April 2011

Public Relations Tips for Business Owners – Episode #10

by Richard Wilson on April 29, 2011

In Episode #10 Richard Wilson completes an interview with Ashley Wirthlin on how to do public relations for a small to medium sized business.  All of Richard’s tips from this audio interview are based on his experience in running his businesses and responding to PR inquiries which typically come in as a result of his blog posts, books, or speeches.   Richard don’t believe as a business owner you should go study public relations for 100 hours…but if you know just the very basics you could at least take advantage of opportunities that land in your lap and position yourself for more PR opportunities than your competition.  Note:

Note:  This audio interview was originally conducted for BusinessTraining.com so you will hear our website mentioned there at the beginning of the interview. (Download MP3 Audio File)

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How to Create Evergreen Blog Content – Episode #9

by Richard Wilson on April 23, 2011

In Episode #9 Richard Wilson discusses the power and value of evergreen blog content. Evergreen content is that which in 5, 7, or 10 years will still be just as valuable as it is today. By focusing on only writing evergreen content you will outpace your competitors, see exponential growth in your business, and get more long-term traffic to your websites by providing more value to everyone who visits them. Watch this video to get some tips on how to produce evergreen content. (Download this MP4 Video)

 

 

Video Transcript/Summary: Within this blog post I talk about a topic that you have to master if you want to grow your business exponentially instead of slowly, if you want to build your business at 60MPH instead of 30MPH.  Understanding this concept is important because if you start thinking “evergreen” in how you write for example, an article than you can start thinking evergreen about how you create a video, host a workshop, or write a book.  The more evergreen your business gets the more efficient it will become and the more green it will create for every hour you put into it.

Some additional tips from this video include:

  • If you force yourself to only write evergreen content every thing you touch will be useful for years to come
  • Publishing enough evergreen content can attract book deals and speaking gigs which can move you towards being an authority in your industry
  • If you don’t use evergreen content strategies you can pull down your website, make it less valuable, and it could rank worse over time within search engines

Bottom Line: You do NOT want to be in the newspaper business, you want to be in the expert knowledge sharing business.

Thanks for joining us, and I will see you again soon,

Types of Episodes:

  1. Advanced Marketing Strategies
  2. Become an Industry Authority Through Writing & Speaking
  3. Expert Audio MP3 Interviews
  4. How To Start A Business
  5. Influence & Persuasion

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The Top Down Perspective Advantage – Episode #8

by Richard Wilson on April 19, 2011

Within this episode Richard Wilson discusses how viewing things from the top down can provide you with new insights, areas to explore, and things to avoid.  If you can gain a unique vantage point of your own business by diagramming it in three different ways as recommended within this video you will have a marked advantage over your competitive.  Watch this video to learn how in 15 minutes you can gain some great insights on where your business is headed and what you should be doing next. (Download this MP4 Video)

Video Transcript Summary: This video is something that I should watch myself three to four times a year because even though I realize how valuable it is to gain a top down perspective it is easy to forget.  Many times we get lost in the day-to-day fires of running a business or in the struggle of launching our new product line that we decided to create a year ago that we forget to take a step back and make sure that we are headed down the right path.

Many times in business the most expensive mistakes or more profitable insights may be gained from reflecting upon how your industry operates, how money flows through your niche, and how you can directly add more genuine value to your end clients.  You can never focus too much on those ideas, even if you try your business responsibilities will quickly pull you back down into reality.  Try taking time during lunch once a week to review your business and opportunities on a high level so that you are always working on the highest priority task and doing things which will help grow your business exponentially.

Thanks for joining us, and I will see you again soon,

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How to Manage a $1M+ Business – Episode #7

by Richard Wilson on April 10, 2011

Richard Wilson interviews Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz within this 7th episode of CEOTraining.com.  Rand runs a multi-million dollar business that employs over 25 professionals and has received numerous venture capital investments. This expert audio interview was focused on how to manage and grow a $1M+ business with the idea that both medium and small sized business owners could learn a lot from someone as successful as Rand.

Rand provides tips on how to hire, how to fire, and why testing and measuring in marketing and business ownership is critical to survival.  (Download this MP3 Audio)

(Note: This expert audio interview was first conducted for one of our business management training programs on BusinessTraining.com)

 

Interview Transcript

Richard Wilson:  Hello everyone .  This is Richard Wilson and we’re here today with Rand Fishkin known as the Wizard of Moz.  He runs SEOmoz which is a company based in Seattle, Washington.  They offer internet marketing and SEO tools.  And while they’re based in Seattle, they actually have a global client base that’s spoken, and ran conferences in over 14 countries around the world.

The last time I checked in with them I believe they had over 23 different team members and they’ve been a fast growing, very successful company within the internet marketing/SEO niche.  And I actually first came across their website in 2006, about a year after they launched their business.

And before we get started here Rand, I just wanted to thank you for your time and for joining us here today.

Rand Fishkin:             Oh, my pleasure, Richard.  Thank you for having me.

