Marketing OG, Nigel Stevens, is our guest for the 155th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Nigel is in the middle of a move from Asia to Spain and we caught him as he was packing his bags to talk about the business he’s built, his experience in content marketing and SEO, and maybe most interesting… how to raise your prices and up level the clients you work with. Here’s what we covered…
• how he turned an English degree into a position as the marketing OG
• why he left a cushy job in San Francisco to create his best job
• what it takes to build an agency from the ground up
• the early days… how he started finding clients and growing his leverage
• how he grew his confidence charging more money
• value based pricing and getting better referrals
• his discovery and proposal process and what he wants to learn
• how to build your portfolio of clients (most copywriters won’t do this)
• what’s working (and not working) right now in content marketing
• how he figures out what kind of content to create for clients
• what copywriters need to know about SEO (Nigel’s answer surprised us)
• how he helps clients understand the right approach to SEO content
• how he’s built his authority to engender trust with his clients
• the future of content marketing
It’s a good discussion that will get you thinking about the kind of business you’re building and the next steps. To hear it, click the play button below, or download the episode to your favorite podcast player. Readers can scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Nigel’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, the work processes, and their habits, then steal and idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 155 as we chat with marketing specialist, Nigel Stevens, about what it takes to build a marketing agency, what copywriters need to know about SEO, building authority, attracting, and working with really big clients, and what it’s like to live and work in Barcelona.
Kira: Welcome, Nigel.
Nigel: Thanks, great to be here.
Kira: Yeah, great to have you here, and we’re going to see you in just a couple weeks in Barcelona because you will be presenting at our Think Tank retreat, so excited to meet you in person. Until then, we can get to hear all about your story today. So why don’t you share your story and how you ended up as the marketing OG?
Nigel: Yeah, so it’s a little bit of a winding story as it tends to go. So, I got an English degree, got out of school, realized I had no idea what I wanted to do, somehow found my way into a job doing copywriting for this weird mattress startup that no longer exists anymore. And then, I got a job offer to be a SEO analyst, which I was exactly zero percent qualified to do. But I somehow got the job, and I went from being more of a kind of writer and qualitative marketer to then having to also pick up some quantitative skills, and then I had a couple more jobs, worked at BigCommerce for a while, e-commerce platform doing kind of a combination of SEO and content marketing.
And then, after a little while there, I decided I kind of wanted to blow up my life. So, I left my job, moved to Thailand and then started taking on work. And it escalated quickly, one thing led to another. And now, I have a team, and we work with various SaaS clients and other companies. So that’s the summary.
Rob: Yes, quick summary, but can we talk a little bit about at least this last section of your career, building an agency and what has taken to do that? I’m sure we can ask other questions about some of the stuff you’ve done earlier, but really curious, what does it take to build an agency that big companies are willing to work with?
Nigel: Yeah, so I guess to… you got to put one foot in front of the other, and the first foot is you have to have a connection to something. So, when I’d left BigCommerce, they were still really interested in working with me, and that was my first thing. And then, through a couple people I knew there, someone hit me up and said, ‘Hey, do you want to help with this site?’ And I really didn’t even know when I’d left my job, how much do I want to work anymore? I was sort of totally willing to do everything or nothing. I didn’t really know.
And then, I got an intro and started working on one thing. And then, as I got one more intro, I reached this little inflection point where I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve said yes to things because they’re really cool opportunities, and if I want to say yes to anything else, my time does not scale linearly with these opportunities, so I’m going to have to get help.’ And that was a huge inflection point for me. And I think it’s a really big decision that people have to make and decide what they want. Because on the one hand, you have a lot more to just… trade-offs are everything, right?
You have ultimate flexibility when you work with yourself. Because you can say yes to things, you can say no to things, you’re sort of… all the commitments you make are up to you. And then, when you bring on other people, it’s sort of like you’re raising the stakes a little bit. And, yeah, I feel like that’s not the question you asked originally, but that’s where I ended up.
Kira: Yeah, and I do want to hear more about your team and structure and growth, but first, I can’t overlook you blowing up your life, in your own words. Blowing up your life, leaving your job, moving to Thailand, taking your cat, can you just tell us… let’s just talk about that. Where were you living at the time? What did your life look like at that time? How did you decide… What was the impetus to decide that you wanted to leave? Just, what happened?
Nigel: Yeah, so I was in San Francisco and everything was cool. I had a good job, it was comfortable, I liked the work I was doing. I worked with great people, and I knew that I had to leave because I had everything that should have been perfect on paper and I still wanted to leave. So I took that as a sign that, ‘Oh, there’s just other stuff I want to do.’
