Building an 80 Person SEO Agency with Andrew Raso

In this weeks episode, we’re sitting down with Andrew Raso, a 27 year old SEO from Sydney. Over the last 4 years, Andrew and his business partner Mez, have built up an 80 person search marketing agency, running out of offices in Sydney, Melbourne, San Diego, and Belgrade.

In this episode, we cover:

  • The best thing you can do if you’re just starting out on your own
  • How to hire rockstar sales people for your agency
  • The biggest mistake Andrew has made while scaling his agency
  • How to know when it’s the right time to hire your first employee

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Links and Resources Mentioned:

Transcription:

Daryl Rosser: What’s up, guys? Daryl here. Welcome back to another episode of The Lion Zeal Show. For this episode, I brought in Andrew Raso, who owns an agency out in Sydney, named Online Marketing Gurus.

Now, these are an SEO agency, or search marketing primarily, so paid traffic and SEO organic, but this really interested the chat room today because he’s running the agency now that has four different offices and around 80 employees. This isn’t a one-man company with five different contractors or whatever. It’s a real business, with multiple offices and a decent amount of employees that are really, really scaling.

It was really interesting to get that different perspective of someone that’s really built their agency out, versus someone that’s kinda running with five, 10 clients and making decent money, sure, but it’s a very, very different type of thing. It really depends on what you personally want to build. It’s very interesting to get a perspective. We talk a lot about hiring, about systemizing, and about really how to scale to that size.

Completely different business really, to someone that’s running an operation with 10, 20 clients that they’re running completely solo. Let’s go into the interview. I’m sure you guys are gonna get a lot out of this, especially if you’re interested in really just scaling up, ramping up your agency and get it as big as you possibly can. Let’s go into it. Hope you guys enjoy.

All right, Andrew, what’s up, man? Thanks for coming on the show.

Andrew Raso: No worries man. Thanks for having me.

Daryl Rosser: Do you want to start out, for anyone that doesn’t know who you are, as an introduction as to who you are and what you do these days?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, cool man. My name’s Andrew Raso. I’m one of the co-founders and directors of a global search marketing agency, with a few offices around the world, Sydney, Melbourne in Australia, San Diego in California in the U.S. and also got quite a lot of jobs in eastern Europe, in Serbia. We run a SEO and paid search consulting, consulting businesses serving small businesses, to very large enterprise level clients.

I knew it would grow to be pretty big. We haven’t been around for that long. I think we’ve been around for about four years now. Now just started sort of trying to push my personal brand. I’m pretty young, I’m only 27, so we’ve done quite a bit in such a short time, so I’m trying to educate and help young entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses, as well as launching a few other side businesses, from literally selling phone cases to selling supplements.

Daryl Rosser: Wow.

Andrew Raso: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting, man.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome, man. I’m quite curious about the agency, ’cause I know a lot of people that’ll be listening to this are building up their own agencies. I think I may have saw it on your website, how big is your team now? You have four offices, you said.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. I think we’re about 80. We’ve gone to about 80 staff now.

Daryl Rosser: Nice.

Andrew Raso: The main … The departments are based out of Sydney. Sydney was actually the first office we launched, and also eastern Europe. I’m based out of the Sydney office. I think we’ve got about 30 staff here, and we’ve got roughly, I think, about 20 or 25 staff based out of eastern Europe, and the remainder is spread out through Melbourne and San Diego.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. Let’s backtrack a little bit. I think it will be more interesting ’cause a lot of people may hear those sort of numbers and freak out when they’re building their agency, going from one to 80. You said you started it four years ago. How did you get into that business?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, good question, man. Actually, I think we started … The idea came about about four years ago. I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I think we’ve been full time in this company about three years, so it’s been pretty big growth since we’ve gone full time. I started … I worked for a few other search companies, realized what they do good, what they do, and then leveraged a lot of our learnings from that onto the Online Marketing Gurus, and I guess it’s been pretty smooth sailing since then.

I guess smooth sailing is one way to put it. There’s been a lot of learnings, but now we’ve been able to get the process right, the systems right, get our team pretty happy. The culture’s pretty strong here, so yeah, I guess it’s just finding out what’s working at other companies, and then you work on and take the good and the bad and then a lot of trial and error.

Daryl Rosser: Gotcha. You have a background in working for a search marketing agencies. You didn’t start out on your own, did you?

Andrew Raso: No. Initially, I was going to start out on my own, and I realized really quickly there was a lot of learnings that I needed, so I grabbed a business partner, Mez, who is my day-to-day business partner, and then from then on in, I think we got two initial advisors and investors that helped us along the way, so mentors. I think mentors play a huge impact into growing any business, especially guys that have been there and done that, so here we had a few mentors. We built a board, and then we’ve been able to grow quite significantly for the first 12, 18 months with them onboard. Then, we outgrew them, and we’re able to take it on from then, with just us two.

