By March of this year 2020, we will be officially completing two full years with PixelTrack. PixelTrack Digital Pvt. Ltd. was a new company formed with my partner Sanjay Shenoy and it has been an eventful two years.
DigitalDeepak.com was started in 2013, but it really started picking up in 2017 after I started launching my digital marketing courses. The business in its current form is a little more than 3 years old because I launched my first digital marketing course towards the end of 2016 while I was still at my job.
Today we are a 10 member team. Here are some of the members on the team (we are still yet to get a really good team picture with all the team members!)
In this blog post, I want to share what I have learned in the past few years of running my business – especially the services side of things with PixelTrack Digital. You can take inspiration and also make sure that you do not do the mistakes that I did while trying to scale a digital marketing company.
So here are the top lessons I learned, in no particular order:
1. Never Undersell Yourself
If there is one big advice I would give to anyone who wants to start a digital marketing agency – I would strongly advice you not to undersell yourself. When we are just getting started, our confidence levels are low. When we are not too confident of the amount of value we can deliver to our clients, we end up charging less.
Charging less comes with its own set of problems:
- When you price your services low, you will attract the wrong kind of clients. You cannot help a business that is broken with your marketing services.
- Someone who is doing a business without a strong funnel will seek help of a marketing agency thinking that marketing will fix everything. Marketing can only accelerate a business that has the fundamentals right. It cannot change the fundamentals.
- Clients who have a business problem usually pay less because they don’t have much money and they will also have too much time on their hands and they won’t let you do your work properly. They will act like the know everything and treat you like an intern.
- When you charge less, you are also limited by the amount of effort you can invest for your client, and hence you will not be able to bring enough results for them, which will further reduce their trust in you. It is a negative spiral that is hard to get out of.
- Most agencies who undersell themselves go from one bad client to the other and the cycle keeps on going on until the company is closed. I have seen a lot of companies fail because they fail to rise in terms of service and product quality. Your focus should always be to charge more and deliver more value to a small number of people than charge less and deliver less value to a lot of people.
On the contrary, when you charge high, you will be able to attract clients who are already doing good in their business and would be able to get an ROI from the work you do. When you accelerate a business from 100 kmph to 150 kmph, it takes the same effort to take a business from 0 kmph to 20 kmph. So work with businesses who already have a momentum. Your efforts will have a much better ROI.
In the past 2 years we have gone from charging 50,000 INR per month to 5 Lakhs INR per month to our clients. We have a few clients who pay 3-5 Lakhs per month in retainer fees and that’s more than enough to keep our company afloat, get good sleep, be without headaches and slowly grow the company in the long term.
2. Personal Branding is Mandatory
When you are running a services company, the services are provided by people. The credibility and the reputation of the people who run the digital marketing agency is more important than the brand of the agency itself, at least in the initial years.
I was able to launch my agency PixelTrack and get clients immediately because I have built my personal brand with DigitalDeepak long before I started the agency.
According to my findings, you first build awareness about your personal brand by creating content. Once you have the attention of potential customers, you sell your services and build some credibility. If you keep doing it, then the credibility gives rise to reputation.
Reputation is something that happens as a side-effect of credibility. You can’t build reputation on demand. It is something that comes to you and you just have to maintain it.
If you maintain your reputation long enough, it will lead to Fame. You don’t need fame to create a million dollar company, but you need fame to create a billion dollar company.
The best way to start building a personal brand is to start a blog and distribute the content. When you create content, people will pay attention to you. And you can convert that attention into a transaction by providing value to your readers even before they pay you anything. First they pay attention and then they pay money.
Here are the things I do to build my personal brand awareness:
- Write blog posts on my blog DigitalDeepak.com
- Publish YouTube videos
- Publish content on Instagram and Twitter suited to the audience in these platforms
- Speak at events like Digital Masters Conference
- Publish a book (Check out my book on Amazon)
- Became a TEDx speaker
- Conduct my own events (HighTraffic Summit)
- Run a club called Digital Marketing Club in a few cities
- Let people promote my courses as an affiliate
- Be a guest speaker at other’s webinars
- Run an active online community called Learn Digital Marketing on Facebook
- Hire interns and mentor them
A lot of people think that my personal brand is a result of my reputation in the market. But a few people realize that the reputation I have in the market is because of my personal branding efforts.
Some people hesitate to build a personal brand (you might be one of them) because then the business depends on you. If you step out of the business, then your business will not continue to run the same way you used to run it. That’s true. But to start with, it is easier to leverage your personal brand and penetrate into the market. Your personal brand is the seed that takes roots before you grow into a large tree.
Right now, the brand DigitalDeepak is more known than the brand PixelTrack. Without my personal brand, it is difficult to get clients for PixelTrack. But it is insanely difficult to build a brand without a human face behind it.
If I keep doing this for 10 years (touchwood I should be able to) then one day the brand PixelTrack might become a bigger company than my personal brand because PixelTrack is a team while I am just a single person.
I will use my personal brand and rub it off on my PixelTrack brand which will eventually grow bigger than me and give me branding on a larger scale. Right now PixelTrack is drawing its credibility from me. But one day, I will draw credibility from my brand PixelTrack when it is large enough.
A lot of billion dollar world changing companies have been built on personalities. And such companies are more often looked up to than the brands which do not have a face connected to them. For example, Tesla and SpaceX has been built on the personal brand of Elon Musk. However, now the brands itself are so big that Elon Musk can proudly say that he is the founder of the company. The brand gives recognition to the personality.