And just everybody’s sort of cut out for different things. I’ve talked to super talented people who I think could do way better than me for example as sort of building their own company or as consultants, but it’s just not what they want. And it was just sort of something in the way I’ve constructed. I don’t know. I just didn’t want to be in an office every day and I didn’t just want to just leave the job. One was practical purposes, I was in San Francisco, so if you leave your job in San Francisco, you have San Francisco run rate hanging over you. That’s pretty scary. But I also just wanted to do something super random and put myself in a position where if I woke up without a job what would I do? And I didn’t want to be in a position where I was financially forced to work, and then I could talk myself into having to do it. I just wanted to figure out that I did want to do it.
So, the irony is I left my job sort of ready to be a hippie in the mountains in Thailand, and then ended up taking on way more work and running a company. But since I did it on my own terms, I never felt like, ‘Oh, I have to do this, I have to do this.’ I was like, ‘Oh, this is a cool opportunity, I could work on this,’ and ‘Oh, I want to keep doing this and saying yes. So, I guess I’d better get some more support with everything I’m doing.’
Rob: Can you talk a little bit more about that? What was that transition like, and how did you start reaching out to or finding the clients you started doing even more work with? How did that all develop in the early days?
Nigel: Yeah, so it really is sort of like building the foundation of a house where… having success is… whether you want to call it the agency or freelancer or consultant or whatever, it’s your leveraging the trust that people have in you. And every project you can work on and have a success, you can then contribute to your narrative. And then, you have a stronger narrative, and you have more people that can speak to that narrative.
At first I had this narrative of, ‘Oh, I worked at BigCommerce.’ And we did really cool things there. I think in a short period of time, we 8X’d their organic blog traffic. We were scaling it really quickly. And that was the first part of the story. But it’s still in a company. I was working with a lot of other people, and I was a little less confident.
And then, when I got a opportunity at another startup, and it was actually… I didn’t have to make up a story. They had to raise money within four months and grow their traffic. And if they didn’t do that, the company might’ve collapsed. And I came on with a friend of mine who sort of sourced the opportunity but didn’t have time to work on it. And I worked on it with him, and that went well. And then, after that, I had the combination of those two stories. And then, sort of people I knew from both of those places were a lot more willing to recommend me.
And then, when people came to them with opportunities, then they could say, ‘Oh, Nigel has done this at this place, and that at that place.’ And then, having done both of those, I went from being not very confident to like, ‘Oh, maybe I am okay and can do a decent job at this.’ And then, you do a third one, and it kind of just multiplies and multiplies like that.
Kira: Okay, so it sounds like clearly experience helps build confidence which helps really build a business. What else did you do around this time that really helped accelerate your business growth? Or just kind of gave you even more confidence in what you were doing?
Nigel: I think one thing is I got confident charging more money. And one thing that happens with that is, A, there’s three ways you can grow a business, right? You can acquire more customers, you can retain customers, or you can charge more. So if you’re charging more for new customers, then you’re automatically growing the business a lot faster. And the other thing is, once you start charging more, you sort of put yourself into a different sort of… I guess, tier or something.
And pricing… ultimately, there’s really good people who underprice, and there’s really terrible people who overprice. It’s not this one metric that determines how competent you are. But it was also the way that people would get introduced to me… or they would introduce me like, ‘Well, he’s not some very low-tier option, but he’ll do a really good job.’ And then, it kind of filters down to the kind of customer you’re looking for. And then, the way you get referrals kind of changes based on that. Because you’re not referred to as, ‘Oh, just some random guy who… whatever… does copywriting, does SEO, and this.’ It’s, ‘He specializes in doing this and doing a good job. And he wants to work with good companies.’
It’s partially a positioning thing as well, I think. So as I changed the way I priced and I repositioned, then it just worked for me. And I was able to find even more sort of leads in companies to work with.
Rob: Kira mentioned that you’re the marketing OG. And I think that’s based on the fact that, that’s your company name or a play on your company name. Will you tell us a little bit about exactly what you do for your clients and how you help them?
Nigel: Yes, so I do sort of a mix of SEO and content marketing. And what I found is since is started working in this space, those two fields are… there’s more and more overlap because SEO and just online marketing is a lot less transactional with you actually have to get people in often times at the top of a funnel. And there’s more people doing more type of writing. So on the SEO side, you have to be a lot more clever. And you can’t just sort of copy what everyone else is doing although a lot of people still want to do that.