Daryl Rosser: That is awesome. I think the mentors thing is huge. A lot of people would benefit from that.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. It takes a lot of the learnings that you would otherwise fail on early on, because been there, they done that, they’ll be able to give you advice. As a young person, you think you know everything, and it’s not like that. You really know almost nothing.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: The mentors, the business advisors will help you make the right decisions, will start without making the mistakes. Either way you’re gonna learn it. It just speeds up the process.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. Awesome. You left your old agency; you started this new agency, Online Marketing Gurus, which you’re running now with your current business partner. You got some mentors, investors, and the like. Did you immediately go out there, get an office, start hiring people, or was there a different process? How did that work?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, look, I guess the beautiful thing about SEO and a lot of online marketing is they pay you in advance, number one. Number two, part of our agreement with the investors and the advisors was we could use their office space.

Daryl Rosser: Oh, okay. Okay.

Andrew Raso: We used the office space. It was literally just us two. We were just on the phone, selling. That’s it. As soon as we got clients, then we looked to hire people, so we could stick to what we’re good at and add some … Bringing on new clientele.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. You said, on the phones, selling, were you literally … Were you cold calling? Were you … Was it inbound leads? How did that work?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, man. Literally, there’s a thousand and one ways to generate leads. Number one is to call every single person you know and let them know about your service and if they know anyone that would be interested in your service. Number two was to find out different partners that could on-sell and upsell your services, so web design agencies, content agencies, big media outlets. We’re on the phone to them. The other one is just family and friends sending you work on a regular basis, but it doesn’t stop the hustle, hustle. The more phone calls you make, the higher chance of someone is to say yes to a meeting and to accepting your service.

Daryl Rosser: Definitely. Awesome. Originally, by the sounds of it, you started off by calling people, everyone you possibly could, like old friends, family, getting clients, and which point … How long was it between the period when you started doing that and you eventually got to the point of hiring the first ever employee, aside from yourselves?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, I think it was about six months into having the company, I think we had our first full time employee. We had a few contractors that were doing fulfilment work for a lot of our documentation.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: Prior to that. I think it was about six months until we decided it would be a good idea to get someone full time.

Daryl Rosser: What sort of revenue numbers were you at at that time, if you can disclose that or remember what it was?

Andrew Raso: Man, I’m not too sure. To be honest, if I had my time again, I wouldn’t’ve taken a wage and put all my profits to hiring someone.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: I think that’s something that people don’t really understand, is that you might not be running a profit for the first 12, 18, 24 months, or what it might be. The whole point of having a business is to grow it, and grow it as quickly as possible, without being detrimental to your clients and to your actual work. I think hiring that and sorting that out early on will allow you to grow quite significantly in the long run.

Daryl Rosser: I think that makes sense. If you were starting over again, you would, never mind being profitable, presuming you had the cash there invested to do it, you would start hiring one person straightaway, or would you start hiring as much as you could?

Andrew Raso: Number one is you hire people that can get you out of doing the mediocre stuff. We don’t really like doing accounting, so we hire people to accounting. You want to scale the business more, let’s hire some salespeople. It depends what you’re good at. You’re always really good at a few different things.

There’s usually … You have a main strength, whether it’s sales or whether it’s service delivery, whether it’s technical consulting, whatever it might be, you need to hire people with quick smart to be able to take that job over for you. That’s either you get a business partner, or you hire someone to do it. That’s the only thing. Yes, if I had my time again, I would hire people a lot quicker and be able to scale my business a lot quicker than what I actually did.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. What is it that you would say you’re good at in your business?

Andrew Raso: What is it that I do, what’s that?

Daryl Rosser: What is it that you’re particularly good at? What’s your strong points with your business?

Andrew Raso: Yeah. Me and my business partner are actually both from a sales background. We’ve both actually sold in the past. The beauty about what we’re really good at is we can … We’re both technical; we can both explain technical aspects of the business and our service and can actually both sell. We’re both people pleasers, so we definitely have a benefit of both. What we’re not good at is we’re not good at doing the mediocre admin tasks, the accounting stuff. It’s just not what we really want to be focusing on. Thankfully, we’re both salespeople, so that’s what we’re focused on.

Daryl Rosser: Gotcha. Actually, that’s an interesting point. Because you have a sales background, do you think it made it easier to hire someone to help with sales? I know a lot of people are very, very technical, and they really struggle with sales, so they really struggle growing a business in that part.

Andrew Raso: I think still to this day it’s hard finding salespeople. I think it’s easier to find technical people than salespeople, so we don’t have a huge sales department to this day. Mez and I are still selling on the regular basis because we want to make sure we’re bringing the right clients that hold the right values, and I think it’s always good for a director to be involved in that.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: However, I do know what works when hiring a salesperson, and there’s definitely a process towards that. It’s not like someone’s coming in, and they’re trying to teach themselves. We can provide a lot of their knowledge of what we learned in the past, and we can also teach them about technical. It’s a technical pre-sales process is pretty much sorted from the day that they come on board.

