How Jesse Built His SEO Agency Without Doing Any Outreach Or Advertising

For episode 15 of the Lion Zeal Show, I’ve brought on my friend Jesse Hanley to talk about the unorthodox approach he’s taken to building his SEO agency.

Rather than using outreach methods such as cold emailing or direct mail, he’s relied on one simple but under-utilised strategy to generate all his leads for free.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Jesse got his first ever SEO client for $5,000/month
  • How to manage your agency while travelling full time
  • How to get clients without outreach, paid traffic, or being an “internet guru”
  • 2 simple steps to getting your first client

Listen to Episode 15

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Any questions for Jesse? Leave a comment below and he’ll try to respond to any within the next couple days.


Daryl Rosser: If you’re looking to take your SEO business to the next level, you’re in the next place. With weekly interviews with SEO experts from around the world, you’re gonna learn exactly what it takes to make money in this rapidly changing industry. This is the Lion Zeal Show.

So in this episode, I brought on my good friend Jesse, who runs an SEO agency. But what’s very interesting about what Jesse’s doing, and also what he’s done, is that he’s built up his agency entirely without using any forms of outreach.

That means no called email and no called calling. No Olympia mail, no direct mail, any of the stuff that is regularly seen as a must-do thing in 2016 and people are talking about this so much in our community today. He isn’t doing any of them.

To top that off, you figure out something else, he’s also not doing Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, or any sort of paid traffic. This is pretty interesting what he’s done, and it’s surprising to most people that you can actually build up a successful agency that will allow you to travel the world full-time simply by doing this one little thing. Let’s cut straight into the interview and Jesse will explain it all to you.

Daryl Rosser: Hi, Jesse, what’s up man? Thanks for coming to the show.

Jesse Hanley: Good, man. Good to be here in Vietnam with you.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, we’re actually sitting here right in my apartment recording this. It’s pretty cool. Do you want to start with a little intro of yourself?’

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, sure. I am an agency owner and a freelance marketer who has a passion for coding. I really like developing and doing a lot of the technical SEO stuff.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. How did you get into the SEO agency stuff?

Jesse Hanley: It’s a pretty long story. I started my whole marketing journey a couple years back. I used to work in a supplant store in Sydney, and I built a website for the supplant company that I was working for. Didn’t really know much, I was just researching myself.

Then over the course of 12 months, I built a pretty good site in Magenta, got it up and running, got hands on, so I decided to learn all the beginner SEO stuff. Then it started to bring in some sales. The boss, actually, invited me to come down and work with him in another city, so I packed up all my stuff, moved to the other city. Turns out he owned whole big group of companies and I kind of got to be under his wing, and he got to coach me on how to run all these different companies. It was a distributor, an economist store.

Daryl Rosser: Wow. It’s like a mentor.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, exactly. We actually ended up acquiring the rights to Gold’s Gym in Australia and I got to be a big part of that in terms of the digital marketing side of things. Cut forward a couple years later, and I was doing all the marketing for this group of companies, and got to do sales and all that. I got an idea in my head that I just wanted to travel.

So I quit. They ended up becoming my first clients, so that’s how I was able to fund myself. Packed up my stuff, I went to Chiang Mai first because it was on the top of Nomad List, if you know it. I started thinking, “Oh, that’s where all these people are going, that have all my businesses. I’m gonna go there.” That kicked off that 12 months of nonstop travel.

Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, that was that. And throughout that travel period, I went to the US, met my amazing business partner there, Fab, in San Francisco. Made a lot of friends, picked up clients along the way. Went to Europe, did the same thing, made friends, met Diggy, which was great. And I’ve kept traveling since, building the agency, building myself.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome, man. You have a really cool story. But that was so much to cover there.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah.

Daryl Rosser: Do you want to go back to leaving your job? Was that terrifying? How did you make that decision to quit?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, how did I make that decision? I think I knew I wanted a change. The great thing with that business is very start up, ground up in the beginning. As we started to grow in scale, I felt like I wasn’t winding up there at the same pace. I guess it was my ego, I was like, “Oh, man, I’m gonna give it a go. I’ll try to start my own marketing business.”

To be honest, for the first six months, I flailed a little bit. I didn’t do too well. As you know, I did Marketing Ink around July and that’s when I really started to get a bit of success. Prior to then, I was flailing a bit. I was willing to take the risk, because I was young … Yeah, I was willing to take a risk. When you’re young, I had felt I had time to recover, even if I failed and started losing my-

Daryl Rosser: Sure. That’s cool. When you left, did you immediately turn that business you were working for into a client that you’re working with, or did that come further down the line?

Jesse Hanley: No, yeah. My previous employer became the first client. I was like, “Instead of just working for the company” … They paid me, instead of them handling all my taxes and all my super annuation and that stuff, I was thinking of that mum sum and managing my own business. I ended up hiring off Memedalus, funny enough, my first employee, who helped a little bit.

I was sending out proposals for all types of different things. That’s kind of how that worked. They were a big part of my funding up until about July. Then I actually terminated the contract with them completely.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Jesse Hanley: That’s when I did Marketing Ink and all that went on.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. When you first started working with them as a client, not working for them, you weren’t writing SEO?

