the stock market education space and then how do we apply that through to small business.” We’ve got some great results in that space. It ended up a little bit earlier than you mentioned, earlier than 2008. I’ve owned that business for about thirteen, fourteen years now. I worked heavily in it for about ten or eleven of those years before I stepped out of the operations.
I was going off of your LinkedIn profile there. I don’t know if that’s the right number or not but somewhere around there. That makes sense. You developed this skillset as you were running this other business around the stock market and trading. It’s getting ranked, helping that content to be more visible and the comp and the ranking this and then decided, let’s leverage the skillset that we’ve developed and create a new business around it which became MelbourneSEOServices.com, correct?
How do you then go about getting your first clients? You have the skills, you have the idea but how do you then start to build that business?
Firstly, we focused on search engine optimization and I had a few colleagues and people that I had worked with and people who’d seen my work. That was a big part of where I got my first few initial clients. I was quite deliberate in selecting the domain name, Melbourne SEO Services. It had the core keyword that I wanted to rank for in there. Yes, we had to do a bit of work to get it to rank but we did very quickly both in the local search and organic search, get some good visibility. We got good lead flow from way. It started off with SEO but then as the online landscape has developed, we’ve started to realize that we needed to master multiple different channels. We brought things like AdWords into the fold, running some Google Ads, I had also done lead generation for this. Once we started to get a few wins collecting case studies and testimonials, that’s a big thing very early as we’re starting to build up. I was doing a lot of the work initially. I was working with clients, I had some team members supporting me but I was delivering the work to make sure we’ve got a great result for them. I collected the testimonial and case study, looked for referrals and then it started to grow from there very organically. There’s a bit of word of mouth, a bit of SEO and we then started to also double down on YouTube traffic. YouTube is pretty crowded now.
If you go back to that ten years ago, we were taking video content that I’d created from workshops and things like that, chopping them up into little pieces, optimizing them and then loading them onto my YouTube channel. A lot of people were discovering just little snippets, little how to solve problems that they were having. That would lead them back to our website. They’d want to find out more. We’d get them into our funnel, we’d warm them up over a period of time through auto-responder sequences and sending out valuable content and then occasionally making offers for them to take that next step and it grew from there.
There’s a lot that you shared there. I want to go back and unpack a little bit of that. You mentioned that you had already a bit of a network, people that were familiar with your work at the stock trading business. Did you send them emails and you pick up the phone and call them? How did you introduce them to what you were planning to do or had just started doing with the new SEO business?
It was just an email. Once we started to hitting different directions with my business partner and I, I contacted some of the different colleagues and said, “Here’s what I’m working on right now.” Send them an email from the new domain name so they could then check out the website and have a little bit of a look around. I had some success in a very competitive space. It didn’t mean also when we started to work with some of these small businesses, when we were talking about local SEO, which were still very early days in the local SEO, not overly competitive. You didn’t need to do a huge amount to rank well for very specific geographic terms, suburbs and things like that. That was a big part of it where I could clearly say I could get a very good ROI on the marketing dollar. You give me $1 and I could turn it into $3 or $4 by picking up some local rankings and getting them some quick wins.Create derivative work and try to throw a lot of content and see what sticks, and then repurpose it. Click To Tweet
How do you compare what’s working best for you now to back then? You shared some of the YouTube stuff, the local rankings. There have been a lot of changes right in the SEO landscape, maybe getting ranked isn’t easy as it used to be. There’s a lot more competition. When you look at even the SEO business that you have now or some of the other businesses that you’ve been involved in, what’s working best right now that you’re seeing yourself or for clients that you’re helping in terms of lead generation?
We do a lot of leading with content first these days. We have a particular method that we liked that ticks quite a few boxes. Oftentimes, we’ll work with a client or even if it’s something that we do where we’ll batch a lot of content creation in one day. We love running little workshops on the particular subject matter for the client, recording all of that content. That almost becomes the seed of the next six to twelve months’ worth of content. We’ll take the content, we’ll chop it up into little pieces. Those will go to YouTube, will get optimized.