Daryl Rosser: Gotcha. Without going through the whole process, ’cause we don’t have all day, but could you name, say, three traits that you like to look for when hiring a salesperson?

Andrew Raso: Yeah. When you’re hiring a salesperson, number one, and this is very, very important, it doesn’t matter if they’re 12 years old or they’re 70 years old, if they can communicate, and they can communicate well, I think that’s super important. I don’t think they have to be very technically-minded. Whether they know SEO or they don’t, I don’t think that’s usually important. Of course, it’s a benefit if they have a background in the service that you offer, but I don’t think it’s super important. You definitely need to be a sort of peoples person that communicate quite well. They need to be very motivated, especially in sales.

You can get rejected 100 times a day, but one person will welcome you in. The days we used to call people and get sworn out, and leave me alone, and blah, blah, blah. Online marketing has a negative connotation to it. Unfortunately, you’re coming up against people that are spamming, emails and phone calls, so you need to come across in a very, very different way, if you’re going to book that meeting.

I think another one is you need to generally be able to say the right things at the right time. You need to know closing questions. You need to explain even the technical component. You need to be able to say the right thing at the start of the meeting. You need to dress appropriately for the right type of person. There’s all little components that come into play when you’re a good salesperson. I think what it really comes down to is you being able to communicate very well and clear and precise, and you need to present yourself well as well. If you’ve got that, then you can sell anything.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. That is good advice. I know a lot of people are interested in hiring salespeople. There’s a question that came through. I thought it was pretty good. Someone asked, “Do you feel your mind set has drastically changed from hiring your first staff member to the,” and you said you’re at 80-ish or so now.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. 110%. Even every day, not only hiring people, the lessons you learn in business and the challenges you face today is going to be completely different to the challenges you face in one year. Whether you’re hiring a consultant, or whether you’re hiring an in-house, full time person, it all changes. There’s an old saying that says, “Shortlist based on skillset; hire based on culture,” and I think that’s super, super important.

You could have the smartest person in the world who doesn’t get along with the rest of the team, and it’s not gonna be a good fit. It’s almost gonna be like a cancer. It’s gonna pass on to other employees, and they’re gonna be less motivated for it. Get someone who fits in with the culture of your business and teach him what you need to teach him. Once you’ve done that, you’re basically sorted.

Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome. I guess that’s more and more of a thing you need to think about as the company is bigger now, where you really have to think about maintaining that culture there.

Andrew Raso: Oh man, it’s super important. Our culture has changed drastically over the 12 months. I’m very proud of my team. I’m very happy with the team that I got, and we’re very careful with the people we bring on. Initially, we were just bringing people on ’cause we’re growing that fast, we needed to people to fill, but that wasn’t right. If I had my time again, I would make sure I was very careful of bringing on the right people, and I wouldn’t be stuffing around with hiring people for the sake of it.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. When you first started hiring, what position was that? Was that the accounting positions and things like that where you weren’t that good at?

Andrew Raso: I think the first full time person we hired was starting to actually help run the SEO campaign from a technical perspective.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: We had contractors prior, from accounting to consulting to content writers to development. We already had those as contractors, but the first full time person was someone to manage the campaigns from end to end, from link out position to onsite to content writers, I guess the project manager, so to say.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Actually, a interesting question about agency staff. A lot of people seem to hate clients. They don’t like having clients message them all the time, asking them questions, asking to change things. Do you have a lot of hassle, I guess, with clients? It’s not really a good word to portray, but do you have a lot of questions from clients and staff that message all the time, or do you have systems in place to kind of prevent it from becoming too much?

Andrew Raso: Look, we work in a business where we need to keep clients happy.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: If the client is not happy or they feel like they’re not getting enough communication, they’re gonna leave our support, simple as that.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: Of course, we have clients that want to be communicating a lot. That’s normal. We also have clients that are super happy with the results, which we barely communicate with, so it’s always going to be your good with your bad, and it’s the way it is. Generally speaking though, we would know if a client is going to be bad as soon as we talk to them in the sales process. 99% of the time-

Daryl Rosser: You have a vibe.

Andrew Raso: You get a vibe, ’cause they’re very demanding. If the values aren’t there, if their expectations are very, very high, and you know they’re gonna be bad clients, so you do push back a lot. We make sure the expectations are set, from initial stages in the campaign, so it’s not getting out of control later down the track. That’s why a lot of directors need to get involved. A lot of time, directors need to get involved in the pre-sales process, in any campaign.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. With the SEO side of things, a lot of people, not everyone watching this, but a lot of people are very technical, so they understand quite a lot about SEO. What sort of … Without going into everything, what sort of services do you provide with the SEO side of things?

Andrew Raso: Look, it’s not too huge a difference to what other companies … I find that only … Our biggest difference is everything is done manually.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: From our link out position, to our development, to our content writers, everything is done in-house, and everything is done manually. We built up a huge amount of relationships with publicists, with web masters.

