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For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser is joined by Tyler Mandroian, Vice President of Operations at Refract ROI. Tyler covered a number of essential digital marketing strategies for promoting small businesses. Watch the episode now!
Just be who you are. Being who you are will set you up for much more success than trying to be what everyone else wants.
Thank you, Matt.
Oh, my gosh. Years and years of hard lessons, I would say. Learning how to be an adult for one year at Arizona State University, lots of stories there that I should probably remember. But most of it was really coming to me as a matter of focus in organization and something that we talk about the agency is it’s one of the aspects of focus that we want to have and we want to train and we want to allow our staff to have to. And one of those reasons why I’d tell you, I was probably the least organized person on the planet, coming into my professional world. Now anyone that I work with will tell you I’m probably the most organized that they interact with. And it’s one of those things where I would say I’m lucky enough to have the foresight, I’m lucky enough to have been around people that are willing to tell me my hobbies and things I need to really focus on and build. So, by focusing on those weaknesses, that’s where I got stronger in my career.
You know, it’s a great question. I don’t think there’s a wrong or right approach to that. Certainly, it made sense to work on my weaknesses. I think that I rely enough on my strengths and intuition, if I focused on the things that I did poorly, I was going to raise my overall strength. And now it’s, it’s funny, in my own professional development, I am starting to go the other direction. I’m actually starting to work more on my strengths because I’m realizing developing those things is going to be more beneficial to me at this point.
You know, I’ve always been really interested in marketing and advertising. I mean, since I was a kid watching commercials on TV, I always knew I was going to do something with it. And, growing up in high school and a little bit in college, I was always into computers. I put together the gator towers, took the family computer and rebuilt it probably six or seven times, and kept on for years and years. So, I knew about the Internet, I knew about how to build things, and in a little bit of like, I would never call myself a coder, but I used to take HTML classes and things like that. So, I had this skill set and this interest, and other good stuff like, playing around with photography and getting really into Photoshop. So, those two things started to kind of collide and so I took my first job out of college was a sales job, I was working on the phones and the East Coast. So, I would get up at 4:00 am, get to the office by 6:00 am and smile and dial for 7-8 hours. I realized If I did it for one more week. I was going to do something; it was just draining. I could not do that anymore. So, I decided to go back. Go after something I was passionate about if I was going to be working this much for a living and I took an internship with an ad agency that specialized in doing radio and TV ads. I worked in Radio, and TV broadcasting for traditional advertising, the way we call it today. But at the same time, we had so many small business clients that were trying to figure out how to deal with online marketing. This was, 2009- 2011, a lot of businesses had websites, a lot of them didn’t, and very few of them knew what to do with them. So, we started doing those things and looking into it, and I was setting up Google Analytics, which people never knew about like probably a year after it came out. And so, I just kind of started doing some services with that agency. I got hired out of the agency from a client by one of our clients to run their digital marketing full-time. When they really wanted to invest more into it. And so it just kind of snowballed into this skill, where skill and interest kind of collide with work opportunities, that is where it came in. I found myself doing all kinds of things I wouldn’t think I’d be doing. I mean, I built an e-commerce store from the ground up, 3 and 3 in Arizona. I mean, just things that you wouldn’t think you would end up doing. But when skill and interest made opportunity worth something now.
Incredibly, sure you’re going to learn marketing and advertising things. I just learned so much about business. Just getting the opportunity to talk to small business owners. We worked with a lot of Ashley Furniture home stores. They’re all individually owned. We had some two, three, and four locations. I talked to one person there and I think he had ten. So, you got, just different walks of life and business and I learned a lot just talking and having those conversations. So, you learn a lot about what motivates people behind the decisions they make and my experience there was very formative. I also had an agency at the time that had very little interest in anything that was going on there. So, he was in and out about 10 hours a week.
Yeah. Honestly, trial and error.
Oh, I mean, he just wasn’t very interested in kind of running his business, to be honest.
You know, he had his clients and they trusted him and he just got to me after seeing him work for just a few months, I was pretty surprised by the abrupt level of heading off. And frankly, the level of faith he put into me. I worked my shoes off trying to get to work. And, you know, I learned a lot in the process. Ultimately, I think I ended up selling the agency. I don’t know if they’re still around today.
It worked out for me. And so, I think, anyone who’s grown in digital marketing and what I actually found that was really interesting is my experience there is not necessarily all that unique. The number of people who I’ve talked to who’ve been just thrown into the fire without a lifeline. It’s common, but it’s a really big opportunity for people. I think it’s intimidating but at the same time, I know there are a lot of people that want to.