In this day and age, building a personal brand using the internet is an available mechanism for everyone, you become the brand ambassador of the brand that you are building. If you hesitate to put yourself out there and hide your authentic self, then it is going to be an uphill ride to make your brand a well-known brand in a world with so much noise.
3. Hire the Best Team
Getting the right people on your team is the only way to succeed in building a great company. Almost no company ever succeeds without great people. Even if a company owns intellectual property, a great brand, licenses and patents, it can still fall apart if it is being run by the wrong people.
I have worked in many companies and I have seen how the wrong team can bring the company down. And with the right team, you will be able to achieve 10x of what you can achieve as a single person. Just one bad person in the team can set off a chain reaction and spoil the mood of the whole team. One bad apple can make all the apples bad.
In my expansion, the biggest mistake I did was that I hired the wrong people in the beginning. I used to think that as long as their intentions are good, they can become a part of the team.
In the early days of my business, I even hired my friends as team members and it backfired. When they cannot perform and do justice to the salary they are withdrawing from the company, it becomes very hard to fire them. You literally lose sleep over it and that reduces your productivity.
Since then, I have fired a lot of people and now I am proud to say that I have an excellent team. Thanks to my personal brand, attracting talent is not a problem for me. That’s another great thing about having a strong personal brand.
You not only get capable people to work for you, you also get people who look up to you and respect you. I usually hire from my network of students and group members and I am spoilt for choice. I have a large pool of people to choose from and that gives me the power to choose the best out of many. The performance of my company, which is a result of the work of my team feeds back into having the capability to hire an even better team in the long run because I will have a larger pool to choose candidates from.
4. Setup Systems That Can Work for You
During the initial days of the agency, you are the system. Everything that you do is at the back of your mind. Some plans will be on random sheets of paper and even napkins. But eventually if you want to remove yourself from the system, you have to make the system work without you.
Setup standard operating procedures for everything in your business. There is a saying which goes like: “The government should be made of law rather than of men”. Similarly, a business should be made of systems than leaders who run the business.
Decision making at several layers of the company becomes extremely easy if you stick to a system. The system will make the decision for you. Over time, you can make amends to the system, but it is the system that will tell you what to do than a manager telling people what to do.
Even if you have no plans of selling your company, you should build your company in such a way that someone else would be interested in buying your business.
If someone wants to buy your business, they will be interested only if the business can work without you. One day you should be able to step out from the business and it should work on its own.
If you are an agency, you can even try printed checklists that employees have to check off with every client work. For example, if I have to setup a website for my client, there are a bunch of things in the checklist such as install HTTPS, optimize for SEO, optimize images for page load speed and so on.
If I have a printed sheet of the checklist and if my team member can check off each item when the things are done, then it gives them clarity on what they are doing and the system makes sure that the results are guaranteed. Systems are the best way to get extra-ordinary results out of ordinary people.
5. Focus on a Single Niche
I cannot understate the importance of focusing on a single niche. It is very natural and easy to think that if you are a generic digital marketing agency offering all the services for all the people, you will capture more market share and make more profits in the long run. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Most of the successful agencies I have seen focus on one thing for a single market. If you are everything to everyone then you are a no one to everyone.
One simple example to get clarity is to think about doctors. Who makes more money? A general doctor or a specialist like a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist? The deeper you go, the lesser the competition and higher your customers will be ready to pay for it.
When we started out, PixelTrack was a generic digital marketing agency providing all kinds of digital marketing services to all kinds of clients. Eventually, we found out that we have a lot of competition and the only way to differentiate ourselves was to focus on a single service for a specific type of client.
We looked at our own strengths and weaknesses and we found out the we really know how to sell content online. We are experts in building funnels and we know how online education works. So we started focusing on funnel building services for education and content businesses.
Our most recent successful work was for YourStory and we helped them launch the YourStory Academy which is the education wing of the YourStory brand. They are our biggest clients as of today.
Here’s a list of digital marketing services that agencies can provide (just from the top of my mind – not exhaustive):
- Paid Traffic Campaign Management
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Content Marketing
- Content Creation (articles, videos, images etc.)
- Conversion rate optimization
- App development
- Website development
- Analytics and Data Science
- Email Marketing
- Integrated Digital Marketing
- Marketing Automation
- E-Commerce Platform Creation & Management
- UI/UX Services
- Social Media Marketing
A digital marketing agency should be able to provide all the different types of services, but they should focus on a single topic where they have an expertise in.
Once you know which is the core area you can focus on in terms of services offered, you should identify a market or a niche that you can confidently serve.
Here are some markets from the top of my mind:
- Hotel, Restaurants, Bars and Pubs
- Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics
- Gyms, Spas and Sports services
- Publications & Influencers
- Entertainment & Recreation
- Automobile Manufacturers and Dealers
- Travel and Adventures
- Banking and Financial Services
- And the list keeps going on…
It is usually a good idea to choose a single niche which is a combination of the need in the market and your own skills and experience.
If you come from a family of doctors, but you are not a doctor and want to start a marketing agency, then starting an agency just for Hospitals and Doctors would be great because you come with an advantage – the understanding that you have about your target market.
When a generic digital marketing agency wants to compete with you, they will not be able to because you have some strong advantages that they do not have.
These are the top five lessons I’ve learned from my experience of running a digital marketing agency. Of course I have learned a lot more from my experience as an entrepreneur and I’ve shared it on my book Edge of Sanity.
What do you think about the points above? Leave a comment below. If you run a digital marketing agency yourself, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
If you want digital marketing services, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.