Richard Wilson:         Great.  And I saw in your profile on the website-I didn’t know this-but it looks like you’ve got online at least more seriously around 1993 and then you started your business in 2005.  And I thought that was interesting because I first got online trying to put up my first Ecommerce website in 1995 a couple of years after you and then started my business one year after yours in 2006.  But what’s really interesting is that even though I started my business one year after you, you’re already very well known in the industry because your resources on SEOmoz were one of the things that allowed my business to be profitable from day one.  And I think that’s how we’ve grown such a huge fan base around the world is that there’s such huge leverage with the knowledge that you get out there.

Can you share just a little bit about how you kind of just exploded being popular just after the first year or two after starting?

Rand Fishkin:            Sure.  While, so it might be a bit of a misnomer the SEO website started in 2004 and we kind of changed the name of what had been a web development and design company and had become a consulting company into the name SEOmoz in 2005.  And to say that’s when the company started I guess is technically true from the naming convention standpoint, but I’d been doing this type of work since 1997-98.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            So, there were a lot of bad, bad years in there-racked up terrible debt…

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            …was on what could definitely be called a Ramen diet for many years and yeah.  So, I guess it takes a lot of years to make an overnight success.

Richard Wilson:         Exactly.  I was just going to say like most overnight successes, it wasn’t.

Rand Fishkin:            Right.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.  I think that’s a great reminder and story to tell then.  And I just want to share with everybody that we have Rand here today because we want to cover content that’s going to be really valuable to three different types of people-small business owners who run their own small business, business managers who run a business unit-maybe corporation, and then also CEO’s.  And Rand has learned a lot obviously while running SEOmoz and growing it to the size it is today.  So, that’s really going to be our focus for today on this call.

Now, I know like you just mentioned you kind of converted in 2005 from website development to offering consulting services.  And I got to know you through your kind of Intro to SEO guide.  And obviously you offered more services in the future, and plug-ins, and software solutions, and started to become more focused.  And there’s some companies that do very well by having 70 diverse products.  Maybe they have something in common, but they’re in very different industries.  And they have very diverse business that way and they thrive.  Then there’s other companies that obviously do well by narrowing their niche and just dominating that niche that they’ve either created or just focused on that they’re the best known or have the best quality products.

And I was just wondering, through that process obviously there’s a lot of reasons probably behind it, not just one reason.  But I was wondering in terms of business managers thinking whether they should do this for their own business, or whether they should expand their product lines, was there one thing that you learned as the business grew, and grew, and grew that just led to the fact that you had to specialize in one area to be successful long term?  Was there one kind of catalyst to making that decision?

Rand Fishkin:            Yeah.  I think that I would say that businesses that tend to be relatively mature-have a mature model, have a relatively senior staff, are in an established industry-those kinds of things can do well with a diverse set of items.  But when you’re trying to tackle a niche that sort of hasn’t been tackled before, then certainly SEO software-which is where we transferred our business in 2007 and then we took venture capital back-really necessitated a lot of focus from us and demanded that we get out of the business of content generation.  We’d been running several other websites…

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            …and helped doing random odd things for our consulting clients like running sites for them, or building media properties, or those kinds of things.  And then I would say too that in those new types of industries-at least from what I’ve seen, the experience I’ve had and talking to other entrepreneurs in the sort of technology startup space-is that before you can expand, before you can build that product line out broadly, you need to at least have a concerted effort in a sort of deeper way with that one product base, with that one problem.

So, a big problem that we see is that SEO is dramatically underinvested as a marketing opportunity across the U.S.-big business, small business, medium business.  And our hypothesis is that’s hard to learn, complex to do, and difficult to track and measure results as compared to something like Paid Search which Paid Search is a $15 billion a year trend.  But Paid Search clicks only draw 14% of the search traffic.  Organic Search gets 86% and yet maybe $1.5 billion, maybe $2 billion will be spent on that this year.  So, you’re looking at just the complete reversal of the expected situation.

And so, our goal is really to tackle and solve that problem.  Let’s make SEO easy to learn with as you mentioned lots of free content on our website.  And then let’s make it easy to track, and get recommendations, and understand through software.  And that’s where our business model comes into play.

Richard Wilson:         Right.  That makes a lot of sense.  And from somebody like myself who doesn’t sell any type of SEO service I can definitely confirm what you’re mentioning there.  Our business has grown much faster based on using SEO.  And for example, we have used your premium membership several times.  For example, when we go to potentially buy a website or something like that, having that software inside instantly.  Besides just budget spending on SEO, having that knowledge inside such a big ROI I believe if you’re in charge of running internet marketing or even just marketing, just that knowledge you guys can provide, and instant analytics and stuff is definitely a high ROI area that not all businesses are taking advantage of right now.

Rand Fishkin:            Oh cool.  I’m thrilled to hear it.  Thanks.

