How I Started A $35K/Month Agency Specialized On Link Building
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello guys! My name is Justas Markus, and I’m the co-founder of GetFound XL, a link building company. I started the company almost 4 years ago with my buddy Tomas Laurinavicius who was interviewed by Starter Story a few months ago.
Originally we started as a content marketing agency, and the start was great. During the first month, we found 3 clients - VandelayDesign, Teamgate and one popular Shopify app. At that time, it was a way better start than we expected. Especially if you consider that we were just two guys without any prior experience or knowledge on how to run an agency. What we did have was an experience in blogging and content marketing, but we had no clue how to deal with clients, finances, or how to run the business itself.
The first year was great. Some new clients came in and some left. It was a circle. But we had more than enough work for both of us.
After a year, when Tomas decided to leave the agency and focus on his personal branding and work, I invited Yuri Burchenya to join the agency as a co-founder. Before, he worked as a content editor.
After that, we slowly moved into SEO and, after some time, focused only on building links. Now, for the last few years, we have been building 300-400 links per month and worked with more than 40 clients (you can find a list of them on our agency's homepage).
For our agency, it was a perfect decision to focus only on one thing. All the processes are optimized, it's enough to have 3-4 full-time employees and, most importantly, deliver the highest quality services.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I'm from Lithuania, and I grew up in a small village with a population of about 300 people.
Entrepreneurship didn’t come naturally because nobody was doing anything similar around me. My father was selling fruits at the local market, but that's it. My mother has a regular job from 8 to 5.
Nevertheless, my parents have always encouraged me to do something different, try new things, and take risks in life.
Our family didn’t have much, but my parents have always supported me as much as they could. When they bought the first computer and got me into playing games, all my ideas about doing something were forgotten.
After a few years, when I was in 9-10th grade, I started to understand that gaming is not going to take me anywhere, so I started to look for opportunities to make some money.
I began with a few online stores, where I sold fake clothes and accessories from China. The first months were amazing. I made more than my parents together per month. But after a couple of months, many people started to copy me, and the market became oversaturated.
After that, I had a few online stores and started to buy and repair electronics and laptops. And then just re-sell them for profit. Very simple but profitable business at that time.
When I finished elementary school, I moved to the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. At that time, I decided to focus on studies and a possible career in a bank. It was always my dream to work at a bank. Somewhere where there is money nearby.
During my studies, I didn’t have any side businesses or online stores to run. I just focused on studying and playing basketball for my college team.
After my studies, I started my career at a bank, and it took me a year to understand that this job is not for me.
I left my job and focused on new opportunities online.
After a week of research and trying different things, like coding & playing with Photoshop, I found out that people are earning money from writing articles for blogs. I decided to try it myself and started to write some articles inside MS Word. I wrote about inspiration, tech, and similar stuff.
When I had around 5 drafts, I approached a few small blog owners and asked if they would accept me as a writer. I would write for free. I needed published articles for my portfolio because nobody wanted to hire a writer without any real experience.
And this is how I started my online career. After 1.5 years of blogging, Tomas and I founded an agency.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our first product was content marketing services. What we mainly did was creating high-quality content, making sure it's optimized, publishing it, and sharing the content via all possible social media channels. Starting with the most popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (groups inside each platform) and finishing with all upvote-based websites like GrowthHackers, Scoop.it and others.
For the first year, we focused on improving the quality of our work and all processes inside a freshly baked agency. One of the biggest questions was how to keep the same level of quality and attract new clients.
Taking that first step is hard, but you need to get started regardless of any doubts that might be inside your head. You need to have a plan. Create a checklist and take small steps. Each point cleared off that list will feel like an achievement and give you more motivation.
After a while, we added PR services. We offered guest posts on various sites in different niches. Most of them were high authority sites with high metrics (DR/DA and traffic).
Finding writers who can produce the highest quality work for a good price was rough. As was trying to hire them at least part-time.
The goal was to build an in-house team that focuses only on the agency’s work and clients. But at the same time, we knew that it's impossible since good writers charge way more than we can pay. Moreover, after some time we had different clients in different niches. Writers had to be experts in a particular market.