Jesse Hanley: We already had a site that ranged really well.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, we had a site that was already … I was doing a whole bunch of services, all right. Over the previous years, I was doing everything. I was doing email marketing, the SEO, the conversion rate optimization, I’d run into the warehouse to help pack when we’d do too many orders.

I was doing all of that, and I think that was what provided a little confusion in the early days. Cause I was like, “I can do all these different things,” but I hadn’t really narrowed and focused.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. There’s no specialization in that.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah, 100 percent. So I was pretty confused in the beginning, to be completely honest. For the first client, I was still doing the same workload but I was trying to systematize it a little more. And trying to bring, I think I said the first employee, I was trying to bring him in to really help me with the work so I could scale it up a little bit. Pay up.

Daryl Rosser: What was the reason for terminating the client? I presume that was a decent source of income.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. We had a lot of conflict of interest. It was also a time when that relationship needed to end. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to know when enough is enough and just to part ways from certain relationships, and they got to the stage that I wanted to separate myself and just focusing on my own business. They were a big part of me for a couple of years and it was great, but it was time to stop that.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That makes sense. You got into Marketing Ink a little bit later, which is Gileny Diggy’s course. From what I remember, you closed a client within a week, two weeks?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, so I did the course. The course was great, I learned a lot. But the main thing for me was just focusing in on one service and making a commitment and then executing almost immediately. I’m a big fan of reaching in and dipping into Euro-network for your leads. For me, I’d already ranked an SEO site … I’d already ranked a website before in the software niche. So I immediately dipped into the software industry, went to a retailer, and sold him on services based on the Marketing Ink template and proposal.

Daryl Rosser: Right, sure.

Jesse Hanley: I immediately dived in, closed a client, and then I was financially afloat again. Cause it hurt quite a lot, losing that client last July, but I was able to recover almost instantly because of actually executing the marketing stuff.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome. You want to share how much that client was?

Jesse Hanley: Five K a month, yeah.

Daryl Rosser: Five K a month, that’s awesome. Did you have any fears of charges on five K a month?

Jesse Hanley: No, not really. One of the reasons was because I knew how much I was paying for SEO services prior. Building links and doing outreach and doing all that. I knew it was worth a lot of value, right, so I knew I could build accordingly.

Also from working with big businesses and working with … What’s the best way to say it? Just working with big business doing big contract deals for software, we were using a software called NetSuite, I don’t know if you know it.

But it’s a big CRN and it costs tens and ten and tens of thousands of dollars, right? For me, I wasn’t ever afraid of billing larger amounts, because I know people pay lots of money all the time for these things. Businesses that have revenue and they’re gonna get a lot of value out of your services, then it’s fine to build whatever you think is fair.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, that makes sense. Just looking at how much you’re gonna make from it and obviously knowing that you spend a lot of money on this stuff anyway.

Jesse Hanley: For sure, for sure.

Daryl Rosser: Are all your clients around that sort of range? Do you take on smaller clients, bigger?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, so it depends. The way I’ve kind of set things up … I’ve got an agency, which is my business partner. That does, basically, search engine marketing and Google adwords. Budgets vary. It’s still very hands on, so we very much get into the business and try to evolve them from the inside out. Hands dirty.

The consultancy stuff, my personal consulting business, I do a lot of one thousand dollar things. A lot of those are like mentoring and encouraging, and I help businesses build systems for them to then scale and grow. Then I got all my software stuff on the side. But I tend to really like being hands on, personal, and thinking about businesses over a long term time frame and trying to grow them over long term months and potentially years versus just ranking them fast.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. Also, you’re doing a lot of really technical stuff and not just SEO anymore. How did that come about? You decided you wanted to specialize, because you weren’t specialized, and then you switched to be specialized to you kind of doing a bit more.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, sure. I’ve always liked tinkering around with websites and all that, and at the start of last year I was doing a bit of coding. Not really that much, just HTML, CSS, just super simple manipulating word procii. When I wanted to improve the funnel on the supplement store that I was working on, I would have to put some fancy CSS and all that. It got me a little bit nearer saying, “Oh, what is it, required for me to build applications on a website from scratch?” Then I started learning Ruby on Rails, a coding language. I did a couple courses, I did one month Rails, one month dot com, and I did a couple of other little ones. Over the course of 12 months, I was just building apps. Some of them didn’t come to anything, some of them are-

Daryl Rosser: Just for fun?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, just for fun. And some of them are also niche sites. I have one little SMS service with my business partner. I’ve also built things for friends and what I’ve been doing recently over the last six months is now, grabbing that skillset and applying that to SEO. Now, I have the ability to … Because of all the technical stuff, I can actually look at a website and understand how to build it from the ground up to get exponential results whereas before, I may have taken on a client and just tried to rank it with what it was.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: Try to improve it a little bit with on-site, but now I can look at it and be like, “A ground up rebuild may be necessary,” and then work with a client over six to eight weeks of a big development build. Then after that, work on the SEO and the on-site after. I see my software lessons just helping the SEO marketing side of things.