Richard Wilson:         And then, I know that-this is probably going to be our only other SEO focused question-but from the 50,000 level when you’re looking at SEO, I was wondering if you had 1-2 sentences or guiding principle, or mission that people should keep in mind because I know that you’ve thought about SEO for thousands of hours, probably more than anyone else that I’ve ever met or interviewed.  And I just wonder if from that standpoint and that perspective, some people would say, “Create content and the links, and the traffic will come” and other people would say, “It’s all about link building.  Do whatever you can.  Use every trick in the book and just get as many links as you can, and you’ll be all set, and be ranked #1.”

I know it can’t be boiled down to something simple, but I just wonder if from your perspective there’s kind of a sentence or two to help guide people when they’re looking at these thousands of activities that they should be doing.  There’s not enough time in the day.  If you could provide an overall kind of guidance in that area?

Rand Fishkin:            Yes.  I would say relatively consistently over the past decade of SEO that it’s actually quite a simple process.  It’s just very challenging to execute and I think that happens in a surprising number of areas.

So, SEO is really about just three things:

  1. Making web pages, web content that is accessible to search engines.

 

And that may sound simplistic, but in practice particularly in medium and large websites who get very complex technology stacks, and have multiple kinds of development efforts going on, it can be a real mess.  And so, I would say there are different principles and the principles to what is accessible to search engines and what isn’t changes slightly over time.  But think very carefully about accessibility.  Make sure that the content you’re producing can be seen in easy kinds of ways by the search engine.

 

  1. Knowing what your audience is searching for and targeting those things intelligently.

So, if your audience is searching for running shoes, but your branding department has decided that you make sport equipment apparel, athletic footwear, then you’re going to be in big trouble.  If you’re describing your products and services in different ways than consumers are searching for them.  And that disconnect happens in all forms of marketing, not just in search.  But in search it’s so visible and apparent because you just don’t have the opportunity to come up if that’s what you’re calling your content.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            And then the third and final one is you talked about link building and I would say it goes to link building but it’s broader than that.  It’s make something that people want to share-that people have an incentive to share-because link building can be done in manipulative types of ways and the search engines are getting very good at not counting those types of links.  It can be done in natural kinds of ways where a brand, or a concept, or an idea, or a piece of content naturally spreads across the web and lots of people link to it because they feel it’s citation worthy, or there’s lots of incentives for partners to link to it, or there’s lots of syndication deals, or content deals.  And so, the content gets picked up, and linked to, and shared in those kinds of ways.

I would encourage people to think very cautiously about when they’re producing content of any kind, answer the question, “Why would someone share this?  Why would someone link to this?  Why would they tweet it?  Why would they post it on a forum?  Why would they post it on their blog?  Why would they share it on Facebook or Like It?  Why would they email it to a friend?”  If you don’t have great answers to those questions, you’re going to lose out to somebody that does.

Richard Wilson:         Right.  Right.  Yeah.  That’s a great point.  I think that people sometimes struggle between balancing getting a lot of content out there so they can set up all those long tail key words, buckets that they’re trying to fill with making sure each and every piece is such high quality is that each on its own has a good chance of being shared with others.  I know that [Overlapping11:50]

Rand Fishkin:            And it’s interesting because it’s not always the case that every piece needs to be quality for something to have an incentive to share.  You can have very creative things like a company that we used to work with years ago.  It was called Simply Hired and they’re a great startup out of the Bay area.  They do job search types of things trying to compete with Monster.com and those types of folks.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            And they’ve got a great series of tools where you can basically compare any two industries, or key words, or different job types, or regions and it’ll show you kind of the salary ranges, and what the average person is earning, what the job market is like right now, and the trends in that job market, and where people are being hired and not.  It’s just phenomenal the statistical information that they’ve gathered from their databases.  And  of course, they’ve got a really smart widget where you can share that information on your website and when you do it links back to them in good kinds of ways.

A lot of those pages may not have any content.  There may not be any jobs there right now today.  I’m looking for a manufacturing job in [Inaudible 12:55] California and there’s not any, right?

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            It’s all shifting to technology.  But I can still link to it.  I can still show it, and share it, and I have an incentive to do so.  So, that’s what I urge people to think about.  It’s not always just about raw quality like, “Is this a great piece of writing?”  Is this a great work?”  It’s “Why would someone share it?”

Richard Wilson:         Okay.  Okay.  Now, that’s a great example of something that doesn’t require an essay, or a list of top 52 tips, or something like that.

Rand Fishkin:            Exactly.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.  Now, onto the next question.  I know some companies wait until they’re so busy, and have so much customer service to deal with, and so many projects ongoing, and so many improvements being made, they don’t hire a new employee until really they’re being stretched to the seams and about to burst.  Then they hire a new employee and that way they don’t waste employee time by hiring people too early.

There’s other people that say, “For every $40,000 I invest in an employee my business generally increases by $200,000.  So, we hire pretty aggressively.  When we find the right person we bring them on” are more proactive about it.  And of course, there’s companies in the middle.  And I’m just wondering as you’ve grown your team over the years which approach you have found best because I think obviously not all industries or growth rates in companies are going to be the same.  But it would be nice to hear your insights on what you have found to work well.