And then, on the content side, you also have to be data-driven to figure out what are we going to write that is topically what people are looking for so that they’ll find in search, but that is creatively different? So I work with companies like Intercom and Hotjar who are really good at content and then want to really 10X sort of the volume of people that are finding their content and their website, and ultimately end up converting more of those.
Kira: All right, so I want to talk more about pricing. I know this is what you’re actually going to teach and talk about when we see you at the retreat. But to start here, I know you’ve talked about value-based pricing. And I want to get deeper into this. Maybe we can start with what valued-based pricing is, and then how you can get these better referrals. And you mentioned positioning, but can you break that down into micro steps too? I know copywriters are typically like, ‘How do I get better referrals? I’m getting really poor referrals. Where do I even start?’
Nigel: Gotcha, yeah, yeah. So, I think there’s a couple different questions there. I’ll start with the referrals one, is there is… I’ve been through phases of getting sort of more referrals that weren’t exactly what I was looking for, which is fine. Because everybody wants different things. But that’s also based on the message that you put out there.
If you’re looking for companies that’s sort of a certain size or something like that, then you want to position yourself as being affiliated with companies of that size. So as a writer, one thing you can do is if you’re working with one company, sort of figure out how you can work with them to maybe guest post with another comparable company. Because what you often find is there’s this domino effect of writers or marketers are associated with one brand, and they use that association and leverage to be seen as another brand, and then you know the way it is and SaaS or really any space. People see you associated with other things, and they say, ‘Oh, I want a piece of that.’ So just becoming associated with more and more things to prove credibility. And whatever point of credibility you have, thinking about how you can leverage that.
And then, to the… for the pricing question, I think, ultimately… I think the strict definition of value-based pricing is sort of equitable compensation based on the value you’re creating. I take a little bit more of a looser interpretation, which is… I’m philosophically aligned to, which is, I want to decouple my pricing from set deliverables. So for writers, it’s so often, ‘What do you charge per word or for this length of and article?’ When ultimately, people aren’t hiring you to write a certain amount of words. They have a problem they want to solve. And they have something they want to accomplish with that. And that can be measured by something. And the closer you can align the work you do to that ultimate metric that you’re driving, then the more you’ll be able to charge.
And at least the thing is, when you work more in SEO… of any marketing channel, SEO can actually be a little bit trickier to attribute. But when I align the value I provide to, ‘I’m going to drive more organic revenue,’ it’s a very different pricing model than, ‘I’m going to do an audit,’ or ‘I’m going to tell you to create these pages,’ or ‘I’m going to give you a content brief on something. I’m charging based on the value that I can project I’m able to provide. And that’s often based on the numbers that potential client actually gives me.
Kira: Can you play that out a bit with your own… whatever you’re comfortable sharing with your own pricing, but just how you have approached that with a specific project even if you’re using ball park numbers?
Rob: Yeah, because I think about this. And we say this too, ‘Oh, yeah, value pricing. You’ve got to charge for the value you’re creating.’ But figuring out what that value is isn’t always easy.
Nigel: Again, to bring it back to how you define it, I don’t think it’s necessarily, ‘I drove exactly this much value.’ I think it’s more about tying what you do to the ultimate number, and then, it’s one thing if you’re saying, ‘I want to charge $50 a word.’ That sounds absurd, right? But if you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to work with you to make this a $5 million launch, and I want 50 grand for it,’ or something. 50 grand over five million, think about how many of these Silicon Valley funded startups raise money on much more awful unit economics than that. So when you frame it like that, it’s a lot better.
But I think the thing to start with is figure out what the metric is that they want to drive. And then, usually, in marketing and with writers, it’s either traffic or conversions or both. So once you figure out the primary metric, then figure out the value of that metric. So if it’s traffic, it’s like, ‘Okay, what is the value of users to you? What’s your RPU or conversion?’ If you’re trying to improve conversion, it’s like, ‘What’s your conversion rate? Where do you want it to get to?’ And then, again, ‘What is the value of a conversion?’ And what you want to do is get people excited about the value you’re going to provide. And that’s the cool thing about aligning yourself to that is that it’s not really a negotiating tactic. It more is you’re framing what you do.
And this also depends on your model and all that stuff. But the way I work is I don’t like to do just short-term deliverables. Because if I’m just handing over something, then I’m not really tying myself to a number that I can project. But if I can see how something performs, and then make strategic recommendations based on that, and then get very tactical to say, ‘Okay, since this kind of worked, I’m going to do this,’ then I’m really tying myself to that.