We’re very, very creative when it comes to acquiring things, whether we’re doing interviews, infographics, ebooks, we can do all that stuff in-house, whereas a lot of other SEO companies, and online marketing companies, can’t. They know what the right idea of what an SEO company should do, but they don’t have the team scaled and ready to go, whereas we do, which is why we can be creative; we can be very agile; and we can be very fun with making our client grow.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. That makes sense. You think that helped you grow the agency to what it is and get a lot of the clients, or do you have a unique selling point or something that you think that’s really helped you grow?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, with all our campaigns, there’s no cookie cutter approaches. With any client that comes in, we go to our customer strategies, custom presentations, custom sessions for our client from start to finish. If you’re spending time and actually doing this, and you’re not just sending a blanket proposal, the client’s gonna appreciate it.

We show the client we know what we’re doing before they even come on board and before they sign up with us, and I think that’s also very, very important, is actually spending the time and doing our research. It’s like anything. If you wanted to go buy something, and you’re specially consulting, and there’s 100 different options out there, what’s gonna make you buy from one compared to the other one? They gotta actually spend the time, understand the business, and even if it’s a little bit more expensive, they’re not gonna mind because they know you know what you’re doing.

Daryl Rosser: For sure. Before you ever get a client, you’re actually doing some research; you’re actually putting together a little plan or something of what exactly you need to do for them.

Andrew Raso: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. We run our own custom strategy sessions with everyone, help the client see all the research we’ve done, go from a technical result, and a lot of the times, we actually sit down, and we’ll sit down with our senior technical consultant and put together a presentation, even if it takes an hour, or two hours, three hours, we don’t mind.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: We have the team scale. It means we’re bringing on the right type of client as well.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. That’s really cool. What sort of client sizes you work with, in terms of the budget that they have for SEO?

Andrew Raso: Usually, we don’t take on any clients under a few thousand dollars a month because of how much actually work goes into play, but we service smaller clients up until large enterprise level clients. It definitely depends on what they want.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. Is there a big difference in a, say, a local client, spending a few thousand dollars a month to a big, larger, corporate client?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, the difference is huge. Yeah, the service is completely different. Whether they want a regular SEO campaign or whether they want a full-blown SEO campaign with creative elements, such as custom callers trying to use manual outreach, there’s a lot of different things that come into play when you’re servicing an enterprise level campaign, rather than just a small, local business that wants the rank, in the local market.

Daryl Rosser: What about the sales process of actually acquiring a client like that?

Andrew Raso: Completely different as well.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: It’s a completely different. You’re not gonna be able to sign a client for 40, 50 thousand dollars a month with a blanket proposal. It’s not gonna happen. Usually, we’ll have three or four of our technical consultants sit in on the meeting and put together a custom strategy.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. I have another question that came through that I quite liked. Someone asked, “What was the biggest challenge with scaling your business to what it is today?”

Andrew Raso: People, man. 110%, it’s people. Hiring the wrong people, not training the right people, it all comes down to people. If you put in your resources and your absolute love to your people, and your staff, they will help your business grow. They will help your business expand. If you don’t, and you try and get big profit margins and everything like that, then you’re gonna run in some troubles.

Daryl Rosser: Okay, so hire the right people; treat your people right. You’re talking about your team and everything like that.

Andrew Raso: Exactly right. Exactly right. Everything’s about your team. Everything is about your team. Without that, I got nothing. That’s why I appreciate them. I give them so many more benefits and loves.

Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome. Yeah. I completely agree. With hiring people, are you hiring people that are … I know for some things, like for sales, you said you need to be a natural people person, but you don’t need to have SEO experience, are you hiring people that understand SEO and are very good at technical stuff already, or are you kinda training them up in your own ways?

Andrew Raso: There’s pros and cons to both. Sometimes, when we’re even hiring people, we’re even hiring people that … They’ve got experience, are stuck in their ways, and they can’t learn how to do proper SEO, especially as it’s changing quite dramatically. Even when the research development team would pass on the knowledge on to them, they just don’t want to learn.

A lot of the times we’ve hired great people by just getting graduates and training them up, because they’re willing to learn. They’re inquiring about the industry. It’s all new to them, so they haven’t got any bad connotations in their head to start off with. It’s a mixed bag, but I’ve found finding someone that’s got no experience and training the up is definitely gonna be beneficial.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, that makes sense. I know there’s a lot of outdated SEOs and stuff, especially when hiring assistants, and stuff like that, contractors, I mean.

Andrew Raso: For sure. For sure.

Daryl Rosser: Here’s some other questions. Quite a few interesting questions that came through. Most people are about staff and … Systems is a really interesting topic. Do you have … You said you train some people, do you have a lot of detailed systems for the approach you take to ranking clients?