Rand Fishkin:            Sure.  So, my philosophy is to be as aggressively as one possibly can be with hiring.  But with the caveat that it should only be for the most exceptional talent and that’s a very startup perspective.  I would add that.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            So, I would think that’s definitely the case at a larger firm when an enterprise level company can look across and say, “Hey, a new employee can cost us $40K, but every person we add to the marketing team is about $200,000.  So, I’m going to talk to the managers and say, ‘Hey guys, I want you to spend 20-30% of your time actively recruiting.  I want to see you add someone every two months to your team” that kind of thing.

And I think that can be a very smart strategy and certainly you don’t need to be as picky.  We started as a team of three people and today I think we just made an offer.  We’re going to have 26 starting in a couple of weeks here.  And you’re in a technology environment where there’s very, very high demand for quality, you’re trying to both build customer demand and make sure you don’t get eclipsed by competitors, you’re trying to make customers happy in a new field where they may not have been as comfortable in the past, and may not be as accustomed to spending, you need exceptional quality people.

And so, even though it’s been the case that even though we’ve been as aggressive as possible with hiring, I would say our VP of Engineering has been spending I would say 40-50% of her time on recruiting and hiring.  And yet, we make an engineering hire about every three months.  So, we would love to hire four more people today.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            But we simply can’t find the quality of people ready to come on board and everyone on the team interviews them, make sure that they’re not only amazing in terms of their talent level, but also a great personality fit, and those kinds of things.

And that team fit, again another huge thing that can make or break a startup because if people love coming into the office, love staying late, love hanging out with the people they work with, that just predicts so many better things.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            Those are my kind of feelings on hiring.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah, for sure.  I think that’s one thing I’ve found while running our team.  We have 15 professionals, but not all of them are in our office.  We have a few full-time professionals we work with face to face.  And what I’ve found is that if you get the right person it’s not just that they do their job, but it’s that they have those extra suggestions, and insights, and tweaks.  And maybe there’s only 1% of the time that they’re suggesting those, but that can be a whole huge improvement made just from that one suggestion and that one extra insight.  And it’s like those extra things that people can add if you hire the right people can pay back the rest of the time they spent working on other things.  So, that sounds like a great approach and great advice for people listening to this call.

In my business one thing we’re trying to do is document more of our processes, systematize everything as much as possible.  If it’s done more than once, then diagram it, look at a flowchart or checklist type process.  And I was just wondering in your experience are things so fast moving and kind of siloed that people are responsible for their own smaller areas and that’s just not needed as much, or have you found that while growing your business it’s very important?  I just wanted to kind of get your quick insights on this.

Rand Fishkin:            Yeah.  That’s when I’d say that there comes a certain time in a startup’s life when that becomes critical.  But for the first few months-years depending on the team size and the growth rate, anything that impedes direct progress-and that includes documentation, or management, or recording things, or teaching other people how to do them is an impediment.  So, it’s high risk, but you’ve got to trust those first few engineers, first couple of marketers, first designer, first bus dev guys, sales guys, whatever to do a great job and to be there for your team.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            And if they leave, all their knowledge goes with them.  Yeah, but it’s better than cutting 20-30% of their productivity or 10% of their productivity to have them document, record, and teach, and create redundancies.

Now, I think once we got to about 15-16 employees we had small amounts of turnover here or there, or we worried about that, we had risk of turnover, those kinds of things.  Then you start to say, “Alright.  Now we’ve got a business we need to protect as well as grow” and that documentation becomes very important.

We do the same thing.  We actually use the Google Hosted Sites application and we’ve got an intranet through that.  I guess it’s technically an extranet because we can access it externally through the office and that makes a lot of recording, all those types of things pretty darn easy and low bandwidth.

Richard Wilson:         Right.  Right.  Yeah, that’s great.  We have adopted the backpack tool.  It has at least 37 signals and it’s just so simple and easy to use.  I think it’s similar to what you were describing.  You can access it from anywhere and it’s easy to share with people.  It’s just something I found valuable, something I should’ve realized earlier, but it’s added a lot of value to what we’re doing.

And then, I just also wanted to see-everybody makes mistakes.  They say if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.  And from the prospective of running a business that’s growing very quickly where you’re adding team members now every three months or so-even earlier maybe-can you share some sort of mistake that you’ve made that could’ve been prevented if somebody had shared that mistake with you in an interview such as this?

Rand Fishkin:            Gosh.  Well yeah, I’d like to think that I would’ve taken people’s advice.  But one of the problems about entrepreneurs is that we’re notoriously stubborn, and self-reliant bunch.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            But I mean, yeah I would hope I would take good advice to heart.  There hasn’t been a year where I’ve been running my business that I don’t look back at the previous year and think to myself, “Oh my God!  Who the hell did they have in charge of this operation?  What was that guy doing?  What was he thinking?”  I mean, the mistakes are far, far, far too numerous to list.  I think there’s mistakes that happen every day.