Daryl Rosser: Okay, so the way I get it is that not only are you selling them the SEO, building links and stuff and that sort of SEO stuff, but then you’re also totally rebuilding this whole website and everything like that?

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent.

Daryl Rosser: Not just basic HTML websites or WordPress themes, it sounds like it’s more technical than that?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah. It’s usually ground up software builds. It’s like building web applications.

Daryl Rosser: Oh, okay.

Jesse Hanley: I know a little bit of PHP, but not too much. Most of it works really well, I’ve had a lot of people come in the beginning of their website journey to show me and then I’m able to properly strategically build out a website from scratch that does exactly what they need. That’s how that’s worked.

Daryl Rosser: Cool. Would you recommend, then, someone when they’re starting out, to specialize initially, like, “I’m just gonna do SEO”? Or do you recommend trying to balance more?

Jesse Hanley: Sure. I think you should always be in a learning mindset. I think focus is really good when you need to get income to a certain level. Right, so I need a certain amount of money to pay my rent, pay my bills, get by and have some fun.

It really pays off to focus, get to that point. But then, I think it’s helpful to continue learning and developing and building things, tinkering things, launching your own little niche sites, launching little-

Daryl Rosser: Just having fun with it.

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent. And having little technical projects, which they may take off, they may not take off, but you’ll learn a lot in that process. That’ll actually probably inform your proposals down the line. Cause you start seeing these opportunities come up.

Someone comes to you with what they believe is the right solution, but because you’ve tinkered with all these things, you’ve tried all these different experiments, you’re then able to be like, “Hang on. From my experience, I actually think this might be a better remedy for you.” Then, properly sell them on those services and actually deliver better long term results than you would have otherwise, if that makes sense?

Daryl Rosser: Got you, yeah.

Jesse Hanley: It’s like the technical learnings and the tinkering and the always playing with things allows you to end up billing more and offering significantly more valuable services otherwise.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. And you seem like you enjoy that, the technical stuff, more so than the SEO stuff.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah. I tend to … In all honesty, I tend to lean mostly on technical stuff now and strategic consulting and going deep into what a business is. And working with a client who will actually execute it mostly themselves, even at a cost. I come in with experience and expertise, we put together the strategy, I show them exactly how to execute, put the system in play. They do that, they get instant results, and then we work on other things. It’s like building a business with them instead of just delivering one of the recurrent service.

Daryl Rosser: Gotcha.

Jesse Hanley: I found that to be really fun. Sometimes, I’ve got clients where I’ll do JV type stuff with them, joint-venture type stuff. Cause you get results, you come up with a cool idea and they’ll work with you on that idea and you keep that project-

Daryl Rosser: Oh, nice. Like building little businesses with your clients.

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent, 100 percent. Then you’ve got these relationships where they pay off down the line. Relationships where your clients become your friends and they become business partners … Kind of, sometimes they may become business partners.

Then, let’s say, you want to scale, you want to build your business. They’ll refer people in their network to you, and they’ll actually help you grow more. It’s like building a network of support as well. Yeah. It’s good.

Daryl Rosser: I bet your retention rate is pretty awesome.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah.

Daryl Rosser: Because if they’re friends, they feel guilty to get rid of you.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, well, hopefully you’re providing them value.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, so you always want to be in a position that you’re providing enough business value that they stay. So I always want to make sure that I am a profitable aunt business. If I don’t see that as even possible, I want to begin work. Because again, it’s like building a relationship, and if I don’t think I can make someone money, then it’s too stressful. Again, if you’ve got long-term thinking, and you work with someone knowing that it’s gonna fail.

Daryl Rosser: That’s not long-term thinking.

Jesse Hanley: It’s not long-term thinking and even if I know, “Hey, I’m gonna try and rank this, it may fail in six months.” That’s not something I want to even invest in, it’s not even worth the money because it’s stressful to have those conversations down the line. Or I just feel guilty, doing any work that I know I’m not gonna actually make profitable.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Can we go back to how you got the clients? Because I think your approach is pretty interesting. From what I understand, you haven’t sent any called emails, you haven’t sent any linking mail, or any of that stuff.

Jesse Hanley: In the start, I tried doing a lot of that. After I quit and I moved to Chiang Mai, that was what I was doing. I was doing on inbound dot org and stuff. I was sending a lot of emails and I got a lot of proposals out there. I remember we did one proposal to an analytics company that was like 40 grand or something.

Didn’t close that, and a lot of them I didn’t close. The clients that I have gotten have almost always been referrals, and they’ve all been from people that I’ve met in real life somehow, or have some connection. I’ve got referrals from Diggy, I’ve got referrals from close marketing friends, I’ve got referrals from my family, when I started putting myself out there as a marketer.

And some of it searching Facebook ads. This week, I had a friend introduce me to one of their friends who needs Facebook ads and scaling that out. It’s all being like building better, stronger, deeper relationships and then that’s paid off somehow. Because people remember you, and if you’ve been nice, supportive, helpful, they help you out down the line.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. So not being some sleezy networking guy who’s going to everyone, “Here’s my business card, here’s my business card.”

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah. The same thing is, there’s nothing wrong with being a hustler. But there’s a tremendous amount of low-hanging fruit if you open your door for conversations and you try to build relationships with people.