To go back to the example you asked about, Rob. Let’s say you have a… this is very common in SaaS where you have a lifetime value of 20 grand or something like that. And then, you say, ‘Okay, we get approximately a hundred conversions a month on whatever channel, and we want to get it to 125.’ So, really it’s then… it’s 25 times your LTV. And that’s a lot of money. So if you say, ‘Okay, based…’ then, if you can align the work you’re doing, and show how you’re going to iterate and drive that value… then, okay, if those 25 conversions are worth this much, and we know we can do that, then, again, paying me 30 grand or something like that, isn’t as ridiculous anymore. And that’s where it comes down to really convincing someone that you’ve done it before and that you can do it again.
Rob: Yeah, and I expect that as we talk about this, some people listening might be thinking, ‘Okay, sounds great. I want to do it. What if I don’t have those numbers? Is it possible to value price if you don’t have the lifetime value of the customer or if you don’t know what the conversion rate is going to be? Is it possible to estimate that kind of thing?’
Nigel: Yeah, I found that typically people will just tell you these kinds of things. I think the number one problem is when you don’t ask. And if you’re trying to price based on arbitrary numbers you come up with yourself, again, whether it’s per word or ‘Somebody else paid me this, so I’m going to do this,’ or ‘I heard the average price of a blog post is this,’ then you’re not tying it at all to what they’re doing.
Even to give you an example from my personal life, I had to switch accountants last year at some point. And the accountant charged me a decent amount, but when I looked at sort of the difference and the taxes and all this sort of stuff, I was like, oh, this is worth so much to me. This isn’t about an hourly fee or something that’s just…If he can understand what I need, and he can deliver it, it’s worth a huge amount. And I don’t care what other people paid or anything like that. Because he did the work that has this value to me.
I’d say the first thing is just asking. And then, to your question about, ‘What if the value isn’t there?’ Then, regardless of what you ask, it just means they’re not willing to pay that much. It’s either they’re not willing to pay that much or they’re willing to pay more than it’s economically worth and they have the numbers, then they’re just not a very good business. And that’s where it comes down to finding the right kind of customer which inevitably leads to going upmarket, one way or the other.
Rob: And when does this discussion happen in the process? Is this on your sales call or a discovery call? Is it in the proposal that you’re sending them? How does it play out throughout the onboarding process that you go through?
Nigel: So, my own process, it’s not a hundred percent ironclad, but what I usually do is just have a discovery call. Because I’m genuinely curious to learn about their business and what they’re doing. And then, I’ll ask a couple of these questions. And the thing is, I’m trying to validate first, for me, that I think I can add value. Because if I want a price at a decent price point, then the worst thing that could happen is I convince someone to work with me, and then I don’t deliver the value that would be insane ROI for them to be happy for them to recommend me. Because then my whole model is ruined.
And also, I only want to work… I don’t want to work on stuff if people are going to be unhappy or I’m not able to offer value. So my own model is I’ll ask, and I’ll get some information in the call. And then, I’ll actually ask for some type of analytics. So I won’t really move forward unless I get access to their Google analytics and usually their search console. And I can see, ‘Okay, when I look at competitors, here’s how much gaps there are, and when I look at their economics, here’s… if we can get half of the competitor traffic over the next year, and we know that we can convert at this rate looking at their analytics.’ Or you make an assumption about it.
And then, we know that their LTV is this, then it’s often times some crazy numbers is the way it goes with organic. And then, I can say, ‘Here’s what I’m going to charge.’ Even if it’s just a small percentage of that, framing it that way is a lot different than saying, I don’t know, ‘I want 20 grand a month,’ and then, you’re not justifying where it’s going to come from. It’s because up front I’m putting my name on, ‘Here’s the numbers I think we can drive.’
Kira: You mentioned going up market to find better clients. For a copywriter listening who wants to do that, what are one or two micro steps that they could take to go up market and find better clients?
Nigel: I’ve found that in general, companies like to see that you’ve worked with comparable companies. So, again, however you can be associated with a certain company is really good. So one cool thing is… I keep saying SaaS because I’m biased and I work a lot in the software as a service space. But many of these companies will just publish a blog post if you write it and you send it to them. And some people with say, ‘You should ask to get paid for everything. Don’t do free work.’ But I would write a blog post on a reputable website in a heartbeat if I thought that it was on a topic that would represent me well and could end up doing something for me.