When you say a little workshop, is that a live workshop? They present it to clients, you’re capturing video audio at that time. You’re creating transcripts, you’re using the videos and you’re using the audios.
We’re creating derivative work and we try and throw quite a lot of content and adding this to the world and then we see what sticks. Some pieces of content will rise up and we’ll go, “This YouTube video for some reason has ten times the amount of views compared to these other 30 videos that we have that were all published at a very similar time. Let’s now double down on that. What can we do to amplify it? What can we do to repurpose it? Maybe we can turn it into a longer form article that ends up appearing on the blog.” It’s a live workshop and sometimes it’s easier for some clients and others. It depends on the industry. For example, we did some work with a Cosmetic Institute here in Victoria. They’ve got some of the doctors to sit inside the practices. They invited a few clients along and they talked about some of the considerations you should have before having a procedure. I worked with a software company and it talked about how to validate a software project before you get started. They got a couple of guest speakers that talked about things like raising money and a few area topics like that. What we were able to do is take the content, chop it up into little pieces and then we started to see what resonated well with that target audience to drive some of this organic traffic in. We’d have the website with a lot of call to actions, which would then get them into the funnel.
I’m thinking about a lot of consultants who understand the value of content and they’re writing articles or maybe they’re deciding to start a podcast or they’re putting out videos but there’s a lot of people out there who don’t see success from their content. There’s no real strategy behind it or it’s hard for them to stay consistent with it. Even if they are, they may not see the return that they’d like for many months or even well over a year. In your experience, is there something that people can do to accelerate their success with content?
The only way to accelerate beyond that is to pay. You pay for exposure. Your content has to be good either way for it to work because content is about getting in front of the audience to get their attention and the content needs to be good enough that it holds their attention. From there, we can build up some trust. Once we’ve got some trust, then we can start to get them to engage and redirect their attention to the offer or consume more or whatever it may be. It starts with having the good content. The next piece after that is if you want to accelerate is paying to apply effectively. Definitely Facebook these days, you’ve got to be boosting content for it to get good exposure. Particularly, if we’re talking about pages. You can get some okay exposure still through your personal profile but it’s getting very noisy on there.
I’m finding even the same these days with LinkedIn. Initially LinkedIn, you could post a bit of content and you could get some good exposure and some good rates, which you still can. Because it’s getting more and more crowded, more videos are coming on, more content, everybody saw that as the low-hanging fruit. What we’re seeing happening is you need to get the content engaged early for it to get any real traction. It’s emailing out your database and getting them to comment on it and engage with it from when it first goes live that then kicks in the LinkedIn algorithm and then pushes it and gets it even further reach. The next step beyond that at some point. LinkedIn’s paid options are still pretty average, pay-per-click options in LinkedIn. It’s very expensive but if they get that right, it would be the next thing to look at. How do you pay to increase that exposure?
To break that down is what I’m hearing you say is you’re putting different content out there even organically without paying. You’re seeing where are you getting more engagement and where things have higher levels of response. Based on what’s working, that would then be something that would be worthwhile for someone to consider putting some money towards to boost that content to get it in front of more eyeballs that are targeted specifically to ideal clients.
For us these days like we used to be able to focus on one particular strategy, whereas now we have to hit things from multiple different angles. It’s very hard for the content game. If you’re going to try and lead with content just doing one channel is not going to be enough. You’ve got a LinkedIn, Facebook and organic SEO. You need to be emailing your database, you need to think YouTube re-targetting. You’ve got to squish as much out of it to get the ROI with content whereas you didn’t use to need to do that. That’s also why depending on the size of the business as well, we sometimes suggest leading with paid strategies first because you can turn it on and you can get some great traffic. It depends on the business though. Certain businesses, if it’s a service-based business and they’re in a particular geographic region, you can sometimes make AdWords work straight out of the gate just because you’re targeting very specific areas.