It’s very easy to have these leads come through and build good business relationships. And if you can combine the two, you’re gonna be stoked. If you can scale your sales process and confidently be building in better, stronger relationships, then you’ll kill it. But for me and the lifestyle that I want to build, I’m very comfortable with my network slowly coming in and building a nice stable income base whilst I travel.

Daryl Rosser: Sure. Does that take time to build up, though? I guess the contrary to that is you don’t need that many clients. That one client for you is five thousand dollars a month. That’s easy money to live in Chiang Mai.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. 100 percent. Take long to build up. I think if you’re coming from … I think what a lot of people do when they start is that they forget their past. I really tried to make my previous network work. I tried to make the supplement and the fitness industry that I was heavily involved with work first, and to be honest a lot of my clients are still in that space.

But again, family and friends. I’ve clients that are referrals from my family, most people have a family that they can talk to. Yeah. It can take time to build up. But I think it’s like, if you’ve already got a network, you’ve already been in an industry, looking into that industry. Even if you weren’t in sales in a previous industry, you can just do your research and you’ve got those leads, I’m sure.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. Actionable steps based on what you did would be something like, pick a specialization which could be SEO. Then just tell everyone, “Hey, I’m doing SEO now.”

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, go on your Facebook and write about it, or even just update your Instagram with a little thing just saying that you do a certain service and just do not write digital marketer, search engine marketing for X. Over time, people will get it in their head that you do search engine marketing for X. If for whatever happens, they have a candid conversation, you may come up, and you may be where that referral gets pointed to. I think it’s a start.

Specializing does really, really help. From there, you can network through your clients to continue building up your business. Ideally, you want to get to the scale where you have a wait list. So you have the ability to say, “Hey, I take on this many clients a month.” If one of them leaves, maybe the project ends, maybe you got enough results and they just want to move on, then you go into your waiting list and you say, “Hey, let’s start working together now.” That’s like what I do.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. What I really like about your business which is super cool is that you just travel around the world meeting people, hanging out, making friends, and then you just turn that into clients. Not meeting someone like, “Oh, this person can do this for me,” it’s just like making friends.

Jesse Hanley: Sure, sure. It’s also like we’re meeting in person here and now, which is awesome. You know, I am on the podcast, which is really, really cool. But I think putting yourself out there and me, I don’t know if I’m an extrovert or an introvert. I like doing my in stuff, I like keeping to myself, but actually pushing to go out and meet people pays off exponentially. The people I mentioned, the people I met in Europe, the people I met in the US, those relationships …

Some of them may not ever amount to any financial money, but some of them do. And some of them are exponentially great for me over the long term. I think putting yourself and just trying to make more friends and trying to help more people can really be a good thing. It feels good, to help people and help them with their sites, but it pays off in strange ways.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, that makes sense. When you’re meeting these people, you’re just trying to help them out and be a good person.

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent.

Daryl Rosser: Do you have any other things you’ve learned in the process of building up your agency in terms of getting clients?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. There’s two classifications of clients that, at least, I have in my head is like very large businesses and small businesses. I think, when you’re going after the big clients can be very rewarding. You get to understand how those companies operate, how they function. But it also comes with a certain amount of constraints. A large business has certain constraints and a square that you have to operate in to get results.

Then, on the stark contrast, you have small businesses who you can get your hands very dirty once you build some trust. For me, I like both, and I’ve separated them in terms of the small businesses I do the consulting for, and the agency’s more for big companies. I’ve kept it that way. The agency is for a more systematized approach for larger clients. I’ve tried to differentiate it. I think when you’re starting your business, work out exactly the type of customer that you want. Different types of customers come with different constraints.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. What do you look for, then, for agency clients? We can get onto the consulting stuff afterwards.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. With agency clients?

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: I look for … Definitely how large they are. I look for stable businesses that have a long-term trajectory. I look for ones that have a healthy business model that has high ticket sales.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Jesse Hanley: Usually the reason for that is there’s generally more budget there to run very profitable and successful campaigns.

Daryl Rosser: Sure.

Jesse Hanley: If you’ve got a company charging ten thousand, 20 thousand dollars for that software, it’s a lot of marketing budget to acquire a customer, which means that’s a lot of money to play with and it’s a lot of leighway to figure out a funnel that works. I look for healthy, stable companies to work for with the agency.

Daryl Rosser: It sounds like you target industries, companies, stuff like that seem quite interesting to you? Would you say that’s right?

Jesse Hanley: We try and only work with businesses that are interesting to us. Not in any particular industry, and again, still as a referral. With the agency stuff what’s interesting is I’ve done a lot of free work over the past year, and that’s started to pay off over time. In terms of riding on a guest post for a certain software company, and then I’ve got a lead from that.

Daryl Rosser: One lead of that, and that’s …

Jesse Hanley: One lead, and the one lead can be big when we’re talking about large companies. Yeah. Actually, that’s something else I might advise people. Put yourself out there, do some free work. I think free work is underrated, because sometimes it can pay off a lot.

12 months down the line, doesn’t need to pay off immediately. But building a relationship, riding on certain blows can actually pay off you.