The most painful mistakes I would say from our business and I think from talking to other entrepreneurs in every business is hiring the wrong people.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            I just don’t think you’ll make a worse mistake and the correction for it is horrible.  The impact that it has on the business and the rest of the team is horrible.  You can make a lot of strategic and tactical errors in a business and find your way so long as you’re willing to learn from those mistakes and judge them.  And you can go pretty far down the road.

I think we made some strategic mistakes in terms of the kinds of products we launched, or how long we should’ve sat on things versus releasing them, or the design of products and those kinds of things, how involved certain people were in the decision making process along the way.  And yeah, it’s hurt us.  It’s stung a little bit here and there, but nothing like the, “Oh man!  We really shouldn’t have hired this person.”

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.

Rand Fishkin:            “That was a poor decision to hire this person.  They’ve been sort of bringing down the team and we can’t seem to turn things around”.  So, slow to hire, quick to fire.  I definitely believe in it 100% and I know.  If there’s other entrepreneurs listening to this call I have so been there.  I have been in that case where this probably wasn’t the right person.  I made the call time and again.  “Let’s give them another month, see if we can turn them around.  Put them on a performance plan.  Spend a lot of time with them” and I don’t know.  I mean, it could be that myself and my team aren’t the greatest turnaround artists, or it could be it’s just the smartest thing to do that when you get a glimpse that, “Hey, this person probably isn’t right”  you should probably let them go then.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.  That is a very, very challenging thing especially in a small business when you work with someone face to face.  You get to know them as a person and you help them with their career development plans.  It’s very, very hard.

Rand Fishkin:            Nothing’s harder.

Richard Wilson:         I like that slogan though, “Slow to hire, quick to fire”.  I hadn’t heard it put that way before.  So, I think that’s a great something to take notes on if you’re listening to this right now.

Okay.  So, one area of knowledge that I’ve been trying to grow myself and I know lots of CEO’s, and small business managers, and small business owners want to know more about is how to raise evaluation of their company over time whether they’re having it evaluated for a VC-a venture capital investment-or an angel investor might come in and partner with them early on, or maybe they want to sell their business at some point.  That knowledge if you just had a ton of specialized knowledge in that area you could in some cases take a business that had been evaluated at $4 million and get it evaluated at $10 million or maybe less than that.  But the fact is it’s really valuable knowledge.

 

And I was wondering besides documenting some of your processes, having a business plan, having a good team-those are the most obvious things.  Do you have any specific tips since you’ve been through evaluation processes and taking [Overlapping 23:45]

Rand Fishkin:            Yeah.

Richard Wilson:         Anything you could share with people?

Rand Fishkin:            Sure.  So, one of the biggest things at least in the technology startup space is I guess the brand sort of heat quotient.  And a lot of that comes from press, and discussions in both who’s talking about you in offline and online media, and the blogosphere, and how they’re talking about you. And that can mean the difference between your Foursquare who today doesn’t have a possible business model, isn’t yet earning income, but is so incredibly hot because of the brand they’ve built, because of who’s invested in them, because of how they’ve managed their brand in the press, and where they’ve been featured, and who talks about them, and uses them, that their evaluation is sky high.

I mean, even SEO model is an example of a business that’s probably sort of a mid-grade kind of business and the technologies here where we have great revenues, we grow 2-3x every year, we have big market opportunity.  But you know what?  We’re not the kind of guys that get featured in a photo spread in Wired, right?  We’re not the kind of guys like Fred Wilson, and Chris Dickson, and Mark Schuster, and Bill Gurley, and these kinds of people invest in.  So, choosing those things wisely, thinking about the branding along the way, if you’re trying to build that type of a heat quotient is really, really important.

And the other things I’d say, more sort of branding things as opposed to the marketing aspect are things like choose the way that your company earns revenue very carefully.  Be aware that services revenue-consulting revenue for example-is valued at $1-1.5 x unless it’s in a highly specialized realm where there’s tons of value and lots of people who could bid for you.

Choosing something like a subscription service, or an ongoing revenue, vast, those kinds of things have 3-4x revenue evaluations.  And if you’re pre-profit/pre-revenue you should be thinking very carefully about, “Hey, are we the kind of Technology Company, right?”  “Are we building a portfolio of useful technology, and information, and data that other companies would desperately want?”

A good example of that would be something like MetaWeb down in San Francisco that got bought recently by Google for several tens of millions of dollars-maybe even $100 million with basically no revenue at all.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            And those kinds of examples-Microsoft picked up a company here whose name I’m forgetting and plugged them into their search service that did all sorts of things around web searches.  And again, it was $110 million acquisition with zero revenue.

Richard Wilson: Wow.

Rand Fishkin:            It’s basically the positioning of knowing that market very well and knowing what those players would need in terms of the technology.  So, those kinds of things can be very helpful as well.

Richard Wilson:         Right.  I think that’s very important to mention.  I know that within many industries there’s strategic assets that just give you an edge over your competition and those sometimes have the most unpredictable evaluations.  But if you can position your business right as being one of those value adds, that’s really hard for someone else to repeat.  That’s obviously a great tip.

