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In this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser talks to Ryan Cote, co-owner of Ballantine, a marketing agency based out of New Jersey. Besides running a successful agency business with digital and offline expertise, Ryan also writes a blog ‘Morning Upgrade’ that helps entrepreneurs get into a rhythm that is aimed at success. Watch for some really handy tips to give your business a head start.
For brand awareness campaigns, small businesses should be able to translate leads directly into their bottom line.
Yeah, man. I’m looking forward to talking with you. Thanks for having me.
I went to college at Pennsylvania University of Scranton. I was there for four years. But I’ve always been a Jersey. There was a small window where my wife and I thought we would move to the Carolinas. But then three kids later, and work is here and family and friends. That’s not happening. So we’re happy with Jersey, though.
I did a marketing degree, and I had a minor in finance. Oh, fantastic. You always wanted to get into marketing. I mean, my family business Ballantine. It’s in marketing, but it started with direct mail. And not that I knew I was going to go into the family business, necessarily, but I knew I had an interest in marketing, websites, SEO, and all that. And so that’s why I did it.
I don’t think it was the family business. Because the family business then was in printing and still is. But we have the digital side now too. But I just gravitated towards websites and like creating content. I remember I taught myself SEO. I think back to college, started an eBay store, sold stuff on eBay, and then got into affiliate marketing for a few years. And building e-commerce sites. Like my first job out of college. I didn’t go into the family business right away, I had two jobs before. And I remember vividly waking up at five o’clock in the morning before I had to go to my job because I wanted to write an ebook on health and fitness and all that. So I would get up at 5 am. I’d write in the eBook. And I can’t remember how long it took me to create it, but the point is, I was waking up early intentionally to work on this digital product that I then would try to sell.
My first two jobs were still in marketing. But I worked for two list companies. And what that means is, if you’re doing direct mail, you have to buy a mailing list to mail the mail to via the mail. And so the two companies I worked for, we would help our clients pick the right list, and analyse the results. So we’re still in the family business arena, just a different segment of it.
I think so. I think family businesses, I think it’s obvious it’s all I’ve known for the last 20 years now. But I think it’s really important that you have experiences outside the family business, like making friends with co-workers and having a boss, not that I had a boss in my family business. My dad, I guess, technically was when he was working in the company, but it’s different. You get reviews, and it’s just a different experience. If you have a family business, I encourage you to have one or two jobs before you get into the family business just to see what else is out there and experience different work cultures.
Yep, you got it.
You almost got it right. It’s 55 years; we were starting in 1966. So it’s 55 years old.
My great uncle started it in 66. My grandfather came on board in 68, my dad in 78, my uncle in 84, and my two brothers in 2003. And then my third brother in 2014. Wow, that’s
It is, and my cousin in 2018, if he watches this, will be upset if I left him out.
It started as; so the evolution is print and ship work, that in 66 was like you needed brochures or whatever for your office event or something like that. We printed, shipped the work, then added mailing to it, so now it’s direct mail, and then we add a copy and design. And then, we added digital marketing. So now we have both sides of the marketing puzzle.
We can, but to be honest with you, it’s very different like our client base with a direct mail and a digital. Our client base with direct mail is very large companies that do a lot of direct mailing. And a lot of nonprofits too. On the digital side, it’s more contractors, manufacturers, software companies, and small businesses that need leads. So while you have two services, we rarely intertwine. Try to think of the word. Yeah.
Well, we have some situations where we’ll work on the client, both direct mail and digital. And we used to do a lot of pearls. About 10 years ago, we were doing a lot of pearls, they didn’t work that great for us doesn’t mean that they won’t work just for our certain clients, they weren’t working. Most of our clients are the direct mail and there’s always a call to action to go to a landing page or visitors site. We have some clients where we’ll send direct mail out, upload the list to Facebook, and then run ads with the same creative and that has been fairly successful. We usually see a lift in the direct mail. It’s obvious. It’s for one of our clients that services, a lot of museums. And so we’ll send that direct mail and then use the same creative end to send Facebook ads out and we’ll upload the list. And oftentimes, they do see a lift on the direct mail when they do that.
But in some cases, it doesn’t work at all. So I think it just depends on what your offer is. I think it probably comes down to the offer because, for some clients, it works for some, it doesn’t.