Daryl Rosser: What do you think of people that say that if you’re good at something, don’t do it for free?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, maybe. But everyone has to start somewhere. Usually when you’re just beginning, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. Investing that time into either learning a new skillset, or investing it into helping others for free, can just pay off. It depends on the timeframes that you’re thinking in. I think being deliberate on who you help out, how you help them, and just trying to be a good force in the marketplace. You’ll get recognized, and you’ll build a good strong business after.

Daryl Rosser: I actually totally agree with you. For example, we helped out a web design agency or something like that and we helped them sort out their website themselves.

Jesse Hanley: Sure.

Daryl Rosser: One of the client websites. That’s a lot of potential referrals you can get out of that.

Jesse Hanley: Sure, sure. And where in the moment I’m working with something with my business partner, and we’re doing a contra deal with a burning agency. That contra deal is we’re providing some of our SEO services and SEM services in exchange for some branding help. One of the reasons that’s valuable is I get to learn something new.

They’ve also got a fantastic client base, which who knows? They may introduce us to some of their clients down the line, they may not. But it’s a good, healthy relationship to have, and something that I’m learning from, and again. It could pay off 12 months down the line, I just don’t really know. But I have a gut feeling that’s a relationship worth building. Yeah, like you said. With web design stuff it’s maybe reaching out to a local web design agency, being like, “Hey, I can probably help your website out a little bit. Do a little bit of tweaking, some coding, do some free SEO.”

And you know, one day they might send you a five K a month client or 10 K or a grand. It doesn’t matter. But they may send you someone.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, just putting yourself out there. The free stuff makes sense as long as you’re helping people out.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. Sure. If you get to a stage where you’re making a huge amount of revenue and you’re very comfortable, sure, charge for it, that’s fine. Stop taking on leads, but in the early days it pays off just to be helpful.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. You built on the agency, which was your first focus, right? You got cash flow coming in from that.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah.

Daryl Rosser: Then you got into consulting.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, so the consulting was picking up clients, trips and drabs from all over … While I was traveling, like when I was in New York I picked up a client, traveling around the UK I picked up clients. Yeah, the consulting stuff’s more hands on. It’s working directly with the owner of the business, where the agency is more working with the head of marketing or the head of digital strategy or something like that.

Daryl Rosser: Bigger clients to agency, smaller…

Jesse Hanley: More hands on. What’s great about that is the great thing with the consulting business, and it’s more full-on, it’s very exciting. Because I get to work very hands on. We work on anything from search engine marketing to conversion rate optimization and it gives me that feeling back in the day of working with those start-up companies and growing them.

It’s more fast-paced and I get to learn a lot about different industries, but apply techniques that have worked in my past to them. I love that work. It’s really, really fun. Really rewarding as well. If you can double someone’s revenue or you can 5x that, it’s a really cool feeling.

Daryl Rosser: Really cool, yeah.

Jesse Hanley: I also like, for example, I have a client who lost one of their very large social assets last week. I helped him through regaining that, and being there for those type of clients is also really fun.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: You get those emergency situations and some people would have waived those type of emergency things, but it’s just nice being there for someone and being supportive.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. How much do you charge for consulting, then?

Jesse Hanley: Depends. I have some clients on a thousand dollars a month, and they’re weekly calls.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. So it’s monthly retainers.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. Yeah, yeah, because they’re very relationship built. And I’ve got some clients which I charge more, but those ones I’m generally pretty hands on with. That’s me diving in, me running tests, me running the campaigns, me diving into the Face-

Daryl Rosser: So I was curious. Is some of it just literally hopping a call for say, an hour a week?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. Yeah.

Daryl Rosser: And some of it you actually do the work.

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent. There’s a bit of difference there. Also, the thing is with the agency the pricing is very systematized and there’s SOPs around that. With the consulting stuff, it’s a little bit more free. A customer will come to me, I’ll assess their needs, we’ll have a very open discussion about it, and then I kind of build my time into it and then build more based on time for the consultancy stuff. With the agency, it’s more in value.

Daryl Rosser: Cool. That makes sense. What made you go from running the agency, that everything’s systemized and everything like that and it sounds more scalable, to getting into the consulting? Was it just fun to you?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. It’s just the variety. I really like working with small businesses. Things come on your radar when you work with small businesses. You hear about interesting industries and you learn about interesting tactics, and when you’re open to taking on different clients even if they’re new, and you’ve got to do the research behind them and stuff, you just learn so much more. I think that’s why I like working with small businesses and working directly with founders, is it just keeps me really interested and keeps me just pretty stoked to do business.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, cool.

Jesse Hanley: The agency stuff, you’re right, is a lot easier to scale, it’s a lot easier to systematize. But if you want to stay relevant and you want to stay educated and excited, then I think picking up the small businesses can be really helpful and beneficial.

Daryl Rosser: Cool. You get these from traveling. You just tent up in UK and … How does that happen?

