I went from a 1 to 3 people agency in one year doing Small Business Marketing - Ask Me Anything.

Tim Brown
May 12, 2018

I started out freelancing, brought in my wife and another employee over this past year. It's been extraordinarily challenging, but I've learned a ton! Let me know if you'd like to know how we bootstrapped this from a sub 100k to an over 500k a year / respectable little business in a year. 

Things I may be of service on:

  • How to overlap from your current job
  • When to know you should hire your first employee
  • Working with your spouse (pros and cons)
  • Business services to use for small agencies
  • Pro's and con's of business coaches
  • How we track KPI's and what we track
  • Marketing yourself while delivering high-quality services. 
  • How to get your agency to the top of Google for money making terms
  • Content marketing on a budget that's still epic
  • Earning media attention being scrappy

Our agency: https://hookagency.com



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Have you ever had an experience where a client did not want to pay for a service they received from you?
May 18, 4:24AM EDT0

Yes – I have. It's not fun. 

That being said, if you do good work – this is like 2% of people that will buy from you, especially if you focus on only selling to people you know you will be providing sincere value.

I strongly suggest billing half up front as well. 

Jul 31, 6:08PM EDT0
What advice would you give someone who is trying to find the right audience niche for a product using Facebook ads?
May 18, 12:14AM EDT0

I'm not 100% sure Facebook ads allow for as granular of targeting as they make it seem like. I would strongly suggest as much real world event attending and other options for real world testing of your premise, even though Facebook ads are cool and could be once facet of a broader hypothesis testing. 

Jul 31, 6:07PM EDT0
What are the most difficult aspects of acquiring jobs while freelancing? Did those challenges help when starting your own business?
May 17, 8:09PM EDT0

Absolutely that challenge, and getting in front of it helped. I had to get my website to the point it was turning out regular leads before I left my current job – and that made all the difference in being able to take the leap. Plan ahead - by having your business development strategy already churning before going out on your own. 

Jul 31, 6:06PM EDT0
Who manages your business when you and your wife want to go on a long vacation together?
May 17, 3:09PM EDT0

We don't get to vacation that often – but when we do we have one employee and some contractors that can cover most of the bases. I think it's not quite the same as when I was employee, it's very hard to turn it off. 

Jul 31, 6:05PM EDT0
What would you recommend for a start-up with no disposable income to do for marketing?
May 17, 11:23AM EDT0

Write useful content! Content marketing is massive and creates long-term value. Check out the book 'Epic Content Marketing' by Joe Pulizzi

Jul 31, 6:04PM EDT0
What keyword research tools do you find valuable, and are there any keyword research mistakes to avoid?
May 15, 12:42PM EDT0

We absolutely love Ahrefs, and Search Console for keyword research.

Ahrefs to look at competitors and dig up new opportunities, and Search Console to identify whats currently working, and where there are opportunities based on high impressions and low click through rate. 

I think one of the biggest mistakes I've made in keyword research, is pretending the tool has all the answers – where-as intuition, digging into the clients unique value proposition and asking the right questions - like 'what do people keep asking in the sales process?' can really help you find great topics to write about as well. 

Not relying on tools, and rather using intuition, conversation, and your humanity - is huge. 

May 17, 10:29AM EDT0
If you were teaching a college course on small business marketing, what would be required reading?
May 15, 3:31AM EDT0

1. Blue Ocean Strategy.

2. Purple Cow

3. Tipping Point.

4. Convert! Designing Websites to Increase Traffic & Conversion

5. The Conversion Code: Capture Internet Leads, Create Quality Appointments, Close More Sales

6. Pitch Anything

7. The 10X Rule

8. Epic Content Marketing

9. E-myth Revisited

10. Rocket Surgery Made Easy

11. Mastery - Robert Greene

May 15, 9:16AM EDT0
What are some practical ways a small business can build up its web content without having to employ a writer?
May 14, 6:26PM EDT0

How many employees do you have?

May 15, 9:19AM EDT0
How can one decide that it's time for them to overlap from their current job? Does one need to have an idea ready?
May 13, 8:02AM EDT0

Oof – you should be farrrrr beyond 'idea ready.'

 You should have revenue from your thing - marketing in place, and systems written out. 