That’s a good question. It comes down to crafting the irresistible offer, like what’s going to get your prospect to say, “I would be silly not to respond to this”. There’s a great book by Alex, I’m going to butcher his last name, but I think it’s Hormozi. I’m pretty positive, pretty confident it’s Hormozi, and he came out with a book that I 100% recommend called $100 million offers. It’s the kind of book you have to read three times because it’s chock full of how to craft that irresistible offer. And he’s a crazy successful entrepreneur himself and just all the stuff that he’s learned and to building an irresistible offer. I recommend your audience listen or read that.
So for direct mail, usually it’s their call tracking phone numbers driving people to a dedicated landing page where the only way they can access that landing page is to do the direct mail. If we’re talking about nonprofits, it’s made donations. I mean, orders came back in the mail because they usually have a return envelope where they’ll send back their donation. If I’m thinking about like our travel companies, they’re usually driving people to a toll-free number to inquire about a cruise or a vacation. So it depends on the client.
Yep, and traffic. And if we look at digital, of course, it’s tracking phone calls, and it’s how many form submissions you’re getting. It depends on what we’re talking about, most of our clients, it’s lead generation. And so for us, it comes down to just simply phone calls and forms submissions. If you’re talking about the size of brand awareness, well, then it’s more about impression and how many people are searching for their name on Google are different ways to measure that.
If you’re talking to local small businesses for them, it should come down to leads because that translates directly into the bottom line. I think a lot of times that brand awareness is more for the large consumer brands, of course, they want sales, but that brand awareness usually drives sales, because they’re doing what they’re doing on such a large scale. And we do have some situations like we just onboard a new client two weeks ago. I mean, lead generation is important for them, but they’re full, so I’d have to go into the client’s backstory, but they don’t need leads right now. But they still want to work with us because they want to build up that brand awareness so that when they need the leads, we’ve set a nice foundation for them.
Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, a few things come to mind. Adapting. I gave you the evolution of the company from the print and ship, direct mail, copy and design digital, like layer in all the services, adapting to what our client’s needs are, what the markets showing us, like, for example, like everyone’s has direct mail is dead. It’s not that at all, it’s changed a lot. And it comes down to the industry. It’s like nonprofit. We do a tremendous amount in nonprofits because they need to use direct mail. And so we just did that we just focused our efforts on the industries. So adapting to the change. I would also say we’re pretty relentless, a company on sales and service. I know that sounds pretty fundamental. But it’s hard to do it day after day after day after day, year after year, like striving to win new business and take care of the business we have. And then we do our best to make the company a good place to work. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we tried to put our team first and do the best we can to make sure they’re happy and growing. So those are the things that came to mind for me.
Yeah. I’ll answer that based on our experience. Now we’re remote; it’s a little bit different. There’s pros and cons to that, but it’s just, being flexible with them. If they need to take off or something not being a stickler for, you can’t leave because of this, trying to be more flexible with their schedule of a doctor’s appointment. Pay is important. When we were in the office, we would do quarterly get-togethers like go out, racecar driving, go-kart driving, see the arcade, grab some drinks and food, and go an arcade. Now we try to do happy hour over zoom or for Christmas, we mail presents to everyone and we get together we open them up on the Zoom. That seems to work pretty well with everyone. I’ve got a book club that I started. I’m kind of like a crazy person with personal development. So now I started a book club, where we meet, read every Friday, get together, and read a book about personal growth. Right now, we’re reading Who Moved My Cheese, which could have had the companies participating in that. So bring them together.
I think it’s because my brain never rests, but then the more tactful answer is that I’ve always been into personal growth. It started to get heavier in like 2017 just because of some situations. I’ve always been into it; even going back to college, I was reading books like; How to Win Friends and Influence People thinking big and things like that. For some reason, I don’t know why I’m just wired that way like that 1% better every day like working on your investment in yourself. It always clicked with me like resonated, I can’t explain it’s like a hunger I have. Not that I’m not happy. I’m content.
I always don’t know, looking for that 1% better. And so okay, to go back to your question. I was, I was writing about personal development on LinkedIn. And then in April 2020, when the world was ending, I thought, maybe I should try to create a brand out of this. I’m already creating the content. Why put it on LinkedIn, why don’t we just try to create something out of this and then make it bigger and help more people and have more impact and see what I can do with it. It would be fun. And so it started as a blog. And then I added a podcast. I didn’t want to do a podcast. It’s just extra work. And I didn’t know how to do it. But I was like, I need to have one. It’s I feel like it’s really important. So then I added a podcast. And then, I created my first product, which is morning routine cards. And then I wrote a book. And so I’ve been just evolving and learning as I go because it’s all-new for me. And what’s next? I don’t know, maybe a mastermind? I don’t know.