You can also get local SEO, that’s another way to get some quick wins. You have to kick it based on the business, what the competition level is, how much they’re happy to spend to acquire a lead. If you’re a brand-new startup and you haven’t figured out your numbers, when you creating content, you’re exchanging your time for creating that content to try and get that awareness. It’s not free because you’re exchanging the time. If you’re a bit more established, you don’t have to exchange the time but you have to exchange money for that attention. You don’t want to be exchanging money unless you understand your business very well because you might spend a whole bunch of cash but not save the ROI on it or understand your numbers or understand how much you’d be happy to spend to acquire that lead.
That’s a really important point. We see this a lot with on different entrepreneurs or consultants who have this idea of going to invest into ads but they’re not committed to it. What I mean by that is they’ll think that they can get a result very quickly just because they are investing money into it. In many cases, it can take several months to test things, get them ironed out, figure out what’s working and optimize it. Once you do, then it can take off and you can see great returns but you need to be prepared for it to take a period of time for things to get dialed in. For many entrepreneurs, they’re conservative or they’re looking for quicker wins. That’s the challenge for people with paid. I always say to people, “If you’re going to go on the paid route, you have to be prepared to make an investment and stick with it for a little bit to get the actual returns.”Content is about getting in front of the audience to get their attention, and it needs to be good enough that it holds their attention. Click To Tweet
For many people, it’s not the best place to start because there’s other things they could be doing with a more direct approach. David, I want to ask you though, you mentioned also that in the business, at the beginning, you were doing pretty much everything yourself. How did you make the transition to start adding on team members? How did you move yourself especially from the point of view of the clients they think of, “David, the SEO guy, he’s the expert, we’re hiring him. We want him. We don’t want other people doing this.” What did that transition look like for you?
It was definitely slow. I was trapped in the business for about ten years. I look back now and I think I could have transitioned out much quicker than I did with what I know but at that time and you do little baby steps. You’d start off doing some outsourcing first or out-tasking to pass off certain jobs. I was still the touch-point for the clients but I was getting some of the backend work done. We started to get more of part-time and full-time roles pop up where it was more an administrative-type person who helped with a lot of the communication and lining things up. More team members kept on getting an added in to solve some of those different problems. The most challenging and addresses what you were talking about was removing me from the equation. We did a few key things one. We set up an email where it was [email protected] and we started to stop using my email as that contact point. I would tell clients as well, “If you want a quicker response,” because I am the bottleneck, “If you’re sending it to me, it will be delighted and more than likely I’m going to forward it on anyway.” The quickest response will be to go to [email protected] and if they require me, they will loop me in.
That was a big one. I started stepping in there and the next thing was even though I’m still heavily branded on the side and a lot of the videos, I did end up hiring a lady, Melissa, who’s our CEO. She now handles a lot of the operations and she ends up being the first touch-point for when the lead comes in. She might refer some of the higher ones to me or if there’s something I’m a bit more boutique or something a bit more particular but generally speaking, she’ll be the first touch-point. She’s also very good at setting the standards and setting up expectations. Once they are on-boarded, they’re going through to the [email protected] for their customer support. I’ve now transitioned to almost last line of defense.
What was that like for you to transition from being the guy, the brand, all that to now removing yourself, making the investment also to bring in someone senior to run the business? I’m guessing that was not inexpensive. There was a significant investment in involved in that but what was the driver for you to do that? From an investment perspective, what did that look like? Is it a big investment? Was it just content? Take us through that a little bit.