Well, experience is such a huge part of the equation. I love how much digital marketing training there is now. I mean, there are these courses that are well-prepared. They’ll teach you and all. That accessibility is something I didn’t have when I was coming up. So, when I see people not taking advantage of that, that’s just like, Oh my God, I would have loved for these things to have in my repertoire. But the experience component is so critical to that as well. And I think learning opportunities to combine the two, you’re able to do a class, we are able to do core work within a campaign as well. You know, that experience is really important. When I was at Arizona State, I took one Web development class and I can boil the entire course down to this which is going to W3schools.com. Click on learn HTML and at the end of the course, you make a website. See you in three months, everybody. And it was really that hands-off. So, there’s so much good education out there now that should be taken into consideration. So, learning the ins and outs of how campaigns actually run, it’s no different.
It is, yeah. There are times when we’ve hired someone without a certification, but the first thing that we had them do was go and get that. If only to make sure that all of our team can talk the same language and make sure that if I say, you know, CPC and keyword density or those things don’t make sense to you. You know, I do value them a lot. I think to me, the biggest differentiator is there are not that many things that indicate to someone that you’re actually knowledgeable about digital marketing. A lot of people can talk about the basics and sound knowledgeable. There are very few, especially third-party entities like Google, that are generally well-trusted across the industry. They can go, hey, this person is, you know, X amount smart in this discipline. So, I think the certifications are great if you’re trying to build your career. That’s absolutely where I would tell everyone to start. And I’ve been in interviews for potential employees for us where I’ve said, you know, hey, you might not be a great fit for us, but if you’re looking for your first agency role, you’ll get those certifications because that’s going to show me that you’re putting in the time and effort to demonstrate that expertise and time and effort speaks volumes.
I think it depends on your own educational background and experience. To me, that sounds like a lot. And I think once again, looking for opportunities where you can actually gain that experience is, you know, can you sit in a classroom for four years and learn marketing. Yeah. You’re going to learn a lot doing that. But one of the things that I always talk about so I’ve taught digital marketing for quite a lot of years and one of the things I always talk, I have a little slide that shows it, but I talk about the law of diminishing returns. So, spending too much time in any one particular avenue, you’re just going to get less and less out of it the more and more time you put into it at a certain point. So, I think if everyone thinks about it, where is that inflection point for them? For someone who knows nothing about business or marketing, that might be an amazing course. I don’t know. But if you’re well versed in business and you just need some tweaks going through those certifications where you might spend 40 or 50, 60 hours, maybe in the Google certification stack, if you’ve never spent any time there, that’ll teach you a ton, right? So going pretty high up that curve, so to speak, about large diminishing returns. So, I think it is just spreading yourself out a little bit to make sure you hit all those bases. You’re not just super concentrated in one area.
It’s understanding your audience and there are so many campaigns, so many companies, and so many agencies I’ve worked with, they just sometimes fail to do those basic blocking and tackling steps. A lot of our clients are surprised when we start working with them, the first thing we do is take them through our messaging process and that’s really to understand their buyer’s motivation and why their product solves that problem, and what differentiates them from other products. Everything flows from that conversation. So, keyword research to the KPIs that you’re going to be monitoring to how you want leads to come in, to how you’re going to differentiate between MQL, SQL, and hot lead, or whatever you’re going to call them. You know, and different handoff procedures and all those things. So, everything to me kind of stems from why does the business exist? Most businesses exist to solve problems and so just you get to that root and then you can start building positive things.
Yeah, and I think that’s a great point, Matt. But I also think it’s important to remember that the business owners and the people who started these, knew it at some point. That’s why they would be part of the organization. They know that’s why they got to the point where they are talking to marketers and trying to reinvest those things and so embracing that. Even though a business owner might not know what the USP might mean. And actually, I try really actively to stay away from marketing language and those little insider things because it’s easy to intimidate people with that. And I think, coming in and just asking simple basic questions, listening to the answers is the biggest thing. You’re going to get some of those more original thoughts and then the best thing gonna happen where you actually had a person really fired up about what got them into business in the first place. That’s where you really start to get a lot of work involved in buying motivations and starting the business. I’ve been through hundreds of those conversations. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, oh, we’re unique because we try too hard or we have great customer service. That’s what everyone tries, that’s what everyone else is going to say too. So, what are those motivations that make you guys different then, we could work on presenting those against the rest of the competition so that you look unique.
Exactly. So, if you can’t focus on that buyer, you’re never going to connect to them in a way that they think, I’ve never heard of this company or this website I’ve never been to, can it actually solve my problem? You’re not going to accomplish that. So, people might say great website or really good tracking analytics. It comes down to understanding the buyer.