I’m just a terrible father. I don’t pay attention to my kids. Just kidding. It comes down to, in my opinion, just time management, working on the things that are gonna move the needle. There’s a lot of things you can work on. But there are only a few things that will move the needle, like the whole 8020 Principle or looking for the small hinge that will swing the big door. I’ve also been trying to get better at just delegating. Like this year, I made a concerted effort to be clear with my team on the expectations and what I need them to handle. And so that I could focus on the things that I want to focus on, like doing these interviews or trying to find new clients or ways to do things better. And I do put in a lot of hours. I do work at night, too. But I try to be very deliberate about time with my kids. On the weekends I take them to the movies and out to restaurants, try to spend time with them. I think it’s just focusing your time on the things that matter, and then being intentional. But it is not a perfect science by any means. Just do the best you can.
I have a morning routine. And that morning routine, I set a priority list, so I know what’s important for the day. I exercise every day, which I think helps keep my head clear. I don’t time block though. I know that is valuable. I just don’t personally do it. I tried to be careful about going down rabbit holes only working on things like I said that is important. And that’s like a muscle the update that you have to get stronger. And it gets easier over time. Via no real strategy is just trying to be careful that what I’m working on;
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Because I’m like anyone else, I don’t have my phone on me because I wanted to be present here. But if you don’t have your phone on you, your mind is like, where is it? You want to and you want to look at it and stuff.
Are you thinking about your phone now?
That’s a great idea. That’s a good idea. But so what I do is in my morning routine meditation helps calm my brain and you have to sit there in silence and solitude, which strengthens the focus. Personally, and this might be a bit of a hack, I heard this on a podcast this is nothing that I thought of, but reading a printed book. I read books every day and reading a physical book where you can’t multitask when you’re reading, it’s impossible. And so you’ll find that when you’re reading a physical book, at least at the start, your minds like, “Hey, get me out of here. I want to do something else”. But over time, it gets easier. So I look at meditation and reading a physical book as exercises to strengthen my focus.
Yeah. We had this very nice office, pushing everyone remotely because of the pandemic. And then we’re like, “Well, we already don’t need this office, because all we need are phones and computers”. And honestly, everyone wants to work from home. And I have always wanted to have a hybrid workstyle. I just like, “if you can’t do it, I shouldn’t do it”. And so I think back now, like going to the office for like, 20 years straight every day, I don’t know how I did, it seems like a slow death to me now. And so having a more hybrid, like I’m in our office right now, but then I worked at home some days. And so, but we push the whole team fully remote. A major advantage that we’re seeing is that it’s so much easier to hire now like we used to stick to a 15-mile radius around where we were located in New Jersey. Our last few hires were Florida and Philadelphia, rock stars that we would never have entertained because they live far away.
Yeah, exactly. And just easier, we can find people much quicker now. And there’s, there’s pros and cons like anything. I feel like, just based on what they’ve told me, everyone feels like they have just a more fulfilling life now. Much better work-life balance. In our space with marketing, it’s obvious that the work is not getting done. So I’m not worried about that, plus, our team is really good, so I trust them. So I’m not worried about that. The one con that I could think of is that it’s hard to; like when you’re in an office physically together, it’s easier to develop those bonds because you’re around each other. The normal chit-chat is a byproduct of being around each other. Well, that’s all gone. And so like for the new employees, especially those that are like out of state, and even if they’re not out of state, you’re not seeing people as much, it’s really hard to form that bond. So we try to do video calls as much as we can. And that seems to help. But it’s not the same thing as a face-to-face meeting.
What do I like most about digital marketing? I like that every day is a little bit different. Like my days are because we’ve got different clients, different clients come on board, we’re doing different work for them. Different challenges come up. Every day is very different. And I just gravitate towards digital because I understand it, so it’s my world. And it’s nice to work in an environment where you feel like you’re good at it, so it’s very fulfilling. And it’s always changing. That’s a con, too, though, because it’s so much. That’s what I like.