And I like your humble suggestion that you guys maybe aren’t very well known when I think you guys haven’t been in Wired, but you’ve been listed as one of the Top 40 under 40 in a few places, and you’ve been in Business Week, and you’ve been in…

Rand Fishkin:            I mean, I don’t mean to belittle those things or to say that SEOmoz isn’t a good business.  I just mean that compared to a…

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            …sort of the tax darlings, right?  If you mention them to any venture capitalists in the United States they’re going to know not only the names of the founders, but they’re going to know who the investors are, and they’ll have tracked them, and they’ll have talked about them at board meetings, right?

Richard Wilson:         For sure.

Rand Fishkin:            It’s that kind of heat quotient that I’m talking about creating.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.  Sure.  That makes sense.  Okay.  And I’m wondering when you were looking at developing your products and services, obviously every business owner is aware of what’s going on in their industry.  And you go to a ton of conferences and hear about the most recent trends.  But how much time do you spend conducting explicit, competitive analysis of what else there on top of just kind of the osmosis approach of just being on top of everything.  Do you guys really do deep, competitive analysis?  Is that something value that every single business owner/manager should be doing or do you listen to your customers in an iterative way and go after the opportunities that seem natural, but not worry too much about explicit, competitive analysis work?

Rand Fishkin:            Yeah.  I’d say mostly the latter.  So, we’re definitely aware of competitors.  Anytime somebody knew pops up with SEO software we will take a look.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            But we don’t worry too much about feature parody or trying to beat out the competition.  We’re much more concerned with trying to make this a market.  And if competitors are building businesses in this space, we sort of feel like that’s good for us.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            That means that people are buying into the concept that they need SEO software…

Richard Wilson:  Right.

Rand Fishkin:            …that this is a critical area of their business, and that portends good things for us in the future too.  So yeah, I’m not very advanced on it.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.  Okay.  And I know that some small businesses when they get to $1 million in revenue they might start to look around to see if there’s some content-websites they could buy, maybe a blog, newsletter, something like that to help them gain exposure in the industry.  And then when you get into high revenues you might look at some small startups obviously on a much smaller scale than your examples of Microsoft and Google buying companies.

Rand Fishkin:            Sure.

Richard Wilson:         But still there’s some strategic assets you could gain.  Is that something that you have found to be successful and fruitful or in your case is there so much opportunity for organic growth it just doesn’t make sense to pay some sort of multiple for what somebody else has worked on?

Rand Fishkin:            It’s funny you mention that.  I was at an M & A event last night and I was talking to a company there-a couple of founders-about potentially buying them.  And they were like, “Oh.  Well, six months ago or a year ago we totally would’ve said yes.  But  the M  & A market is so hot right now that they’re getting offers that are almost in order of magnitude above what we’re looking at”.  So, I just went [Inaudible 30:20]

The market is so churn heavy right now especially in technology startups.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.

Rand Fishkin:            Unless you’re a big company it’s largely unaffordable.  But I would say I do like your idea of buying content sites or adding content sites and getting more exposure in that fashion.  I’d just say that folks should be really careful about how they make those acquisitions and how they integrate them with their businesses.

I’ve seen plenty of examples where it’s worked really well and some examples where it’s gone terribly and sort of done nothing for them, and they’ve regretted them.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            So, things to watch out for are how to redirect that traffic, how do you take over that audience without destroying their loyalty and respect for the brand they were committed to.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.

Rand Fishkin:            Those are tough things to do.

Richard Wilson:         Sure.  Sure.  I’m sure a few people that have some internet marketing backgrounds might wonder if you buy a company that had just a great length graph and tons of lengths to their domain and the domain alone-all those links we built up-seems to be worth so much.  Is that something where a small website that has a ton of links…

Rand Fishkin:            Yeah.

Richard Wilson:         Is that something that’s generally a bad thing to do-to buy a website just to get the links?

Rand Fishkin: Well…

Richard Wilson:         [Inaudible 31:35]

Rand Fishkin:            I would say it’s bad to buy them just for the links and more so than that it’s tough to leverage.  So, if you’re thinking, “Oh.  I’m going to buy them and redirect that to my site.  And I think I’m going to get the same traffic they’re getting” it might not happen that way.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            I mean, unless you’re keeping the content and changing it in other kinds of ways changing or redirecting domains from an SEO standpoint is one of the more challenging tasks that exists.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            There’s a lot of hoops to jump through in that.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.  I couldn’t help myself but to ask you.

Rand Fishkin:            Of course.

Richard Wilson:         Alright.  So, I was once at an intensive event one day for Evan Hagan.  He’s kind of a business/marketing trainer and I got some time to talk to him one on one.  I was asking him, “When you’re trying to get a business from $1 million, $3 million, $5 million a year up to $10 million, $30 million what’s the most powerful, game changing book you ever read that really just was the book was worth $100,000 worth of coaching?  That the book made just a huge difference to him and he said that Verne Harness’s Mastering the Rockefeller Habits was that book.