It’s all about building up your… you just want to build up positive associations. So I would just associate yourself with sites that you would want to work for just by saying, ‘Hey, can I write a post?’ And if you write something honest that might get shared by other people, and then if you ever get introduced to another company, you can say, ‘Hey, I’ve written for X, Y, and Z.’ And you’ve done that. And then, they say, ‘Oh, I think this is good. And this other company has validated him or her. Therefore, I’m going to take them more seriously.’
Rob: Nigel, you mentioned that a lot of the work that you do is content and SEO or all of the work that you do is content and SEO. And so, I kind of want to change the subject just a little bit and talk about what’s working in content marketing. Is there a certain kind of content that you see right now that’s performing better than, say, other stuff that’s out there? And there is so much garbage, how do you stand out as a content marketer?
Nigel: Yeah, so I’m not sure that everyone will agree with me, but something I am liking less and less is… At some point, maybe… I don’t know… five years ago, maybe more, it got really popular to write some ridiculously long blog posts like, ‘You have to write the biggest, longest thing on this.’ It’s 15 000 words, and over time, I’ve seen those not performing as well.
And I’ve actually had personal experience where with one company I worked with, they had this long blog post on a topic that’s very closely tied to their product. And I helped them write that, and it did well. And then, what we decided to do was, we wanted to break it up into more of a chaptered guide, which… the reason they did it that way in the first place was SEO. Because it’s sort of a tried and true method. If you want to rank higher for something, just make it longer, add more details, and it’ll do better.
But we thought that we could retain those rankings and get people to convert more if we just provided a better experience. And that’s exactly what ended up happening. It did better for SEO in terms of traffic, and we have the hard data to show that it converted at a higher rate. One thing that I’m more excited about is really being more UX focused.
Because a lot of the time SEO and content were these polar opposite universes where content people would say, ‘Well, we want to try this but the SEO guy or gal says this.’ Then SEO people would say, ‘You have to do this for SEO.’ And I think Google’s getting more and more smart about… Look at video for example. Right now, it’s hard for Google to figure out should a video rank number one. But over time, they’re going to get better. And they’re getting more and more smart about seeing how people interact with pages and using that as a signal.
So overall, what I think is not working is just trying to throw more words at a page than anyone with SEO. And what is working is create content that people don’t just have to get lost in this… and drown in a sea of words, that it’s actually something that they can interact with or go to something else or just find what they’re looking for.
Kira: So maybe this is a big question. But how do you approach this… and this type of content project with a client? What are the questions you’re asking early on to figure out if you should have the long post? That could work, right? If it’s done well. Or break it up into different chapters, or create video content, how do you approach that in your business, in your process?
Nigel: Yeah, so what I’m… I’m sort of just leaning more and more towards trying to do that in general. But the other thing I’ll do is I’ll try to get inputs from other aspects of the business. Are there other related questions people are asking? Does sales find that there’s some big objection that people are talking about? And what you’ll often find is sometimes you’ll hear from product marketing folks or sales folks that, ‘We know this is a problem,’ but then, I’ll do keyword research, there won’t be that much volume there.
So then, we just have to make an assertion that, ‘We think if we make this a chapter…’ and the fact that we’re showing you this, that we’re giving a dedicated page to this, then it’s worth it. Whereas, if we have no other way to validate that maybe a related topic is worthy of its own page, then I’ll lean more towards, ‘Well, you know what? There’s no reason getting crazy here when we think that just one page will do for this.’
And the other aspect is, I guess, just the general research idea. Because the sort of… the main one of points of value I provide is trying to figure out what do people mean and what do they want when they search for something? So that’s a combination of seeing what current search results are and determining… based on what ranks, we can determine that this is something that people expect. But then, you get into the trap of just copying what everyone else is doing. So how can we see, get ideas from what’s working, and then creatively come up with ideas to stand out?
I have a process to look at a bunch of content that ranks sort of for a given search term, make a qualitative judgment on whether it’s sort of satisfactory, and then brainstorm new ideas. So we can sort of take the best of what’s out there, and then add some flavor to it and work with our client to come up with a unique angle. And then, we’ll make determination on everything that makes sense as one page or multiple pages.
Rob: While we’re talking about search, I’d love to go a little bit deeper on SEO. I’ve seen a bunch of questions in our Facebook group recently where people are asking about SEO and what they need to know. Because they’re not necessarily selling themselves as SEO copywriters, but they have clients that are asking them for content that is optimized for SEO, that kind of thing. So at a very basic level, Nigel, what does a copywriter or content creator need to know about SEO to be at the baseline, effective?