Andrew Raso: Look, I don’t think there’s any detailed systems. There is a process that everyone needs to follow.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: Once again, everything is completely custom. I’ve been keeping my documentation all saved up and locked up and how account managers should speak to their clients, to how someone should do a research and a mapping document, everything is noted, but keeping in mind that things could change on a weekly, monthly, daily process. We need to be careful with actually setting specific guidelines on how people should do things. Definitely, the basic guidelines are there.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. What about with managing all the projects? Do you have … I know a lot smaller agencies, like my own, we have crazy amounts of Excel worksheets, where we’re managing everything, moving all the data around. It gets a little bit insane. Do you have a lot of data that you have to move around all the time? How do you kinda keep track of everything?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, man, we’ve got heaps of systems put into place for that. We’ve got head of departments that look after a certain department of the client, whether it’s looking after the ranking reports or whether they’re looking after the commentary, so there’s people who look after specific aspects, but everything is all documented in one video.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. What about with client results? I presume not every client, as much as you try to, not every client is gonna get results. Is that true?

Andrew Raso: No, every client gets results.

Daryl Rosser: Every-

Andrew Raso: No, I’m just joking. Not every client gets results. A high majority of those clients get results, but look, there is some cases where the things are just out of our reach, whether the site goes down, whether something happens, whether the industry changes, there’s times you just can’t get client results. That’s the industry we work in. As long as we put in all the effort, we definitely done right by the client and everything we can do to get results, then that’s important. I think a lot of clients tend to understand that as well, that nothing is guaranteed in this market.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, definitely. I was kinda curious, what would you do at that point? If it’s been six months, for example, and the client just isn’t getting the results that you expected, how do you handle that?

Andrew Raso: There’s lots of different ways to handle that. It depends … Are the expectations wrong? Are the expectations right?

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: Has the competition got more fierce? Do we need more budget? Usually we sit down with our team, and we actually try and work that out best we can, and it really depends on what happens at that period of time.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: It would depend on what decision we’re gonna make.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. What about the fear some people have, I’m not sure you have this, but the fear that SEO is dying or is changing. I know the whole SEO is dead talk happens every single year, at least, but do you have some sort of fear that within a couple years, some of the practices you’re doing for clients will actually be negative, versus positive?

Andrew Raso: Being natural, there’s no way you can be negative, or anyone could look at it negative because we apply a lot of what people do offsite online, so I don’t believe that it’s going to be outdated, or negative, for that matter.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: However, it does change. It does change on a regular basis. We’re probably one of the only companies in Australia that has a head of research and development team that’s constantly trying and testing new strategies, and adapting it, because if you don’t adapt, you die. I see companies do that all the time. They’re big agencies, and they’re not adapting to what’s working, and they’re gonna get hard on a regular basis. They’re the ones that die. Companies come in all the time, and they leave just as quickly as they came out. If you’re not creative and you’re not staying on top of it, then yes, you are going to die.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. That’s actually interesting that you have a whole research team. I think all the best SEOs I know have these teams or at least tests that they’re doing all the time to really stay on track of everything.

Andrew Raso: Yup. Super important, man.  Especially with something you don’t have 100% control of. You need to be able to try and test it and seeing what’s working.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. Cool. Your role today, is that mostly just on the client acquisition, or how do you manage things today?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, a lot of the head of departments actually report directly to me.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: Then, I look after enterprise sales as well, so making sure we bring on the largest type of clients and the right type of clients, and also managing, obviously, the sales team and the other head of departments of the company.

Daryl Rosser: Obviously, you’re not in the trenches, ranking some sites anymore. Your departments take care of that.

Andrew Raso: Yeah, it’s been a few years. I know how to do it, but it’s not something I need to necessarily do.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. How was it, at least initially, starting to step back from all this stuff? I know a lot of people struggle with this, where they used to do it for themselves.

Andrew Raso: Man, it’s one of those things … I think I read a book called the Cashflow Quadrant a few years ago, and it’s like a lot of people get stuck in sort of the employee mentality, but you need to move over to the business owner side of things. It’s hard. It’s definitely not easy, and you lose clients in that sort of process, but it’s the only way you can scale a greater business. There literally is no other way. You can’t stay in that department forever. It’s not gonna happen.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. On the topic, you said you will lose some clients while you’re doing this, did that happen initially, or was that a fear initially? At first it was just you and your business partner, so you were on the phones. You got all the clients and everything. I presume they deal directly with you because there was no one else. When you started hiring people and pushing that back, was there a backlash? What happened?

Andrew Raso: Man, look, it’s the way it is. We’ve had instances where we’ve literally had to hire new account managers, or SEO specialists, or whatever it might be, and then we need to give one of those clients to the new account manager, because we don’t have any other staff or we’ve promoted someone or something along those lines, and the clients left because they’re not speaking to their account manager anymore.

It stinks, but what do you do? Do you keep with the account manager, or do you need to move it over to someone else, so you can scale and grow the business? As long as you’re not losing account managers because you’re not treating them right, or SEO people because you’re not treating them right, then, there’s really not much you can do. It’s all for the long-term of the business.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. You have to just accept it for the long-term growth.