If not -you'll likely fail, or go back and work for someone else.

My revenue from my freelancing exceeded that of my 40/hrs a week salaried position before I took the leap. 

Harsh advice – but real. 

May 15, 9:20AM EDT0
What are the most effective and low-cost local small business marketing techniques that you have used for you business?
May 13, 2:30AM EDT0

Absolutely and 100% creating giant guides and resources for my ideal customer. 

Also creating a regular 'series' of video tips that you can do every week. 

Following everyone who's following your competitors on social media, and promoting your posts to a local audience for a little money each time you see something doing well organically.

May 15, 9:22AM EDT0
Would you be willing to share your toughest small business marketing challenge? How do you cope up with it?
May 12, 10:34PM EDT0

Definitely the number one - is balancing content creation / or paying for content creation while still trying to do excellent work. You need content marketing to be a well rounded business with a digital presence – but it doesnt stop it from being hard. 

Lately - I'm working towards spending more time on less items. 

So really make sure something is well targeted, that there is 'appetite' for the content and then taking a month to make a 3-5k word deep guide rather than posting 300-500 words every other day. (Except for my video series')

May 15, 9:24AM EDT0
How do you sell your designs to management or clients? How do you demonstrate the design’s value?
May 12, 2:00PM EDT0

It's really important to have put alot of thought into what their main objective is - and as you present always do it with the explanation of how this serves the main goal. 

Confidence is huge. muledesign.com/presenting-work-with-confidence

Let them know you'd like to go through the design once without interuption helps – and then not just 'touring' the work... but really explain how the overarching design and key element accomplish that goal.

Ideally you mix in key statistics and tests done previously that support your main theories, and give some 'scenarios' of how their ideal customers would use the design and how the design bring those ideal clients to the goal. 

Last edited @ May 12, 2:09PM EDT.
May 12, 2:08PM EDT0
Is it advisable to work with your spouse (particularly in a startup)? What are the factors to base your decision on?
May 12, 1:20PM EDT0

I would say this has been a particularly difficult part of this process. It made absolute sense from a profit & loss standpoint as she is relatively cheap and gets alot done. 

It also is painful. It doesnt make a relationship easier. 

The thing I based it on was that:

  • How much does the spouse love or hate her current job?
  • Can you get significant return by joining forces at work.
  • How can you keep the relationship fresh outside of this... (i.e. no work talk dates etc.)

To me - it requires being sincerely intentional about the relationship outside of work, but I'm not amazing at this yet. Trying! 

(It's difficult)

Podcast we did on this: hookagency.com/podcast-16/

Blog post on this topic:


Last edited @ May 12, 2:04PM EDT.
May 12, 2:03PM EDT0
What are some other sites on the Web that you like and why? How much time do you want to put into new content creation per week?
May 12, 1:16PM EDT0

These are the top sites in digital marketing I try to check back on regularly: 

https://blog.bufferapp.com/ https://moz.com/blog https://backlinko.com/blog https://conversionxl.com/blog/ http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/blog/ http://www.convinceandconvert.com/baer-facts/seo-versus-social/ https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ https://www.awwwards.com/blog/

I am putting in about 5-7 hours a week on new content. I have been spreading myself thin on that (have 2-3 weekly video series - example of one googlelikesit.com )  ... So what I'm trying to do now is spend 50-70% of the time I was spending (10 hours) and making one big huge super useful guide / hub each month (in addition to the 3 video shows- one which is on facbeook live)... 

Content is massive. Example of result is 4 qualified leads to my digital marketing agency Thursday and Friday. Google loves content! And helps you show up for more stuff when you're dedicated to providing value in a systematic way focused on helping ideal prospects .

May 12, 2:13PM EDT0
How do you stay organized when provided with multiple design assets, files and ideas?
May 12, 10:14AM EDT0

The simpler the better on this I think  – Google doc for each client. 