Jesse Hanley: No, no, again, it’s firm … A large part’s making friends online and then meeting them in person. I think that’s how a lot of it happens. One of those clients I met, the guy that referred me, I chatted to him on some marketing slack group. I don’t know, I just got myself into some random marketing slack group and then he’s like, “Hey! This guy might be a cool client for you. I know you’re into fitness marketing, and he …” I was in New York when he messaged me that, and I went and met this New York client. He’s been a client for 12 months.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, you know a lot of it is I’m generally pretty active on … Not forums, but chats. Through those relationships, if I happen to be in the same country as someone, I’ll make an effort to go meet them. That’s how I convert them, strangely enough.

Daryl Rosser: That’s pretty cool. Just putting yourself out there, making lots of friends, obviously. You didn’t start off having this wide network of people referring to you.

Jesse Hanley: Not at all. The thing is, again, the consulting stuff is all over the place. There’s a lot of fitness, but it’s still quite all over the place. I think it’s healthy. I think it’s healthy to have your toes dipped in a lot of niches, just so you can keep learning.

Sometimes I’ll learn something from the health niche that’ll inform a decision on a tech niche. There’ll be a tactic working in the health niche, and I’ll be like, “Oh, let’s try and apply this to the tech niche and it works.” Or I learn something from the tech niche, something they’re doing with a certain type of outreach, and I’ll apply that to fashion. That might pay off.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: What’s great is in a lot of industries you get these little bubbles of what everyone thinks is the best practice, everyone’s going after that. But if you pull strategies from other markets, and you apply them to a market you’re trying to tackle, it’s usually a strategy not many other people are using, and you get exponential results.

Daryl Rosser: Nice, man. On that topic of travel, how do you run everything, all these different parts of it, while traveling? And you travel a lot, I think.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. It’s hard. It’s pretty difficult, being honest. The key thing is to set … There’s a great guy called Taylor Pearson, tropical NBA, one of the guys there, and he wrote a great book, I’ve forgotten the name of it, End of Jobs. I read that and then I dived into his blog and he’s got a whole bunch of productivity tips and the way he does stuff.

What I like to do is each morning, I set a certain amount of to dos which are for clients and for my own projects, and I basically don’t sleep until I do them. Even if I go out for the day and I go take photos or I go out and do this or I go out and have dinner, when I get back I have to complete those tasks. Every morning I set them, and then every day I just have to complete them. There’s usually no compromise on that.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Jesse Hanley: That’s basically it. Each week, with the clients and the agency I basically have a weekly sprint. I plan on them into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Just make sure everything gets ticked off, so then it doesn’t drip into the next day.

Daryl Rosser: So you go out, you have fun, you do things you want to do, but then you also have set tasks that, “I need to get this done today.”

Jesse Hanley: Sure. There’s also a lot of hours in the day, right? If you wake up at six AM, whatever …

Daryl Rosser: 11.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. Honestly, if you wake up at whatever time, you can still do quite a lot. I wake up, I’ll go down, have a coffee, plan my day. Go out and do my day, come back. If I come back after lunch at two, I’ve still got the whole night to do all my work. Most people fluff around and don’t really focus on actually checking off tasks and moving this along.

Because these clients pay me … They pay me monthly, but the work is structured week by week. I have the pressure that I’ve got deliverables or things to plan or do by the next week that has to be done. It’s non-negotiable. Just make sure that I get done.

Daryl Rosser: Makes sense. How many hours, would you say, roughly that you’re working in any given day?

Jesse Hanley: Four hours focused, and then I start to be a little bit drained. It could be more, it could be four or five after that maybe.

Daryl Rosser: Okay. That’s good self-awareness.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. For us, focus is … You can get a lot done in four hours.

Daryl Rosser: You can.

Jesse Hanley: Even people who work nine to five, maybe do two hours’ worth of actually focused, zeroed in work. I try and make sure I get four hours done, and I usually have time after and I’ll work on my own projects, I’ll do tasks for the next day if I’ve got more time. Just depends. But four focused hours, and then-

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. I know when I constrain my time down to four hours, I’d probably get the same amount done.

Jesse Hanley: For sure. And we were talking before about working in a coffee shop. When you’re in a coffee shop, you don’t want to be awkward, you don’t want to sit there for too long. So in two hours, you can crank out all your daily to dos.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: Then you can go home and you can work on projects and further stuff there. That’s how I’ve done a lot of my learning to code. I do all my tasks and then at nighttime I’ll be tinkering on things, or trying to build something for a friend, or build something for myself that I can use.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. That’s where my tinkering time comes in.

Daryl Rosser: That makes sense. How much would you say of your work that you love, you don’t mind, and you hate?

Jesse Hanley: I love working with people. The highlight of my job and career is working with people. I love jumping on-

Daryl Rosser: And that’s how you built the whole business.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. I love jumping on Skype and talking to my friends and I love jumping on Skype and talking to my clients, and I love working out strategies. I also like implementing strategies, so I like getting hands on. What I don’t like … I don’t like managing finances, I don’t like the admin side of things. I know they all need to be done, but I don’t enjoy them.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah.

Jesse Hanley: I’m very much in love with growing things. Whether that’s my business or someone else’s, I really like just growing things. It’s nice to see something come to life or grow larger. Anything to do with that, I’m all for and super passionate about it.