Andrew Raso: Exactly.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. How many … Not account managers, sorry, different department heads do you have then? Just out of curiosity, and what different departments do you have?

Andrew Raso: You have your accounts; you have your operations; you have your head of SEO; you have your head of paid; you have your head of sales; I think it’s like five or six different departments that will always be there. Probably as you continue to grow and offer more services, then you have your different department heads that will head up different parts of the business.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. Is there any particular order you kinda need to hire them, or is it just purely based on, not heads, so you just start building out these separate departments. Is it based on your weaknesses, or is there a certain way you think you should start outsourcing or hiring first?

Andrew Raso: There’s lots of different books and lots of different information that you can look at different hierarchies of business, but the structure there is always pretty much the same. I guess, as you continue to grow the business, as you continue to see what you need, it always opens up, okay, we need another account manager because this one …

We have too many clients, and we need another SEO person because we’re bringing on too many clients a month. There’s always different aspects you’ll look at at that given period of time in the business world. The structure and hierarchy always remains pretty similar.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. It kinda becomes obviously, just as you grow in that, it opens up. We need someone to help us with this.

Andrew Raso: Exactly right. Exactly right.

Daryl Rosser: Cool. Let me pick another question from the list of people that submitted some. People asked about mentors and books and stuff. Will you … You said you had the mentors originally. Were you big on learning stuff, reading books and stuff, before you got into this?

Andrew Raso: Man, you have to always be learning and educating yourself. If you’re not part of the SEO team or not part of a particular department, it’s always good to read and learn. If you’re not reading and learning, and growing as a person, then you’re pretty much not gonna be growing the company because everything’s gonna get stagnant. You always need to be learning and educating yourself. I constantly buy courses, and I constantly read books, I constantly grow, not only as a person, but also learning about different services in the industry. Yeah, man, it’s always very important to learn and accept that you need to grow as a person if you’re gonna grow the company.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. I completely agree. Could you name, say, two or three books that you think have had a big impact on the way you run your business today?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, the first one I would say would be Cashflow Quadrant. That’s huge, ’cause it helps you understand how to go around the four cycles, from employee to employer to business owner to investor. That’s hugely important and why some people can’t go across, from one side to the other. Then you got Rich Dad Poor Dad.

Rich Dad Poor Dad, I think it’s the sort of bare bone of a lot of people, to understand about business and to understand to not get stuck in a certain mind set. The 4-Hour Workweek, that’s hugely, hugely important because you shouldn’t always be stuck in doing the same thing day in, day out. You should outsource as much as you can, depending on what’s being good for you and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That’s cool. I’m actually a big fan of 4-Hour Workweek as well. It’s a really good book.

Andrew Raso: Yeah, it’s a great book.

Daryl Rosser: What was your takeaways from that, in terms of lifestyle? If you have a big team like that, can you still have a life outside of the business?

Andrew Raso: For sure, man. The reason I have a big team is ’cause I can … If I didn’t have a big team, and I wanted to make more money or whatever it might be, then I wouldn’t have the lifestyle that I can lead. If I wanted to leave tomorrow to go away for a week or two weeks, whatever, man, the business wouldn’t fail. Of course, I would still keep an eye on it, but there’s a lot of people that if they went away for a few weeks, the business will start going backwards.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: Thankfully, I’ve set up the business in a way that it’s not the case.

Daryl Rosser: Okay, so in terms of thoughts of how you manage your work and everything, how many … It varies, obviously, depending on what you want to do personally, but how much hours are you working per day to run your side of what you work on?

Andrew Raso: You don’t need to work 100 hours a week. I think we’ve done that. We worked 100 hours a week in the initial stages to build the company.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: If you’re working 100, 120 hours a week, and you’re owning a business, I think you’re doing the wrong thing. Of course, you should always be hustling and education yourself, and there’s no doubt about that, but, as I said, you don’t work a huge amount of time.

You could be working a few hours in the morning, a few hours during the day, and a few hours in the afternoon, or a few hours at two o’clock in the morning, whatever it might be, just as some experience to your head, but you’re working the normal hours, but it doesn’t mean it’s always completely consistent from day in, day out.

You might work seven days. It all depends on what happens and what needs you and what you’re gonna do with the business. If you’re really gonna continue to push and grow, then yes, of course, the matter of hours you work in a week is gonna be quite hard, because you’re still gonna be hustling day in, day out to continue to grow the business.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: At a very fast rate. In saying that, you can still hire people to work hours outside of what you’re doing, to help you grow the business quicker. As a business owner, you shouldn’t necessarily be working 100 hours, two, three years down the track. That means you pretty much haven’t done the right thing to actually grow it to a good point where you don’t need to.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, that makes sense. Is that a big revelation as you started your business, that you didn’t have to do all these hours that initially you’re putting in?