Nigel: My answer might surprise you, which is, I don’t think they need to know a whole lot. Because first of all, it depends on the direction they get in, and second of all, I strongly believe that, often times… there’s so many nuances to SEO, and that’s part of the way I still have a job, but a lot of the time, what my job ends up being is simplifying it for people.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with incredibly smart marketers, people, whatever, jobs where when you introduce the concept of a keyword to them, they lose their mind, ‘Well, we have to put keywords in here, and keywords in there.’ And that’s why with my own process, as someone who started as a writer and then got into SEO, I’m very sensitive about, if anything, dumbing it down. And not because people are dumb, but because there’s so many people had weird experiences with SEO folks telling them, ‘You have to include more keywords here, here, here.’ When people hear SEO, they want to stuff in keywords.
At the end of the day, success in SEO is figuring out what your products or jobs to be done are, figuring out what people search along those lines, writing a good page that qualitatively answers some of the questions, and then getting people to link to it and talk about it. That right there will do more for you in SEO than a lot of supposed tactics. So I think the main thing is… if I had to give one tip, it’s for whatever topic you’re writing about, just search a couple keywords related to it, and see what comes up, and see sort of how long the pages are, what types of questions they’re answering and then not thinking about SEO, think, ‘How can I take what’s working with some of these?’ There’ll be some questions like, ‘Examples of this or this versus this.’
A lot of times if you search a term, if you search something about preventive maintenance, one of the pages will be preventive maintenance versus predictive maintenance, which makes sense. Because if you’re looking to set up a maintenance program for your company, you want to compare different options. So just seeing what’s out there and thinking how you can satisfy the intent and not overthinking it and thinking you have to stuff keywords into everything.
Rob: Okay, so this is really good stuff. But I imagine that there are people who are working with clients, and the client is thinking something different. They think that they do need keyword stuffed articles or they do need that skyscraper content that runs 15 000 words or that they do need some other technique. What does the conversation look like when you go back to the client to simplify their thinking, to say, ‘Hey, actually, it can be more effective to do these two or three things.’ What are the things you say that convince the client to say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right, I trust you, let’s move forward.’
Nigel: Yeah, quite simply, I look at the search results. So if people are saying, ‘We think we need this type of post,’ then, if I can find evidence that contradicts that and some more search results and say, ‘Well, if that was true unconditionally, then this page here wouldn’t rank.’ One interesting example I see this with is there’s queries where there’ll be some 15,000 page articles and some really short kind of Investopedia style where it’ll just simply answer the question.
And what I believe that to be is there’s. Google knows that when someone searches a broad term like, I don’t know… maybe customer retention, that some people want to get a lifetime’s worth of education on customer retention at that moment, but not everybody does. Some people just want to see, ‘Oh, how is this generally considered?’ Or ‘How does it compare to something else?’ I would just look at search results but then, totally… sometimes I think, ‘I don’t think we need this.’ And then, I’ll look at how competitive the results are, how long the content is, how all of the ranking content has a million links, and I’ll say, ‘You know what? We either have to come at this with fire power or just go for something else.’
Kira: I’d love to talk about your business structure. You mentioned you have a team. Can you just talk about what this team looks like and how you approached the growth of your business? Did you know that you wanted to create some type of agency from the beginning or did it… did you just kind of fall into it?
Nigel: Oh, I had no intention. As I mentioned before, I was totally open to the possibility of being a hippie in Northern Thailand.
Kira: Wait, you aren’t a hippie in Northern Thailand?
Nigel: I guess I’m a capitalistic hippie in Thailand. I’m trying to be a combination of a couple things. But, yeah… no, I had no intention of it. It was, again, more opportunistic where something came along and I had the choice of… and I remember it was a big choice where I ended up bringing on someone who was a long-time friend and kind of… he hadn’t done too much work in the business, and now is really amazing at it. And I had this moment where I thought, ‘This is a path I’m going down. Do I want to do this?’
And there was this part of me that wanted to maintain ultimate flexibility, but then this other part of me thought, ‘It would be really cool to work with people.’ And my gut feeling was that it would be a lot more challenging but a lot more rewarding. And I think that totally turned out to be the case.