Eventually, we had a couple of in-house writers and the main editor. Others were freelancers.
After a year and a few months, when Tomas (the co-founder) decided to leave the agency and Yuri joined, we slowly realized that all this content marketing is not our thing.
The main indication of this was that most of our clients were way more interested in PR stuff than content marketing. We still worked on content marketing for about 6 or 8 months, PR thing, and built some links for clients in small batches. But we felt that it was coming to an end.
When all content marketing agreements expired, we informed all of our clients that we don't do content marketing anymore, and our goal was to focus only on building links.
It was a huge relief for us because we knew that it's the thing that we wanted to do. Most of our clients have decided to stay and order our link building services. It gave us a lot of motivation to continue.
We knew from the beginning that if we wanted to survive in this jungle of link builders, we need to have high standards, great customer support, and do our best.
The whole process was simple from the start:
- Find a perfect site (relevancy is the most important thing);
- Check all the metrics (traffic, DR/DA, history, etc);
- Do outreach (everything is done in-house and manually);
- Negotiate about publishing an article;
- Write the articles (also in-house);
- After it's live, we put all published articles into Linkody and track them. We do not remove or change the link to make sure that it’s indexed.
What I noticed is that the biggest difference between us and other agencies is that we do many things manually, or have a person involved (not a tool). It's slower, but at the end of the day, we can provide the best quality for our clients.
When other agencies say that they have 50k+ sites, we have only 5k+, but every single one of our sites is checked manually. But at the same time, we focus on fewer markets than others. Our priorities are tech, eCommerce, business, and marketing.
When Yuri joined the agency, it was super clear who does what. He focused on the tech side of SEO. Sites, tools, outreach, etc. I focused on sales, communication, and money.
Before we started the agency, I knew that the cash flow might be the biggest issue. So cash reserves were my number one priority. We did not want to spend all income on growth or production. As an agency, we understood that everything is a marathon and we need to take a slow approach. This thinking helps us avoid any cash issues and allows us to keep growing steadily.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Everything happened so fast. One of our clients contacted Tomas and offered him to join their team. He declined the offer and introduced me; I also declined because I didn’t want to work full-time with a single company.
A few days later, I met with Tomas and said that it would be great to open an agency and combine our skills. So we quickly contacted that client who offered work for both of us and asked if they were still looking for a blog manager (or similar position person). They replied with a "Yes!". We informed them that we are opening an agency and can take care of that as an agency. They agreed.
Within a few days, we created a website with a super inventive name & domain - justntom.com.
A week before, we had nothing. Now we had an agency, website, and 1 client. The start was great! On the website, we shared all our work and expertise. And started to look for new clients.
We used our existing contacts, all past clients, shared on social media, and asked for references. We did everything we could think of.
After a month, we had 3 clients. 2 startups and 1 huge design blog. After this success (it was a huge deal for 2 guys), we decided to stop hunting for new clients. Instead, we started to focus on understanding how the agency works and what we needed.
Long story short, we got super lucky, and the timing was perfect for us.
Also, this business model (agency) was great for us because it didn’t require a lot of investment. We created the site by ourselves. We knew how to do certain things and the tools we needed to start. The investment was minimal.
We just had to cover tools and some platform expenses. A few hundred per month.
The biggest lesson from the first few months is probably the importance of managing expectations with clients and being honest.
There always will be some delays, fuck ups, and missed deadlines. Especially in the beginning. Just show them that you care, do your best, and they will understand you.
In content marketing and SEO, results might take a while to arrive in the beginning, so at the same time, you need to educate your client and make sure he understands where we are at certain points of the process.
The second biggest lesson was to understand that people who are hired to do some work don't care about the result as much as you do. So you need to always double-check everything.
Again talking with your employees is important. Trusting them is important, but you can't trust 100%. You always need to verify everything yourself. If something goes wrong, it's going to be your fault. And telling the client that you are not the one at fault is not an option.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
During our 4 years of existence, we tried many different things to attract new clients. But up until this point, there have been 3 main ways of getting new clients.