So, I’ve read that book 2-3 times since speaking with Evan and it is a great book.  He has great models in there, it makes great since, it’s practical, yet detailed enough that it actually adds a lot of value.

And I was wondering, I know not everybody gets that game changing idea from a book.  But I was wondering was there 1-2 books that really  made a mark on your progress or was it just narrative, really hard work and day to day lessons just in running the business that led to your success so far?

Rand Fishkin:            So, I would say that there’s a couple of books that were really maybe not game changers, but the big influencers for us.  One was Good to Great and Built to Last.  Both of those are phenomenal books and I’d certainly recommend them to anyone who’s building a company.

Other ones, I read a book that sort of-it’s not advice.  It’s not tactical or strategic but it is very inspirational and I thought a lot about it since then.  That book’s called The Billionaire Who Wasn’t.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            It’s about a guy named Chuck Sweeney who built a business called Duty Free Shopping which I’m sure you’ve seen all over the world in airports and that kind of thing.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.

Rand Fishkin:            And how he earned billions of dollars and then gave it all away to a charity that he built in the Bahamas called Atlantic Trust Foundation that was responsible for a substantive portion of all the anonymous donations ever.  So, you can sort of track when did anonymous donations become big and it’s sort of right around the end of the ‘60s-early ‘70s and when did anonymous donations end is kind of right around the beginning of the ‘90s when his charity was outed…

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.

Rand Fishkin:            …for what they were.  And yeah, it looks like they gave away what were almost all of the anonymous donations to universities, and medical facilities, and art institute’s.  Yeah.  It’s absolutely staggering both the company he built and the money he gave away afterwards.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            Really impressive stuff.

Richard Wilson:         I’m glad that you mentioned Good to Great.  With your recent focus on providing SEO software instead of doing consulting because I love the model on their Collins gives.  I think he calls it the Hedgehog Strategy or the Three Circle Strategy.

Rand Fishkin:            Right.  Yeah.

Richard Wilson:         Being passionate, and profitable, and the best in the world.  I think that’s the most awesome decision in life, not even just business.  If you apply that it just helps you make such well rounded decisions compared to, “Well, this is going to make a lot of money.  It might be a pain in the ass, but you’ve got to make the money.”  So, I think that’s just an awesome model.  It’s so easy to understand and apply to everything.

And then I also wondered running SEOmoz, I know you have a Chief Operating Officer on your team now and I’m sure that helps with everything that’s going on such as interviews like this.  And I’m wondering at what point or team member size do you think a COO is critical for somebody to add because I’m sure that everybody in the business would love to have one after having just 2-3 employees.  But that’s not usually practical and I’m wondering when it made sense for you just so I can get some insights to others that are growing teams.

Rand Fishkin:            So first off, my COO has way, way better things to do than schedule my interviews.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            She’s running the operations here.  But I would say I think we had 7-8 employees when we brought on a COO.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            And one of the interesting things that I’ve actually done is I’ve never had a personal assistant.  I do sort of manage all my own calendar, and travel, and schedule, and all those kinds of things which is probably about to become impractical and impossible.  I probably will need to hire that person.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            So, I would say that for us a COO is critical right around that level where we sort of had a few teams and a lot of paperwork that sort of had to be built and that process.  And we sort of got to that level of, “Okay.  We’re over the hump of startup craziness and we’re right in that area where we need what I call project and process management”…

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            …documentation, legal kinds of things, make sure we’re paying our taxes-all that kind of stuff-make sure we’re on boarding people correctly, that we have all the right employment documentation, that   we’ve got everything in the office taken care of, those kinds of things.

So, Sara-our COO-runs our operations team which is four folks.  It’s an office manager and three customer service people. And basically they take care of all the logistics, all the paperwork, all the accounting, and finances, and customer service for the team…

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            …which is great.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.  So, that kind of goes in line with what we talked about earlier which you said too early on it’s going to be an impediment to your growth if you’re worried about documenting too many things.  That maybe along that same point in time when you do need to do a lot of that and kind of get past the tipping point of, “Okay.  We’re going to exist long-term.  Let’s make sure these processes are in place” then that might be a good time to…

Rand Fishkin:            Right.  Make sure you’re doing everything right.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            And it does help substantially.  It doesn’t help that much from a pure evaluation standpoint-going back to your earlier question-but it helps a ton from whether venture capitalists and angel investors feel comfortable investing in your business, whether they feel like you’ve got that maturity level to where they can feel good that your books are in good order, that you’re doing everything right, that there’s no fraud, or manipulations, or errors.  And the same is true for acquisitions or mergers right now.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            Any M & A activity is going to require an arm and a leg worth of paperwork.  And I’ve heard nightmare stories from people who didn’t have their shops in order.  And actually last night I heard a couple of people who said, “We had a couple of months, but it wasn’t even that stressful.  We ran through all the paperwork and it wasn’t that bad at all cause we sort of had everything documented ahead of time and any questions they asked we had them.”