Definitely, it is a big step to let go. The big driver was we found out we were pregnant with our first child. I was still doing the 70-hour, 80-hour workweeks and I thought, I don’t want to be the dad who’s always too busy and always working. I was at home a lot but I was always thinking and doing work in the evenings and on the weekends. That was the big draw drive. I thought I’d got to do something different here and that set me on a little bit of a process of this idea of systemization. I had a lot of baggage around thinking that I wasn’t able to systemize what we were doing because I was the guy and I thought Google kept on updating its algorithms or how could I write a system for something that would be out of date next week. I tested a lot of those assumptions by going, “Maybe I can systemize. What does that look like?” I started on that process. The lady that took over, I was quite fortunate that she was already involved in the business and I elevated her up. If you went externally, it would be a very expensive position to recruit for. She was there, I started to let go of the reins. We gave her a pay bump. I was happy with taking a little bit of a pay cut because effectively, I’d bought back more of my time and that didn’t happen at the start.
What I found is she was also a good operator to start to realize things like, “This particular product line, we should cut because even though it brings in a good chunk of revenue, it also is our biggest source of expenses. We’re not making much profit on this.” She started to get very particular with what it was that we were delivering. I watched some revenues dip but I saw profit start to increase and I started to see the bank and the cash balances all starting to increase. We had a longer runway and we were putting aside the money for the taxes and we were preplanning for the end of the year when we shut down for a few weeks in the 12th month, in December, when we’d shut down and making sure that wages were covered over that period of time. She started doing a lot of things like that where I just started to realize, “Hang on, maybe I’m not as special as I thought I was.”
What opened your mind? How do you expand beyond it? A lot of people have the same challenge where they feel that the business is them, that the client wants them that someone else can’t do it. They’re the experts. They’re bringing what’s unique and that holds them back from bringing themselves from creating more leverage from building, even if it’s not a full-time team, bringing in the resources and delegating stuff. What was it? Did you read a book? Did you listen to some podcasts? Did you have a conversation with someone? What was the turning point for you that got you to see that maybe I don’t need to do all this myself?
It was definitely the moment of finding out that we were going to be pregnant was enough to go, “I need to look.” I started to have in my head, I can see other people doing this. I know other people have worked, built-up agencies that work without them. It’s possible. I started to realize, in my eyes, the business was broken if it relied solely on me. I needed to re-engineer the products and services that we would delivering if I couldn’t deliver them without me involved. We started rebuilding things, things like our SEO starter pack, which is where people get started. We were doing these elaborate, very in-depth SEO reports. I’m fully picking apart everything. We’ve started to rely on SEMrush and some of those tools and some additional things over the top. The audits prior to doing that were higher quality, it is very custom, very bespoke but the difference between 80% and 100%, the client wasn’t noticing.
You are not hitting value. Even though it’s not needed to know and customized, there’s still enough value for them and they’re not even an implement on everything that you would offer them anyways. It’s still working out.
I started consuming all of the info, the reading the books like Scaling Up and Traction and Work The System and The E-Myth. I’m trying to get my head around and understand what it takes to build a business that isn’t dependent on the business owner. Starting off with things that I knew that could very easily be delegated. The finances, some of the management of the team, some of the administration through clients. That was the other thing. Systemize everything else except for the hottest speed. If there’s a roadblock for you that I can’t let go of this one thing, how about you let go of everything else first and then we come back to that one thing later?
How much time do you spend involved in the SEO business yourself on a weekly basis or monthly basis?You need to get your content engaged early for it to get any real traction. Click To Tweet
About half a day a week. It varies. It’s mainly to do with meetings. I have a meeting with my CEO and we look at dashboard numbers and figure out what we’re doing. I have a meeting with our finance lady, that’s a weekly thing, having a look at cashflow, what’s come in, what forecast at hand next month is looking. We have a meeting with the marketing team to think about what are the initiatives. Usually I do that after the finance meetings so that way, the financial position informs the actions that we ended up taking. That freed me up and to build up the SaaS, which used to be my side project is now my full-time gig.
How would you say your take-home pay as your income from the SEO business has changed now that you’ve gone from full-time being in a nonstop or that being your world to half a day a week? Has it gone down considerably because you’ve now freed up a lot more time? Has it stayed the same? Has it increased? What’s happened?