Andrew Raso: It’s interesting, man. It’s definitely interesting, but you think you always need to be working all these hundreds of hours, hundreds of hours, hundreds of hours, but it’s not true. If you find the right people to run different departments, then you’re sitting pretty.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. Yeah, I think that’s the benefit of hiring people. It’s the complete opposite. A lot of us like to have VAs and stuff and to really try and cut down our hours by systemizing and using VAs, but having a proper team allows you to literally disappear for a little while, and everything’s still running.

Andrew Raso: Exactly right. Exactly right.

Daryl Rosser: I guess, with you being able to leave for a while, for a couple weeks or whatever, and it still run smoothly, you have a lot … The difference between hiring contractors and hiring an in-house team is that your team is very, very competent at what they do. They don’t need you, if I say, to every single time say, “Do this. Do this. Do this.” They know how to run it.

Andrew Raso: Yeah, or they know the right person to report to.

Daryl Rosser: Gotcha. Yeah.

Andrew Raso: I don’t want people reporting to me for basic stuff, and if that’s the case, they’re either reporting to the wrong person, or I haven’t put the structure in place that they report to the right person.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Is there any books or courses stuff that helped you with building up that team structure that you have today, or was that mentors, or what?

Andrew Raso: Man, a lot of it … For me, it was a lot of trial and error.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: It wasn’t necessarily books. Books aren’t gonna teach you how to manage people better. They’re not. They’re gonna teach, “Oh, okay, maybe you can do this, and do this, and do this,” but people are all pretty much the same.

We all have a heart. We all have two arms, two legs, a head, a brain, everything else comes with it. People just want to be cared about. By speaking to a lot of people and how they manage their people, and even if you’ve got 700 staff or a thousand or whatever it might be, if you take the time to learn your employees from the start and your team members and treat them like they want to be, not below you by any stretch of the imagination, they’re gonna stay with you.

If you’re a good coach, they’re gonna stay with you. Even if, as I said, I grow to a thousand people, I’m gonna know the background story of each one of my employees, so if they, in three months, start kicking ass, I know what to get them as a present. There’s a lot of things you need to know about your employees, and that’s also very, very important, because they want to know why you’re doing it and what the background and the goals of the business is.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes sense. Yeah, again, it’s coming back to that point of just treating your team, your employees, very, very well.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. I knew how I was treated, and I wasn’t necessarily treated the best in my last positions, so I took a lot of the learnings on what I didn’t like and what I liked and passed it on to my team members.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Okay. Let’s talk about client acquisition. That’s a big topic. As a guess, and I don’t know your business at all, would you say that a lot of it comes from referrals?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, look, a lot of it comes from referrals now.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: ‘Cause we are a good name in the industry, we have good reputation, a lot of it comes from referrals, from our friends, from our family, from our current clients. In saying that, we’re still trying to rack our marketing a little bit now, trying to educate the community, and educate people that have businesses to eventually trust us with our services as well. The majority does come from referrals, yeah.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Aside from referrals then, what would be the methods that you’re using to bring in the most clients, or the most effective ones?

Andrew Raso: What we do for our clients, what we do for ourself, we work really well online for SEO. We do paid search marketing. They’re the two main services that work well for our clients, and they also work well for us.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes sense, so actually ranking SEO, then error in the areas you talked in and stuff like that.

Andrew Raso: Exactly, right. Yeah, we rank first for SEO in New South Wales. In Sydney, which is our main market. We rank first for SEO Sydney in Sydney, so that’s our main market that we’re pushing.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. Putting your money where your mouth is.

Andrew Raso: That’s it, man. Yeah, if we can do it for ourselves, we can do it for other people.

Daryl Rosser: When someone searches for SEO … I’ve seen a lot of terms that have a decent search volume like that, like SEO of an area, but ranking top for them doesn’t seem to generate that many calls. It seems like most of the people searching it seem to be competitors.

Do you have a lot of people that will go to the site and then call you up straightaway, or do you have some sort of clever lead generation techniques and stuff you use in your site? How do you turn that search into actual prospects that you can talk to?

Andrew Raso: It’s a number game at the end of the day. If you’re getting good numbers, a good of numbers to the site, there’s going to be people who are gonna be converting. There’s doubt about that. However, when moving more, as I said, educating our customers, getting with …

Doing webinars with our clients, giving away eBooks, giving away white papers and then building up a database where we can educate them. That’s what we’re gonna be pushing for a little bit later in the year and towards the start of next year. At the moment it’s just yeah, we’re getting a good amount of traffic to the site, and some of them are then converted into good clients.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. That makes sense. In terms of, it’s kind of the same topic, your clients and consumers, is it ever, or do you ever have it these days, where growing pains with the fact that there’s so many people that want your services that you struggle to cater to them all?

Andrew Raso: Not necessarily. Look, if you’re bringing on 100 clients, 400 clients a month, I could totally understand and appreciate that. Because we have a good amount of staff for the amount of clients we have, I think it’s always been okay where we’ve been able to service them.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Let me look for and pick a last few questions before we start wrapping it up. What was a big mistake you made since growing your agency, that you learned from?