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.  So, okay…

Rand Fishkin:            Stuff was good.

Richard Wilson:         Okay great.  And before we end the call, we try to make each one of these interviews on their own really valuable and we try to choose people who we know have added a lot of value to their industries.

For example, I know of your business because I’ve been using your resources for years.  I’ve used your premium membership and it’s helped grow our business.  It’s not just someone who had good P.R. and are somewhat famous, but actually have been really successful.  And one of our goals is to provide 10 times the value to every person that joins one of our training programs.

And I was wondering-just to finish up our call today-if you had to coach somebody in growing their business and give them one piece of advice that would either save them $10,000 worth of wasted time or make them $10,000 probably more in more, or far more-do you have a certain piece of advice that would be your $10,000 piece of advice that you could kind of chunk down into a concise piece of advice so we could share it here during an interview?

Rand Fishkin:            Boy, that’s a little on the spot.  First off, I would say not $10,000 but maybe $100,000 one is what we talked about previously about hiring.

Richard Wilson:         Okay.

Rand Fishkin:            But that aside, the second one that I’d say is we are in the era of metrics driven businesses and businesses that build incredibly good statistical analysis, great metrics, and put a scientific process onto everything that they do-not just their engineering work, but their marketing, and their employees, and their growth.

I mean, there are times to take chances, right?  There are times to kind of go outside what the data says and think beyond that.  But if you don’t have that statistical base, that standpoint of “I know what it’s worth when someone tweets a link to me”, “I know what it’s worth when we’re covered in the press”, “I know exactly our return from spending these ad dollars here.  And I can track them and measure them.”  I know all those things.  “I know what it’s worth to us if we can have x much more productivity from these types of team members”, right?

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            Then you can really scale up a business tremendously well.  You need to get to a certain stage of maturity before you start to do that.  But if you do the planning ahead of time and if you build the systems, and build the tracking ahead of time, you’re going to be in much more just a beautiful place in comparison to, “Alright.  We’re mature.  Now, let’s add some website analytics”, and “let’s add some measurement of our ad spending”, and  “let’s put some tracking in the people we hire at the conferences we go to”, and all that kind of stuff.  So, I think metrics would be a big thing that a lot of businesses are still behind the curve on.

Richard Wilson:         Yeah.  That’s a great piece of advice and it’s exactly what we were looking for.  If the type of advice is not always easy to swallow.  It’s like documenting your business doesn’t sound very sexy.  It reminds me of a quote.  I can’t remember who it’s from, but it’s that “You live life the easy way life’s hard” and if you live life the hard way it’s kind of similar to running your business.  Sometimes it might not be sexy, but they pay off in multiple ways down the road.

Rand Fishkin:            Well, and depending on the kind of entrepreneur you are, and the kind of business manager you are, it can be a whole lot of fun to look at that data in Excel and kind of go, “Man!  Alright.  I’m going to put dollars here and that’s going to turn the needle.  I’ve done the right thing.  I can relax and kind of feel confident about things.”  It can be really heartbreaking and harsh to live by the seat of your pants and sort of wonder how things are going with your business., and not know.

Richard Wilson:         Right.

Rand Fishkin:            So, there’s a lot of peace of mind that goes with analytics as well.

Richard Wilson:         Right.  For sure.  I think that brings us back around to the beginning of the conversation about how much is spent on SEO tracking.  I mean, just on paper lots of people don’t keep track of their SEO conversions.  So, the percentage of people that tracked the actual value of building a link, or the actual value of different rankings they get, or the SEO values for different long keyword terms is almost nil in my experience with the businesses that I’ve worked with and known  personally.

So, I think that’s a good way to finish up the interview here.  It kind of brings us full circle to what you guys are doing at SEOmoz.  And I’m sure most of you have heard of Rand’s firm before, SEOmoz.org and if you haven’t visited his website do it immediately.  He has a free to download kind of intro to SEO Guide, and various SEO tracking tools, and the most valuable thing I’ve found through using his website is the fact that you combine the leverage of the knowledge with the tools that allow you to quickly evaluate, “What is a good website to work with?”  “Who is authoritative within this niche?”  “How did they build their authority within that niche?”  Just those pieces of knowledge alone can give you a huge advantage over people that just don’t take the few hours of time to learn at least the basics and then build upon all the work that Rand’s team has done up there in Seattle.

So Rand, I just want to thank you again for your time.  I know you’re really busy and I really appreciate all the advice you’ve shared with us here today.

Rand Fishkin:            My pleasure.  No problem.  Thanks for having me.

Richard Wilson:         Great.  Thank you.

Rand Fishkin:            Alright.  Take care.

Thank You Rand: Just an extra thank you to Rand here for doing this expert audio interview.  While growing my business at the beginning SEOMoz and just 1-2 other websites were responsible for providing me with so much free valuable information that I was able to quit my job and replace my income within 6 months of doing so.  I am very grateful for that so if any of you reading this would like to see Freenium working well to create a multimillion dollar business go check out SEOMoz right now.

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