Daryl Rosser: Nice.

Jesse Hanley: Anything that is stagnant or slow, I am not a fan of.

Daryl Rosser: Fair enough. In terms of how are your businesses run, there’s you, you have a business partner, anyone else involved?

Jesse Hanley: Sure. Contractors. Contractors are the key to most things, right? I’ve got a business partner who’s great, who’s awesome, and I work with him on projects. The agency’s tough. With everything else, it’s just finding great contractors to work with. A lot of projects are custom, and because of that you need certain experts or certain types of contractors.

Daryl Rosser: Do you hire developers and stuff as contractors?

Jesse Hanley: No, I kind of …

Daryl Rosser: You do it all.

Jesse Hanley: I do. My business partner’s a fantastic Rails developer. He can code, I can code. He’s really great at keeping … He’s a great editor. He’s great at making sure everything’s done correctly and properly at a very high level. That’s kind of how we complement each other, and I’m good at moving things forward very quickly. We complement each other. He’s also a great soundboard … I think this is the thing, with my own software projects and my consulting that’s all me, but it’s been very nice and healthy to have him as a business partner because we throw ideas at each other and he-

Daryl Rosser: You complement each other, it sounds like.

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent. I think there’s a lot of people that say, “Yeah, don’t get a business partner or whatever,” but I’ve seen a lot of partnerships work really, really positively and I think it’s funny if you start in a marketing agency, if you’ve got a friend who’s really passionate about it who complements you, maybe you’ll feel like bringing on a partner, helping out. I can do a lot of the sales, my business partner can do a lot of putting the systems in play and moving them forward.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. I guess if you like to go out there and meet people and stuff and you have someone who’s really technical, that complements.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, really. If you’re an introvert, find someone that’s an extrovert that’s just gonna go out and hustle really hard. Together, it might work really well. There’s an agency in Sydney, I’m not gonna mention the name just in case they don’t want to be mentioned, but they’re two guys that built a phenomenal business.

One’s great at sales, one’s not. They just complement each other really, really well. One’s really good at corporate sales, one’s really good at normal business sales, small business sales. They’re both focused on their niches, created a big empire, it’s been great for them.

Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome. Let’s wrap it up with the last few questions again.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, sure.

Daryl Rosser: Back to the contractors again, what do you outsource them? I’m curious.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. Outreach services.

Daryl Rosser: So white hat link building.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, sure. White hat link building I will outsource, and I will find contractors that do a very good job at it and contract that way.

Daryl Rosser: You train them how to do it and they just send out email?

Jesse Hanley: No, find good people.

Daryl Rosser: So they already know how it works.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. Since the people that have good systems that I can actually validate that they’ve done good work.

Daryl Rosser: How do you find these people?

Jesse Hanley: Networking, right? Sometimes it’s agencies. Sometimes I’ve known people in an agency and I’m like, “Hey, I’ve got this project. This is the client. They want this.” Just negotiating with them on a good rate, coming to a good agreement, and then making sure it’s all fulfilled. Writers …

Writers are honestly the most … If you want money straight away, partner with consultants or agencies for writing because writers are always in demand. As soon as I bring on a new project, I usually need more writers to scale it up. I’m sure you do too, with your-

Daryl Rosser: Overtime, yeah.

Jesse Hanley: You might want to build a thousand page site, and you need someone just dedicated to it, churning it out.

Daryl Rosser: Like high quality ones?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, depends on the client. There’s a lot of clients which do want high quality English speaking first writers, so I will go find them. There’s some clients who just want to get it all out and scale really, really fast and they might actually have a tighter budget. You be open.

It’s always about being open with the client and being like, “Hey. For this dollar amount I can source you this workload or for this dollar amount I can source you this workload” and just being honest what they should expect from it. They agree, and then you just execute.

Daryl Rosser: Where do you hire the writers, then?

Jesse Hanley: Referral from friends.

Daryl Rosser: Everything’s referrals.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, yeah. Usually going on my network and I’ve offered a friend who I’m currently waiting for his writer because he’s fully booked out, he’s a great SEO but he’s currently … If he’s listening to this, he’s currently hogging his writer. He’s got that writer churning out five articles a day.

I’m looking for quality and I wouldn’t be able to guess that it’s someone in Asia. It’s just so great. Thousand word articles, multiple a day, 10 out of 10 quality, and I need this writer. I’m waiting for him to finish, and then I can grab that writer.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome.

Jesse Hanley: That’s one example. This is gonna be a little tip – Look for, you know there’s viral sites like NetShark and ViralNerve and stuff? Look for the writers there and reach out to them.

Daryl Rosser: Really?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, cause they’re generally brilliant at writing interesting stuff. They’re good at writing fascinating articles, I’ll put it that way. If you can grab them for boring niches, they can actually pop out very high quality content, and they’re usually very cheap because those viral sites tend not to pay their writers too much.

Daryl Rosser: Okay.

Jesse Hanley: Unless they’re a very large site, they’re not only too much per … They’re like content farms, they’re not only too much per article. You can get a really good article for 10 to 20 bucks.

Daryl Rosser: Nice. Actually I was gonna ask that next, about what do you call cheap content? 10, 20 bucks?