Honestly, I try to stay in our lane. We do a few things very well, a handful of things. And I try to stay in our lane and focus on those things. I don’t; for example, we don’t do anything with Tik Tok. I can’t stand Tik Tok. Not that we won’t ever because it might be a time where we need to and as I said before about adapting. But there are certain newsletters I subscribe to, like; Marketing o’clock and Search Engine Watch. And I read them every day when they come in or every week. So I’m not like completely oblivious to things that are changing. But we have our core services, and we try to stay in the lane and improve those services every year. What can we do better here?
Sometimes, it depends. We are onboarding a new service right now. So we have to adapt if a client’s asking for something or if we feel that there’s a new service out there that’s in our client’s best interest. Of course, we’re going to look into it. We are slowly onboarding a new service right now. The new service we’re onboarding is cold email outreach for our b2b clients. And so that’s not so far removed because we were doing monthly email newsletters for our clients. So it’s like, it’s different, but it’s sort of the same. Can you help me with our tic Tik Tok ads if a client said to us? I’d probably say no because we just don’t know it. And I don’t see us having this need with other clients. And then we’re not I don’t want to learn from you. So it’s just not a good fit.
Yeah, so the stuff we do day in and day out, the work that we actively seek is SEO, Google ads, and content. Those are our top three. And then we also do like email newsletters, we do a little bit of social media. But, honestly, social media is more of a platform to distribute our content. So we used to put the content on like LinkedIn or Facebook and run ads. So that while we’re waiting for Google to find it we’re pushing it into the news feeds. We don’t have a lot, a lot of social media work, where we’re coming up with this, these creative campaigns, this is not our strong suit. So we focus on what we’re good at.
I’m sorry, I interrupted you there. No, I was going to say it also, at least our client base like to handle it in-house, or they think they can handle it better now. And sometimes they can. If we were not on-site with them all the time. And so it’s social media, as the organic postings, we don’t really actively seek it, we only do it if the client insists that we do because they want all the work with us. It’s like, the same thing with website development, we’re pushing that out as well, I just don’t want to handle that work anymore. And this year, we made a strategic decision to refer those leads to a couple of agencies that we trust, that we know are going to take care of the client. And that they are not going to try to take the digital away from us. And that’s been okay. But sometimes you get a- gain by removing and that was the case for us.
Yeah, like we have an agency partner in my mastermind, I have known the owner for many years. And so we refer the work to him, we still have some lingering projects from last year. And we’ll take like small little like updates to the website like, where they get things fixed. But really, I’m trying to push all that work away to partners that we trust. And then we can focus on the services I mentioned before. That’s really what I’m trying to do and as I mentioned, this is new as of like this year, but it’s been going fine so far.
So what we do is have we come up with a kickoff document where there’s a whole bunch of questions for them about their positioning in the market, their differentiators, and their goals all that. The document’s start is like this; what is the scope of the work that we’re helping them with? who their team is with pictures? And then we have a bunch of questions for them, two pages of questions. And then we outline what the next 30 days look like. And then what we need access to with videos and how to give us access. And then we have that in Google Docs. And then we send it to them. And then we have like a two-hour meeting with them a quick video call like this, where we just go over the document that we’ve typed in the answers into the document. And that way, at the end of that call, we have a fully fleshed-out kickoff doc that gives us a step in the right direction. Of course, we might need more information from the client but it’s a pretty intense meeting, and we get a lot of that information. And then from there, you know we scheduled the first monthly meeting and then we’re off to the races. Busy beaver getting everything set up and going for them.
It is. We ask like. Who their customers are? What keyword do we think they are going to use? What content will resonate with them? What questions are they getting a lot of? So we try to understand who their customers are? What products do they want to push or services? About their industries, their competitors. You are right Matt. That then dictates the strategy.
That’s a good question. I have a call at three today with a potential new client in that space. During the conversation we were having, he gave us a budget range and I came up with two strategies I think are worth discussing with him. And so it depends on the channel. We have specific pricing for email and newsletters, whether once a month or twice a month. But when you are looking at SEO and Google ads, it depends on how competitive the market is with SEO? How many links do we need to build for them? How much content do we need to produce for them? We usually start with a set budget for keyword search campaigns and marketing for Google ads honestly. And then we see how that budget works out for us; do we need more or less? Do we need a display? So it just depends on the client, their goal, how competitive their niche is, and testing. Because we don’t know until we start running the ads.