I hired one person, and then brought on someone else. And I sort of have a mix between industry veterans, and then, also, a couple folks who were more junior but are just super, super smart and hungry and have learned a bunch. And now, including me, there are six of us. So it’s sort of been one at a time, and then another, and then another. And I’m definitely at a point where I’m not interested in sort of scaling indefinitely. I want to sort of figure out a nice spot where I can still work on everything and be close to a team and not just have a million people.
Rob: Nigel, as you’ve made the switch from sort of individual contributor to the agency model, what are the things that you did to build your authority along the way so that you could engender the trust of bigger clients as you reached out to them?
Nigel: Well, I went on some of the world’s finest podcasts, obviously.
Rob: Good call.
Nigel: I guess a little bit true. So I think the main thing… something that’s interesting is I have friends who started an agency. And I know for a fact that they charge an ungodly amount of money, way more than I do. And I want to get to that point if anything, to be honest. But when I search their names in Google, I don’t find anything. And that’s very telling. Because it shows that there’s different types of authority.
The traditional way you think about building up authority to build a business is, ‘I need to do all these events, and people need to know me.’ What these folks sort of reminded me was that you don’t need…. there’s more than one type of social proof. If you can just have one or two very, very, very, very well respected people who other people go to vouch for you, that’s worth more than a lot of other things.
The thing that I was able to do was, along the way, impress a couple people who other people go to. And that worked well for me and enabled me to grow business. And then, when things went well with the work I’d started, then I got more work through them, and then that gave me more of a network. And then, things grew organically. Jesus.
Kira: A kitty cat’s there.
Nigel: Yeah, he’s going crazy. Of course, as I’m doing this, this is the moment he loses his mind.
Kira: Yeah, and before we started recording, you mentioned that your cat has traveled around the world with you. And so, this is a well traveled cat here, deserves respect.
Nigel: Yeah, I think I remember that something like 70% of Americans don’t have a passport. So the fact that he’s about to live on his third continent means he’s in the upper echelon.
Kira: This cat’s living a good life. So speaking of travel, how has travel and living abroad… Thailand, Barcelona, influenced your business and you personally? What’s been that impact over the last few years?
Nigel: So I’ve been based in Thailand for a couple years in the process of going to Barcelona. And along the way, I’ve done a lot of traveling. And I have this distinct memory of… I was in Saint Lucia, just this beautiful island paradise, and this is just when things were really starting to ramp up, and I was running around the downtown area of this little fishing village desperately seeking wifi so I could get on some call to try to land some big deal. And I remember hating myself at the moment. I’m this guy, in this peaceful little island running around trying to get wifi. I deserve to be struck by lightning at that moment.
And what it reminded me was that everything is trade-offs. This whole notion of, ‘You can just always travel around, and everything is perfect…’ You’re always giving up something. So, when you’re moving around, you’re giving up stability. And it makes it a lot more difficult to sort of enjoy what you’re doing. So what I’ve learned over time is I value sort of being able to be in one place and build a home base there.
And as far as how sort of living in different places has affected my business and life, I think maybe I’m just stubborn, but I find it very empowering. Because when I first left to do this, everyone told me I was crazy. First, I’m taking my cat to Thailand, that’s… It sounded like the first start of the story of your neighbor’s son or something that completely goes off the rails and loses their mind. So then, when I did this thing that people told me I was crazy for, and then it turned into a successful business, it was an empowering reminder that, ‘Oh, you can… there’s not rules. Nobody can tell you ‘you have to do things this way.’ If you can figure it out and get the fundamentals right and do it, then everything will be fine.’
And I’m American, I love the US when I go to visit. But there is a sort of feeling I get of, ‘This again,’ because I guess I’m just stubborn. And I want to do things my own way and be exotic for a little while.
Rob: So somebody who’s listening to this conversation, thinking, ‘You know what? I want to start an agency,’ or ‘I want to live in a variety of different countries, different experiences, they want to basically follow your same path that you’ve gone, what advice would you give them to help them succeed?’
Nigel: I think the first thing is don’t take it so seriously. Because I don’t think I would have… if I had intended to do what I wanted to do, I don’t think I could have done it which might sound like it doesn’t make sense. But I sort of accidentally put myself in the best position where I had not expectations and I didn’t care. I just kind of wanted to do something different, and then it worked out. But if I had put the pressure on myself of, ‘Oh, you have to go figure out living in a new country, and you have to figure out how to get clients, and you have to figure out how to grow team,’ I would’ve died of stress. It would have been awful.