Andrew Raso: Hiring the wrong people. I think I mentioned it before.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, I think so.

Andrew Raso: Hiring the wrong people, just bringing people on for the sake of bringing people on. Man, as I said, if I had my time again, I would’ve hired contractors instead of hiring full time people. You hire the wrong person, it starts to teach other staff members that are in a happy place and poison them, so yeah, hiring people. Take your time; hire the right people.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Andrew Raso: It’s all very important.

Daryl Rosser: What are some reasons that you could’ve hired the wrong person? It could be … You said they didn’t fit the culture. What are some other ones?

Andrew Raso: Yup. The problem is in this day and age is that people can say whatever you want them to hear.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Andrew Raso: Whatever they want to say, or yeah, all these good things in the interview, and they could deliver nothing. That’s the sad thing. Just make sure you take your time; you go through a specific amount of interview questions; you call references; you test them out; you get them to do some documentation; you get them on the phone for a salesperson; go through the whole process before you hire them. That’s something we didn’t do. We just hired people real quick.

Daryl Rosser: Really vet them.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. For sure, man.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. Someone asked, “Why do you have four offices instead of just one?”

Andrew Raso: All our offices depend on what we’re trying to do. For example, in California, Sydney, and Melbourne, they’re all catered to going to see clients, going to visit partners that we currently have, whereas Serbia, it’s just building relationships with web masters and editors and stuff like that, on something that we don’t necessarily need to do locally.

Daryl Rosser: You expanded into different areas like Melbourne and to San Diego purely for client acquisition purposes?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, for client acquisition purposes, or even to visit clients. We’ve got account managers there; we’ve got SEO teams there to go see clients and make sure they put their faces in there.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. Looking through, I don’t think there’s any more questions that we missed out. I think we got most of the good ones there. We got a lot of interesting topics there. Someone asked, “Your daily routine?” I think we kind of covered what you work on that sort of thing as well.

Andrew Raso: Yeah, yeah.

Daryl Rosser: That’s it. Do you want to wrap it up with an interesting tip or something for someone that’s … Say they’ve got three or four clients now, but it’s just one or two people that just run it themselves, like when you first started off, you were doing all the phone calls and everything yourself. What sort of advice would you give to someone that’s in that situation today?

Andrew Raso: Get on the phones. Call every single person you know, and I guarantee you’ll have your first 10 clients in the next few months. You’re guaranteed for. If you’re not keeping busy, activity equals results, and that’s the truth from a sales process. I know it’s dull; I know it’s hard. Even the cold calling industry is very, very tough, but if you’re doing the right approach, you’ll get the right feedback. Just juggle the phones. Make sure you have a targeted approach, and you’ll be fine.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, and it’s really good advice, that you focus on just acquiring clients.

Andrew Raso: Yeah. For sure.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome man. Where can people find you if they want to follow your stuff or take a look at your agency or whatever?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, cool, man. I have my personal website, which is andrewraso.com. I’ve also got my agency website, the main website is onlinemarketinggurus.com.au. Feel free to add me on Facebook with my name follow my Twitter or my LinkedIn, man, there’s lots of knowledge that I’m passing on. There’s a few different mediums you can follow me on.

Daryl Rosser: Okay, final question, and we’ll wrap it up. What is your personal plan with your agency on for the next, say, 12 months?

Andrew Raso: Yeah, man, it could be expanding to different areas. We have clients all around the world that we don’t necessarily have offices in. In Asia, Hong Kong, Dubai, just getting to open up offices around the world. Once I get the process and systems right, 100%, I’m gonna continue to push that.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. All right, man, this has been cool. Thanks for coming on the show. It’s been really fun.

Andrew Raso: No worries. Thanks, Daryl. Thanks for having me.

Daryl Rosser: All right, guys, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I think it was pretty awesome, and I’ll see you guys next week.

Daryl

About Daryl Rosser

Daryl runs a six figure SEO business primarily focusing on local clients. He's extremely analytical, and his favourite ranking strategy is using PBN's.

2 Responses to “Building an 80 Person SEO Agency with Andrew Raso”

  • Sam Romain  October 13, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Very cool, and thanks for coming on the show Andrew!

    I’m curious how long the sales process was with some of those major brands you work with? I would imagine it wasn’t a 2-3 day sales process like we often have with small local clients.

    I also love the fact that you hit the company culture right on the head and kept saying it over and over. I think many people overlook how important company culture is and it truly is everything. I listen to a lot of Gary Vaynerchuck and he talks about company culture as one of the most important things that can help you.. but also hurt you. (https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/category/company-culture/)

    Thanks again, hope to hear more in the future!

  • Andrew Raso  October 14, 2016 at 11:30 am

    You’re exactly right, the bigger brands take weeks, if not months to bring on board. It’s a long term process but it also helps when you get a great introduction 🙂

    Culture, and your team. The single most important aspect to building your company.