Every client is a little different, so, there is a lot of testing. We also are bi-annual strategies reviews do; so every six months we look at what we are doing for the client, the good and the bad and then we come to them with recommendations. Like, Ok we have been doing this for six months, here is what we are seeing. Here is what’s good. Here is what’s bad. And here is what we recommend as the next steps. And that is another Google doc with another conversation. I am not sure if you are familiar with the concept of Kaizen but the concept of Him who need improvement. That is what we are trying for.
It’s getting more complex, to be honest with you. I remember SEO back in like 2009, and 2010, man it was easy honestly. Then it was just link building and it didn’t matter how crappy the links were. Just pound those links and it worked. It’s much more complex now which is good for us. Clients need us more than ever, but it is harder and more competitive. You can’t just rely on links even though it is a factor. You have to consider Google maps. You have to consider the Website, the load speed, and bubble friendliness. The technical side of it. It Is just getting more complex. Even with Google ads too. You are bidding on keywords, but a lot more goes into it when you consider shopping campaigns. It requires a lot more expertise now and a lot more strategy, which is not a bad thing but that is how it has changed.
I will be honest. I am not the one running the ad, so I am not the best person to answer that but I can say what we do is a manual process. We use to use voice stream but we don’t anymore. I don’t remember what they changed to and I am unsure if they are still software. We use to use that. Not to automate anything but to give us recommendations that we may not have considered. A lot of what we do is manual, like scanning the search queries to look for the negative keywords. We have one client that makes industrial mixers. So just imagine industrial mixers and accuisinar mixers they could be almost the same thing but they are not the same thing. And so managing those search queries and the negative keyword list is a lot of making sure the traffic coming in is relevant.
I will answer that from my perspective. They have to have digital marketing experience. We are doing not rocket science here, so if they are smart and hungry to learn, we can teach them with no experience. But we do look for some experience so they are not completely new to it. For us, it comes down to attitude. They have to be good people who want to work hard and work well with others because they are dealing with our clients. They are dealing with the team and they have to produce good work. And so for us a lot of it is attitude. What we do in the hiring process is we always give homework. No matter what role it is we give them homework before the interview during the interview. And often the hire comes down to the person that puts the most effort into the homework. And I see the gambit. Some candidates work on it for five minutes before the interview, while others will be working on it for days before the interview so what they have is like a PowerPoint presentation. And right there it is very clear what their attitude and work ethic is.
I will give you a real-life example here. One of the SEO specialists who has been with us for four years now I think; when he came on board his previous jobs were in real estate and something else. No digital marketing experience whatsoever. But he had started teaching himself SEO. So when he submitted his resume he attached a whole art that he did on a website. He said, “I don’t have a lot of SEO experience but I have been learning it and here is the art I did for this website”. And it was a four or five-page analysis of their, rankings their content, their metadata, and all that stuff. And that showed that he had the hustle and the hunger to do this. We brought him in, we liked him and he did well on the homework again. So to answer your question put in the effort, and rise above the noise. When you are applying for a job, have the hunger to teach yourself if you want to get into digital marketing. Take your self-education seriously and when you are applying, don’t just submit a resume, especially if it has no experience. But show the effort, whether in a video or a document that you put together showing that you want this job and are hungry to learn.
We have a client that manufactures iron doors. He had bought this business from someone who had no online presence. He was more word of mouth. So he bought this business and it came with a website, but no digital marketing presence. He found us and I think it’s been a few years since we started helping him with all his stuff. Facebook ads, SEO, Google ads, and content. It’s not just us. The results have been very good, but he also has a very good sales process and a very good product in demand. It’s just blowing up now for him. Now he has three locations. More leads than he can handle. And it has been a really good marriage between us.
My favourite bad food is pizza. My favourite good food is a salad. So pizza and salad.
My favourite season is spring.
I don’t eat breakfast like right now I am starving. My favourite meal is dinner, especially now because we get to do a lot more family dinners. Not trying to sound like a dad of the year here but the truth lands true. We get to do more dinners together because I am home more and it’s just the way things work out with the pandemic and the new arrangement. So I will say dinner.
Yourself. Your personal growth. Do a morning routine. Consume positive content, audible book, podcast, and take your personal growth seriously.
Thanks, Matt. It was great talking to you. Thanks for having me on. I can be found on two websites. The morning upgrade is morningupgrade.com. And Ballantine the marking agency is Ballantine.com.
You too. Thanks, Matt. Thanks, everyone.
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