My Story of Growing & Selling An SEO Agency

In 2003 I started an internet marketing consulting firm called Ephricon Web Marketing.  At first it was a one-man-show and I offered a wide range of services from website design to email marketing to search engine optimization.  The latter of which was just starting to come onto the horizon with Yahoo, MSN, Excite, Alta Vista, and this new search engine called Google.

I quickly fell in love with search engine optimization (SEO) as it was the first form of inbound marketing that I got deeply involved with.  Within a year or two of starting my consulting firm, I was concentrating pretty heavily on SEO.

It took me a few years to figure out if I wanted to be a solo consultant or if I wanted to run an agency.  If you’ve ever read The E-Myth, I was a classic example of any business owner mentioned in that book!  From 2003 to 2008 I hesitated to clearly define a direction for my business.  Instead of working on my business, I was working in it.  But I was happy.  I loved working with clients.

By 2009 I started to wise up though.  Business was going very well.  We (a 4-5 person company at the time) did great work and our clients spread the word.  In came more leads.  It was at this time that I made a conscious decision to start managing my business more proactively rather than reactively.  So I drew an organizational outline of what the business needed to look like in terms of staff and roles 1-2 years out, and then went about filling those positions with the best people I could find.

Our business continued to grow, with revenue and income up every year.  From 2011 to 2012 my net income doubled.  The business was strong.

Then in 2013 something changed.  Not with the business, but with me.  We were now a 15-person agency and I knew what we needed to do to get to the next step.  I needed to hire a Director of Operations, and also a sales team (as I had still been handling all sales) and then a couple of other administrative positions too.  To support this staff, we’d need to double again.  I had no doubt that we could.  Leads and sales were never a problem.

The problem was that I wasn’t sure I wanted to double the business.  I had hired and trained at least a dozen consultants, but I missed being the actual consultant myself.  I also realized that I’m a starter and a strategist…  I like getting new initiatives off the ground.  That’s not what my agency needed though.  We needed managers and operations guys.

So in 2013 I made a move that was the right move for my agency, for the employees who meant so much to me, for our clients, and for me both personally and professionally.  It was time for me to move on to new projects, so I sold my agency.  Ephricon was acquired by Straight North, a top internet marketing agency based in Chicago.  It was treated as a merger from an integration standpoint, with my team staying on and our Charlotte area office remaining in service.  I stayed on for about 9 months helping with the integration, which actually saw the responsibilities of my team double from roughly 60 clients to over 100 clients during that time period.  I named and trained my replacement, and helped in every way that I could.  It was a beautiful experience, sort of like seeing your child go off to college.

For me, this move enables me to go back to new projects.  To starting and growing things.  That’s where my passion is.  And sure the Hyundai full of twenties didn’t hurt either 🙂

So as I write this (in late-2014), I have several new ventures that I am working on.  The most significant of which both revolve around marketing on Amazon.  Having spent the prior dozen years of my life focused on Google, I figured it was time to start dissecting another online behemoth!  My firm, Net Focus Media, offers consulting services for brands and manufacturers who are looking to sell (or sell more) on Amazon.  It’s similar to my background of ranking and converting web traffic from Google.  Just this time we’re focused on searches within Amazon.  And we’re sending them to an Amazon product page rather than a separate website.  And there’s a whole level of product sourcing, fulfillment and customer service to deal with too!  🙂

The Plan for Net Focus Media

During my time running an agency, I often came across various ideas that I turned into half-executed side projects.  But as the agency was successful and growing, it was difficult to justify spending much time on these projects.  Now having sold the agency, I’m freed up to spend my time pursuing these various projects.

So Net Focus Media does lots of different things.  As mentioned above, our primary focus is around Amazon – both selling our own products and consulting for clients to help them be more effective doing the same.  But we’ve got a few other projects too.  Why?  It’s simple.  I’m easily distracted!  🙂

The individual projects themselves are certainly interesting.  However, I’m perhaps more interested in the overarching company, and the idea of building a business that builds businesses.  That’s exciting to me.  My passion is in startups.  In planting a seed and helping it to sprout.  Once it starts to become a mature plant, I think my skill set is no longer what it needs.  And my interest probably matches up with that too.

So I’m building Net Focus Media with the intention of having it structured much like an agency.  We’re choosing businesses that we think lend themselves to automation or simplification on the operational side, to where we either win or lose based on the marketing.  As a marketer, that’s the bet I want to make.

So the plan is to launch several different businesses or brands under the NFM umbrella.  As they mature, we’ll either spin these brands or businesses off on their own, or sell them.  We may acquire some too.  In regards to that last note about selling them, I learned when selling Ephricon that it’s tough to part ways with the team you’ve built.  That’s a huge asset and not to be underestimated.  The plan with Net Focus Media is to create a wonderful, skilled and passionate team that can create businesses that can be run irregardless of them.  Thus, we can sell one of our businesses but not the team who built it.  We’ll then shift gears and do it again.  My goal is to have 3-5 small businesses in various stages of startup or early growth at any one time.