The SaaS and the Melbourne SEO, I get paid as an employee plus I ended up getting a profit distribution as well. My pay as an employee, it has gone up slightly, not a huge amount, but I get paid some from the SaaS and I effectively still get paid some at the digital agency as well. My net, what wage I get has increased since Melissa has taken over by about 25%. In addition to that, because I’m the business owner, we do quarterly profit distributions and that separate from the wage. I always think in terms of the wage as how much would it cost to replace me or hire someone to do that role. As the business owner and the profit distribution, which it fluctuates, it’ll depend on how the business is performing and what time of the year we’re up to. Oftentimes, very early in the New Year or after the Christmas break, when everything has gone quiet, I tend to get a smaller payout then because we come through and it depends on what the cash balance looks like. Whereas the mid-year one is bigger because we right in the middle of the trading. I didn’t use to take profit distributions so that’s a big change. I used to funnel everything back into the business. I would be pulling my bare minimum wage out and funding the team and reinvesting. Now, I realized that I need to be rewarded for the work that I’m doing. It’s easy for the business owner to take it all on their back and look after everybody else and make sure everybody else is paid, but then they neglect themselves. That’s pretty common.
With those profit distributions, what do you do with that? Is that going into buying boats and cars or are you putting into investments, in real estate or is it just going to family or is it savings? That’s money that you previously didn’t have.
A little bit of family, a little bit of savings. We have got some properties so paying down debt on properties and then doing things that I hadn’t done for a long time for the wife and the family and just little things around the house. To get the deck renovated.
Your latest venture is systemHUB, which is an online tool for SOP, Standard Operating Procedures. Why did you make the shift from a services business to a product-based business? I know that you said it was a side project, but a lot of people are very focused on their one business and instead of launching something new, they just think, how can I grow what I have? Why did you start that product business and why the shift?
I started it to solve our own problem because we were storing systems, processes, SOP’s in Dropbox and we were doing it them as Word documents and it got very clunky. I was trying to build the systemized business but it was unorganized, hard for people to find things, too many team members were able to see all of the systems. I want team members to only see the systems that were relevant to their role. I wanted to get the ability for people to sign and agree and a few things like that. I developed it initially for ourselves and then realized that it could be a product. I always say service-based business and consulting work, it’s a great place to get started. You have to work very closely with your target audience, to learn and understand their problems and get a deep understanding. Service business though is much harder to scale like 10X, 100X, 1,000X. Imagine, trying to do an SEO business where you’ve got 1,000 times your regular client flow, the wheels would fall off almost immediately.
Whereas Saas, I found a product-based business was much more scalable where I can bolt in additional support team members. What’s the difference between 1,000 members and 10,000 team members? We’re talking a couple of support staff to handle the tickets because we built that and systemized it. I see it as much more scalable. I don’t foresee a day where we let go of the digital agency. We did sell off part of the digital agency. It was a video production company. We systemized that and I sold that. We exited that part of the business. The digital agency we’ll keep because it’s a way to develop our skills. I say marketing as a core skill that I’ll need regardless of what business. We ended up working in. It’s a great way for me to prove that you can build a profitable business that isn’t owner-dependent which is a great case study. I can point to real-life examples and show things that you can’t normally show inside the SaaS. That’s a big part of what we do as well.
You had this idea, you needed it anyways internally. You started to develop it. This is beneficial and valuable for other consultants and people in the community here. Oftentimes, you see things when you’re consulting and you identify opportunities that could be served with a software product or some kind of tool or whatever it might be. How did you take it from, “We’re using this internally,” to getting clients, getting customers into that product? How do you start marketable, generating revenue from that new venture?
There are a couple of things. The good thing that agency that we owned was a marketing agency. We built a website for it. We did some basic search engine optimization for it to target some phrases we knew were relevant and we started to create content. We created a podcast where we interview other subject matter experts and have them share a system or a process they use inside their business. We turn that episode into a documented process. That’s SystemHUB.com/podcast. We did SEO, we did podcasts, we did some social stuff, do a little bit of LinkedIn stuff. It was the side business for a while there, I didn’t feel the time pressure of this has got to perform for me to be able to put food on the table for a period there. This was in the transition as I’m working out of the digital agency.