The other thing is that I’ve seen… Again, I’ve seen really talented people who have a hard time monetizing their skill set. And not to be negative, but I’ve seen people who are… Let’s say a lot better at selling than they are at doing something really well. And it’s a reminder that nobody really knows what they’re doing out there. And perception is reality.
And it all comes down to being able to do a good job of something, and then have somebody vouch for you to be able to do it. And as long as you have that, I think a lot of people underestimate the friends that they know and network that they have. And they think, ‘Oh, well, I have to do this, and this, and this,’ when really, all you have to do is… people ask me all the time, ‘Hey, do you know someone who does this or this?’ And if I met someone who said they could do it, and I had evidence of that, and I trusted them for it, I would recommend them. And they might even not think of themselves in that way. So I think it’s just not overthinking it.
Kira: All right, I’ve got two final questions for you, a bigger one and a little one. So I’ll throw them both at you. Answer whichever one you’d like first. The big one is, what do you think the future of content and SEO looks like? And the other one is, what is your favorite restaurant in Barcelona, if you have a favorite spot?
Nigel: So the really bad part about the Barcelona one is I can picture the restaurant but I forget the name.
Kira: Okay, just send me… just send us a picture later.
Nigel: Yeah, or better yet, I’ll go there with you when-
Rob: There you go.
Kira: That’s true.
Nigel: … we’re in Barcelona. I’ll one up you.
Rob: I’m partial to the Crudo Jamon sandwiches that are two Euros. They’re super cheap, but they’re super delicious.
Kira: That’s what Rob’s going to be doing.
Rob: Yeah, I’ll be hanging out at Enrique Tomas while you guys are at the fancy place I think.
Nigel: Yeah, those bocadillos, yeah, you get you’re value-based pricing right, you can eat bocadillos all day long.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, you could easily live and survive in Barcelona for a few Euros just on those.
Nigel: Yeah, to answer your much more serious question, I think the, sort of how everybody is doubling down on content. And, again, sort of going back to the point of this whole thing that everyone tries to do longer, people often decouple. They don’t think about their professional lives in relation to their personal lives. How many, probably people who write, act and read a little bit differently. But I know when most people when they watch lots of dumb cat videos and YouTube videos and short little things, and I think there’s a time and place for different things, but I think that overall, Google is going to get better at figuring out that unfortunately, people’s attention spans are not trending in the direction for longer content, and it’s going to get better at figuring out that a page doesn’t need to have 15 000 words on a topic to be able to be relevant.
So what I think you’re going to see is more of the stuff on… sort of all these people on LinkedIn making videos of themselves, that’s sort of merging with content marketing, merging with video marketing as sort of Google figures out that people want more bite-sized things that they can opt into. One really quick last point I’ll make that I relate to this is there’s a comedy podcast I listen to where the guy was talking about how he found that when he put long videos on YouTube, people wouldn’t watch them as much, they wouldn’t watch them all the way through. And then, when he released two, three, four, five-minute clips, the data he got on it was that people were watching cumulatively longer… and average amount of time longer than the long video.
Rob: That’s interesting.
Nigel: When I think about that… yeah, it might sound like it’s totally unrelated, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s more… I saw New York Times content the other day where you had to sort of keep clicking to flip through. And I think the content is going to get more towards people opting in and activating the dopamine that makes our cell phones so addictive, not the most positive note to end on, but that’s sort of where is see things going.
Kira: Maybe we should break up this podcast into four segments so we can hold the interest of the listeners.
Rob: Good idea. Yeah, it might not be the most positive way to end because yeah, we are addicted to our phones, but if that’s how people consume content and learn, there may be some positives that do come from it. Because it’s bite-sized, and so it’s easier to remember or it’s easier to enjoy or it’s easier to share. Maybe there really is a reason to.
Nigel: Give the people what they want.
Kira: That’s very positive of you, Rob, thank you for doing that.
Rob: I try, I try.
So Nigel, if people want to connect with you or find out more about you, where should they go to do that?
Nigel: I have a website for my team and I, marketingog.com. I have a LinkedIn. I’m kind of a marketing Neanderthal, in that I don’t have Twitter or Instagram or any of that stuff. So, yeah, I guess just hit me up through my website if you want to chat.
Kira: Yeah, your cat really does need an Instagram. I think that you need to work on that.
Nigel: All right.
Kira: That needs to happen.
Nigel: I’ll put that on my to-do list after moving him to Europe.
Kira: Yes, that’s important. All right, thank you so much Nigel.
Nigel: Yeah, thank you, great to be here, thanks.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.