Jesse Hanley: Sure. 10, 20 bucks, more expensive 120, 250 an article at the high end. They just vary so much. Prices vary so much. I think its worthwhile building good relationships with writers. I’ve just recently found an awesome guy in India.

He’s writing some of the best content … I’m reading it and laughing. He’s writing content that I’m actually finding funny and engaging with for this client. He’s 10 dollars an article. He’s writing one thousand word pieces. Again, you try a lot. You see their previous pieces.

I’ve never gone to Udesk, I’ve never gone to any places to go find them. It’s been they’ve rocked up on my doorstep and found more work or I’ve asked people for it.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, that makes sense. One of the biggest takeaways, I think, from how you built your business is that you don’t need to go out there and sell, sell, sell and do outreach and stuff. You can literally just go out there, make some friends, build relationships, help people, and it’s gonna just come to you.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. Yeah, sure. I think don’t be afraid to reach out. I’m gonna give another shout-out to someone on this. A kid in New York who I’m currently working with and he reached out after seeing a program from marketing inquiry, and now I’ve actually given him his first SEO client and he’s working really hard on it.

Whilst he’s working his normal job, but he’s started to build something. That was just from him calling reaching me. I loved his email, so I’ve just given him a client and he’s executing on it.

Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah. All he did was send me a nicely written email … It wasn’t an email, it was a Facebook message. I loved reading it, and so I’ve been working with him and coaching him for it.

Daryl Rosser: So what’s your Facebook name so everyone can do that now?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, I’m super open. If anyone wants to message to talk about SEO, code, developing, client getting, you can chat to me. It’s Jesse Hanley, H-A-N-L-E-Y is the last name. Feel free to message me, chat to me, always open.

Daryl Rosser: Any shameless plugs or anything you want to-

Jesse Hanley: No, zero. Zero. If you like this and you send me a message, just say thanks and that’s enough for me.

Daryl Rosser: Awesome, man. Final question is any last thoughts or anything that you want to wrap it up with?

Jesse Hanley: Sure. The last thing, I’ll keep this short, is think deeply about what you want to be working on in the long-term and just have a longer, slower, more deliberate approach about building a business, and I think you’ll build a more meaningful business that you actually really want to own down the line.

Daryl Rosser: Do you want to expand that a little bit before we wrap it up about what you mean by that?

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, sure. I think in the early days when you want money to get you by, it’s easy to go client, client,client and keep scaling. But it may become the business that you don’t actually want to own. Right? I think thinking deeply of, “What type of company do I want to build? In 12 months, what would be the ideal day for me?

When I wake up, what do I actually want to be doing? Do I want to be waking up and just diving into it and having a bombardment of emails and stuff and trying to make sure all the clients work?” Or “Do I want to be working with a handful of clients but doing more hands on work? Do I want to have an agency? Do I want be working on something …” My point is, just think really deeply about what you wish for, because it may come true.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, yeah.

Jesse Hanley: And be more deliberate about the business that you end up building.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah, so by all means can you use the agency idea initially to get some cashflow going-

Jesse Hanley: 100 percent.

Daryl Rosser: But have that focus in mind. Maybe you don’t want it built up to a big 50 person team, or maybe you do.

Jesse Hanley: Sure. Sure. I think you don’t always have, and this is a bit contrary, to be in the growth mindset. It’s totally fine to have enough money to get by, save, and just have a small team. Sometimes that’s really rewarding.

Daryl Rosser: Yeah. It’s fun.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah.

Daryl Rosser: All right, man, cool. Thank you for coming on the show. This was really cool.

Jesse Hanley: Yeah, thanks man.

Daryl Rosser: Hi, guys, hope you enjoyed this episode, this is really cool, I wanted to knock this in there. And I’ll see you guys in next week’s episode.

If you want to learn more about how scale your SEO business, head over to Lion Zeal dot com. That’s Lion Zeal dot com.


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.

7 Responses to “How Jesse Built His SEO Agency Without Doing Any Outreach Or Advertising”

  • Jesse Hanley  August 19, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Thanks for having me on buddy. Really enjoyed our conversation!

    • Daryl Rosser  August 23, 2016 at 8:57 am

      It was fun man, thanks for coming on. Let’s catch up again soon.

  • Richard  August 23, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Great interview and really enjoyed Jesse’s story. Top guy and clearly knowledgable!

  • Ooooh  September 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    I am fairly new to SEO this was one of the best interviews on the subject I have heard so far. I was looking to build foundations and security now not sure to sell everything and live Jesse’s lifestyle.

    • Daryl Rosser  September 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

      Haha, yeah Jesse is living it up. Thanks for commenting.

  • Adrian McGivern  November 10, 2016 at 9:31 am

    That’s a great interview Daryl. Thanks Jesse for sharing your ideas and so much helpful info.
    I’ve been doing SEO for my own sites for the past 10 years but dabbling only – as I was running two and three small businesses. I’m only a complete starter when I listen to you guys.
    Thanks again for great content.

    • Daryl Rosser  November 11, 2016 at 1:29 am

      Cheers Adrian, glad you’re learning from all the content.