Effectively, systemHUB was robbing all of the profits from Melbourne SEO. All of that profit distribution that I was talking about that I wasn’t getting was getting funneled into the development of this software and getting it off the ground. It got to a point when I did the transition with Melissa moving in. Melissa said, “Dave, you’re robbing Melbourne SEO. You’re stunting what it can do because you’re taking all of the money and you’re moving it over here.” She gave me a line in the sand and said, “At this point, it needs to start paying for itself because you’ve been running it as a side business for a few years.” That’s when we started to make the transition. I moved over full-time, we started ramping things up, we got it to a point where it can stand on its own two feet and then Melbourne SEO. That’s how it was able to start putting off profit because all the money wasn’t getting funneled into this software project.It's easy for the business owner to take it all on their back and look after everybody else, but then they neglect themselves. Click To Tweet
Where’s systemHUB right now? Is it profitable? Is it getting to that break-even point? Where is it at right now, its lifespan?
It’s profitable mainly based on the idea that I can control how much we tip into development or not. The biggest expense with any software project is how much development hours. The product is mature enough that it delivers a great result. Clients use it, they’re repeating, it’s a software as a service, it’s a recurring billing, they pay monthly or annually. We’re adding new features but that was the other thing when Melissa drew the line in the sand and said, “It has to stand on its own two feet.” I used to plow all of this money into software development because software is a never-ending bucket. It keeps on consuming. If you want it to suck down money, it’ll suck down as much as you give it.
You’re never satisfied with just the features and products or features that you have right now. There are always new things, updates that come down the line you need to invest into.
Now I manage it with my accounts lady where we have a look at the profit that’s in the business. How much that gives me for the next sprint. You can now invest in 80 hours, 100 development hours. Next month, we’re doing really well. You can do 200 development hours. This month has been a little bit quieter. That’s it though. I do find the SaaS business doesn’t fluctuate as much as that as the service-based business because they’re locking into recurring revenue. The lumpiness only occurs with annual subscriptions and sometimes if we do a promotion for an annual subscription, we get a big spike or if we’re running an event or something like that.Software is a never-ending bucket. It keeps on consuming. Click To Tweet
Most of the client acquisition for systemHUB does come from the podcast, from SEO. Have you ventured into any direct sales yet or is that something that you are considering?
We are definitely considering that. I think the direction we’re heading is we’ve tested some Facebook ads. I don’t quite think my audiences is there. They’re a bit more of a sophisticated busy business owner. I think where we’re going to have the best wins because I have a couple of small wins in this space is more strategic partnerships. Identifying the expert in a particular vertical working with them. We did a work with a guy who teaches video production agencies, how to be better video production agencies. It just so happened because I ran a video production agency, I also had a whole bunch of systems and processes for that business. I worked with this gentleman where he’s talking to video production agencies and we developed some systems, processes and training that live inside systemHUB’s specific for that vertical. It’s easy for him to point people our way because they get extra tailored information. That’s the direction I want to head, find the expert. I’m chatting with at the moment an accountant, a coach to accountants and helping him develop some systems and processes for those accountants. He can say, “You should be looking at using systemHUB. That’s going to be better direction for us.”
David, I want to thank you for coming on here. I’m sure there are a lot more that we could dive into. Where can people go to learn more about you, your work, what you’re up to? What’s the best place for them to connect?
If you hit to SystemHUB.com/podcast, that’s a great way to get started because we creating systems and processes and sharing them. Gets a flavor for what we do. On that systemHUB website, you’ll find Twitter and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is another good one. Just connect through to me that way. We post a lot of good content.
David, thanks so much for coming on.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having us.
- David Jenyns
- [email protected]
- Scaling Up
- Work The System
- The E-Myth