We start when in our discovery meeting - and answer 7 key questions we ask during each discovery:

  • What are your Key Differentiating features
  • What are some Trust Factors / Badges to visually represent perhaps
  • Who is the site for? - Prime Demographic
  • What are some Sites to Consider
  • What are some Visual Elements / preferences
  • What are Technical Considerations during design
  • What are the Templates we need to create (usually limited to a certain amount)

Future information can be phased out on this Google doc, comments made internally. (This doc is for internal items - a separate one can be made for external - to share with client as they are completed during revisions)

A Google doc can be added to folder to house all assets used / for that client

May 12, 2:17PM EDT0
What trends do you see in 2018 in regards to small business marketing success?
May 12, 9:33AM EDT0

Really this will depend very heavily on the industry – but it's always looking for where your ideal customers attention is. If the ideal customer is not on social that much that my 3rd suggestion below of being heavy with social is probably not relevant, but for most people these are the 3 biggest ones.. 

  • Content marketing – creating valuable content that your ideal customer will love, and find entertaining and useful. This should be core to everything you're doing in your marketing. 
  • Video marketing - creating series', and regular systems to put out video regularly (if you haven't done one video yet - do one this week - or better yet today!)
  • Promoting posts on FB, and remarketing on Google, IG and Facebook. Connecting with as many people as possible on social is the free version, but promoting content and special offers is next level. Social is huge though. 

I go super in-depth on specific content, and social tactics in this free audiobook: hookagency.com/what-is-growth-hacking-what-is-a-growth-hackathon/

May 12, 2:58PM EDT0
What are some effective and creative offline ways to market your product locally?
May 12, 8:51AM EDT0

Number 1: Promote your business on Facebook to the 5 mile radius.

Number 2: Get higher on Google maps by doing local directory listings (how to:  hookagency.com/listings/

Number 3: Go to all kinds of meetups and groups - and have a unique offer for new prospects. 

Number 4: Take people out to lunch and give a referral bonus.

Number 5: Use remarketing, Facebook ads and promoted posts for all your best content.  (beginners guide to remarketing: hookagency.com/beginners-guide-remarketing/

May 12, 3:14PM EDT0

Number 1: Promote your business on Facebook to the 5 mile radius.

Number 2: Get higher on Google maps by doing local directory listings (how to:  hookagency.com/listings/

Number 3: Go to all kinds of meetups and groups - and have a unique offer for new prospects. 

Number 4: Take people out to lunch and give a referral bonus.

Number 5: Use remarketing, Facebook ads and promoted posts for all your best content.  (beginners guide to remarketing: hookagency.com/beginners-guide-remarketing/

May 12, 3:14PM EDT0
What are your personal experiences of working/running a business with your spouse?
May 12, 8:33AM EDT0


After a year of marriage – I did the unthinkable, I asked my wife to come work for me. After completing a degree in marketing, she was knee-deep in a job that she didn’t love, and frankly – I didn’t want to hear about it anymore. Although I didn’t love every moment of my work making websites and doing Search Engine Optimization for people – it felt worthwhile, and like I was building something that could be useful to so many people. But working with a spouse isn’t that a massive challenge?

Bea – on working together “People always say, “Oh I could never work with my spouse, we’d kill each other!” Well…so far, we’re both alive, and neither of us is in jail, so I’d say we’re on the right track.  But seriously, I think people perceive it as being so much more difficult than it is. It’s really about knowing your dynamic and what works best for you. We have a pretty good balance of power, and a good separation of work dynamic vs. home dynamic.

We tend to talk about work a lot more than I’m sure most spouses do, but to be honest, if we didn’t work together it would be tough to be as interested in each other’s careers as we are now. We get to experience growth together and solve problems together, and ultimately, support each other in every aspect of our lives.  It’s not for the faint of heart, and I’m sure it does put a strain on our relationship at times, but now that we are (almost) a year in, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Full story: hookagency.com/plenty-of-fish-married-online-dating-seo/

May 12, 3:11PM EDT0
What are some things you wish you knew before deciding to work with your spouse?
May 12, 6:45AM EDT0

The biggest one is that there needs to be specific times of the day / week that there is not work talk whatsoever. 

Second - don't bring work into fights - always seriously prioritize telling them when they are doing a great job at work.

Third - Know the first 2-3 months are hard no matter what bringing in a new employee, so its not all about to melt your relationship. 

Bonus - proceed with caution in general. Make goals and systems for making your relationship amazing, not just your business. 

May 12, 3:09PM EDT0
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