So, yeah. I mean, how much time have you got, right? I mean, there are about nine years of evolution and stories there. But I’ll summarize by saying, I got to a point where I was lucky enough before I took my initial position with the agency now that I sat on both sides of the desk, working with agencies. I had worked as the owner of marketing or the owner of digital marketing before. And so, my whole goal with joining this organization was actually to trade clients away. I knew that they needed to be traded to see success. And frankly, we just got to the point from a sales and capacity standpoint where I couldn’t do any anymore. I had enough clients, I had enough campaigns I was running. I don’t have a cloning machine, so it came down to the point where I’m going to have to become more efficient and that’s what it came down to. Now, there are a lot of ways of getting efficiency, but if I could do this through other people. Yeah. And I train some of the practices and get people to react in some of these situations the same way I do. And I can ask the right kinds of questions that are going to open up perceptions. And then, frankly, in most agencies and a lot of the ones I’ve done around, there can be a little bit of oppressive environments. You have high egos in the agency. So, it’s my way and so you’ve got to be doing X, Y, and Z. And frankly, giving people the room to make mistakes, to learn things, and to create their own cadence and experiences. And then just talking with them and checking in with them, allowed me to step out of that day-to-day kind of management, bring people into the fold as we could afford and scale it to that point now where I have got a team and nine or ten working in the operations here full time.
Absolutely, I think it’s the coolest thing on the planet. I would have gone about this completely differently but standard operating procedures and the way we call it, just general manufacturing best practices around here, you know, marketing is creative work but I wanted the execution of it to be as boring as humanly possible. And so, what we created and we started like all good business things came from a spreadsheet of tasks and it came from a word document and tasks. Develop the descriptions and when you got to do X, do Y. I had a little bit of a background in technical writing which really helped me. I took a couple of years in college. So very descriptive, unfortunately, long blocks of text to sort of guide people on the technical execution of what we do from SEO because it is complicated, but also just, hey, here’s how to ask those questions at the right time as well. So, weaving those items into a task management system, I mean, they’re a dime a dozen now. Today we use one called Weka, it’s definitely gaining popularity. We’ve been using it for six or seven years.
So that’s kind of everything.
Yeah, I think Citrix does. I mean, honestly, that’s probably why because I’m sure they have a lot more marketing. I love the program because it’s very flexible and it is what we designed for agencies, which actually really appealed to me. But it was designed honestly just for teams and communication. We built our own little templates and tasks and now we have these blueprints that we based on the different teams which will edit as they need to. You know, no good plan survives first contact with the enemy. Right? So, you have to adjust those things as you go through them. But because that baseline understanding is there, we’re doing every client 80 or 90% the same way.
Oh, yeah. I mean, and I’ll tell you right now, it’s the most difficult aspect of my job even today. You have a lot more impacting factors. You have COVID, people want to work remotely. I’m at the office, but we’re only here two days a week. I mean, if you’re 10 hours a week, you know. And it’s just to allow for a better work-life balance like everyone else. I like working from home too but there are those intangibles you get from being here. And so just trying to balance those things out. But to answer your question, sometimes you have to make a decision, that always carries a little bit of risk. There are times when you have to decide whether you’re going to invest in capacity or if you’re going to bank profits for another day. One of the biggest lessons we have to learn at this agency whether it was me or the president and was pretty much legit. We had to learn how to charge what we are worth.
It’s such a big struggle, especially for small agencies and so once you figure that out and, you know, there’s such a price elasticity to what we do. I’ve seen the same website get developed for two grand that I have for 20 grand, you know.
We’re an open book.
I’ll tell you; we learned a lot of hard lessons trying to figure that out. The only thing I’ll plead the Fifth on, so to speak, is the breakup in this agency that happened. That was transformational for us about seven years ago. We had two co-owners and one of them ensured it and the other didn’t. It caused a really big rift, and when I took my position here, I’d summarize the objective as this, which is. In most agencies, it doesn’t matter what you do. You’re going to see operations and you’re going to see sales and there’s almost always conflict between those two. There are almost always. Sales don’t know what operations is. Operations don’t know what sales are doing. Getting those getting that gap bridged, I think is the key to any successful business. I don’t care what you’re doing. For us, it was incredibly important that the products and solutions started coming from operations and not necessarily sales.
So we developed that, right now today we have less. The biggest we’ve ever been is right now, we have fewer products than we’ve ever had. We have four lines of service that we do, web development, SEO, paid search, and content. Those are the four things that we really do and because we actually started focusing on those, we could make it more efficient. Just like you said, I was in a position where I had a balance, my time working in the business and working on the business. Which I’m sure you heard from other people. It’s a tough balance. But, you know, once again, that law of diminishing returns is huge. If I was spending 20% of my time working on the business, that would reduce my time doing those things. So, those upfront time investments that I knew would pay off on the back end were really critical to making myself more efficient so that I could build off time, so I could do those things like hire. And it’s pretty easy and straightforward and actually once again charging what it is that you’re worth, so figuring out that. And I think at a certain point if there are any small agencies listening to this right now trying to figure out how to do this, you just got to take a deep breath, you have to swallow hard and you just gotta do it. You know, you just gotta put the price out there that you think you’re worth and that you’re good enough to justify. Because a lot of people in a lot of small businesses and small agencies get taken advantage of because they don’t charge enough. You have decided it and you can’t do what we were talking about earlier and you can’t charge 15 grand for a $5,000 website.
I watch a medical device company pay $95,000 for a five-page website.
I’m not sure.
There’s not a governing body I’m aware of that really deals with those things. Pricing and services and marketing agreements. I mean, I’m sure if you’re egregious enough, yeah, someone can take you to court over it. But that’s kind of another aspect to get out of small business is you’re going to deal and we’ve talked about this as well, but you’re going to deal with people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do. And learning and understanding that I’ll tell you the other biggest thing that had to happen in order for us to grow is documentation. Documentation and once again, I might be the least organized naturally person on the planet. Everything I do is very well documented.
Well, once again, right. That’s what I had to learn in order to do what I was trying to do and which excited me. I love to learn, I love education. I think when you do it, you keep learning and you’re in the right position. If you’re not learning anymore, you gotta do something else because that’s how I build my own personal equity or whatever you want to call it. But yeah, I found myself really having to focus on those things. I mean, I do way more accounting and financial analysis now than I ever did before. Those are strengths I’ve had a little bit and I had to build on those strengths. I strike a very careful balance now because I don’t want to lose those marketing jobs that I’ve developed over the last several years. So, I make a point of it to maintain at least 20 to 30% of my responsibilities to still consult with clients. I actually am doing it, it’s not a complete volunteer role but I’ve got a small equity stake in the company, and I’m sitting on the board of directors right now for an app and scheduling type. But actually, that’s really a conversation. It shows a self-reflection on how you spend your time. So, across like occupations, and all these, all these different aspects of how you spend your time so you can get the reports and kind of align your own priorities on what you want to be. Your whole reason why I’m doing that is so that I can continue to do that marketing stuff because that’s a skill set, I don’t know, I need to feed my family.
Yeah, I see a lot of individual proprietors who will call them really strong. I won’t mention the name and company, but the one particular web developer I worked with for years. Really knowledgeable guy, very smart, and a very amazing web developer. He really struggled to own and run his own business. Working 80-hour weeks and had one person who he didn’t really have the time to manage or explain things. So, all he was doing was putting out fires and he had them so stretched, so thin, you know, partially because he probably wasn’t charging what he’s worth and probably the team wasn’t setting the lines with his clients on what is the statement of work, this is what I will do and outside of this is going to cause issues because he wanted to earn that work because he wants to say yes to everybody. And you can do those things as a consultant, you can do those things working for another company, but running your own business and not putting out those guide rails and then sticking to them with consistency. It’s a recipe for disaster. Not that you can’t blow yourself out of it if that’s where you’re at. But I’ve seen so many people who are good marketers, great people and have good people skills just fall into that trap because there are so many ways you can go about growing a business. You just gotta focus.
Absolutely. I don’t want to pay for mediocrity, you want to pay someone who is good with what they do to be who you are and it sounds so basic, but I mean, just being who you are is going to set yourself up for so much more success than trying to be what everyone else wants. You’re just going to burn so much time, effort, and energy there. I’ve seen a lot of people lose the fire and passion that got them at this point, the first place where this is what they really wanted to do. And these were things I mean, I was lucky enough to know that the opportunities that I had that I got to see a lot of these lessons be learned. I mean, I’ve learned a lot of them myself, but I think people just get to a point where they just struggle and just don’t know how to get past where they’re at. To me it comes down to focusing back on the basics and marketing is no different in that sense either than business.
Oh, well, there are numerous ways we have our new sites coming up live about the time when we’re expecting this podcast to come out, and its refractROI.com
I am on LinkedIn. Yep, Tyler Mandroian, and I’m sure everyone knows how to spell it. I’ll be happy to connect with anyone or answer any questions. Honestly, this is what I do, day in and day out.
Matt, this has been great. Thank you so much.
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