The first one and most common in the industry was cold outreach. The majority of people hate cold outreach because most of the time, all these pitches are the same and don't provide any value. It's just annoying spam.
"Hello, my name is X,
I can offer you Y. Please reply to my email.
Not going to lie; we tried this, and after a week, we understood that it's not going to work.
The crucial step at the beginning was to focus on some niches that were interesting to us, and niches that we were familiar with. Those were eCommerce, tech, and marketing.
So we analyzed hundreds of companies in these particular niches and decided which to contact. The strategy was simple, we did audits, analyzed their content, and suggested how to improve things, and showed them their weak points.
We got a huge portion of our clients this way. The whole process is long; you need to find the right person, contact him, sometimes discuss and explain things.
But the success rate is kinda high when you have a system.
Look for a reliable partner when things start to get too busy. It is a natural transition for entrepreneurs who are no longer capable of handling everything simply because they lack time.
The 2nd strategy was intros with the people your clients have in their contact lists. You add them to your LinkedIn circle, Twitter, and analyze what they have in their contacts. What they follow etc..
Then after some time and good results, you ask for an intro with X, Y, Z people. If they do an intro, it means they are not afraid to recommend you and say some good things about you. This word of mouth helps a lot. You don't need to prove anything to new people; they already trust you because you did a good job for their friend.
The 3rd strategy we use is a prime cost SEO offer. We contact companies (similar to cold outreach) and show an example of our work and offer them to do some work with us for a prime cost. One of the selling points is that we allow them to pay after the job is done. So they don't have anything to lose.
We acquired some really good leads by implementing such a strategy. Many of them were one-time clients (they tried our services and moved away), and some of them just didn’t pay us for our work. We knew that might happen, so it wasn't a shock for us.
After 4 years of work, we still use some of these strategies. But now it's way easier because we work with many huge companies. We have testimonials from people who lead worldwide top companies. Also, we have built some contacts during this period of time.
My simple advice would be to trust your gut feeling and try methods or strategies others don't. It doesn't mean it's not working, maybe they just didn't figure these methods out yet. Be yourself.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As of today, we are making an average of $35k per month in recurring revenue with 6-8 clients.
We can do better in numbers, but at the same time, we struggle with some processes. We want to systematize everything even more and ramp this up to 2X.
At the moment, our team is composed of Yuri, myself, and 4 full-time colleagues. Each of them has different tasks and responsibilities. We would save more money if we hired freelancers or contractors. But the in-house team is more efficient and dedicated.
Also, late last year, we started working on our own projects and began to flip some websites. Buy -> improve -> sell. In 12 months we sold 5 sites. One of them was acquired by a #1 eCommerce platform (can't disclose the name). All these side gigs take time, but it allows us to learn new things about websites, SEO, and try new campaigns.
We have many plans for the future. However, the main ones are ramping up the blog by publishing more content and sharing more stories, insights, and pieces of advice on social media.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Don't take anything personally. It's just business. If you keep that in mind, it's going to be easier to run your agency.
The results matter, but the business is built on many different things. When we started, I thought that clients would never leave if we reached goals, but it's not true.
To keep a client with you, you need to:
- have great customer support;
- go the extra mile from time to time;
- suggest new things, show that you are improving and want to assist them;
- forget about 8-5 working hours and help your client 24/7;
- be honest even if you make a mistake as honesty always helps.
Despite doing everything above and more, clients might still leave you. And that’s okay. They might want to try different methods or experts.
If they do X numbers with you, you can only imagine what they can do with a bigger agency with more people.
The most important thing to keep you running and being successful is a willingness to learn and improve. I pride myself on having a growth mindset and am constantly listening to podcasts, reading blog posts from the best experts, and buying training courses. Competition is fierce in this business. If you want to thrive and survive, you need to constantly look for new ways to refine your craft.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We spend around $1,500 per month for software that everyone in the team uses.
Tools & platforms we use daily include:
- URL Profiler
- G Suite
- Other various tools
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I was a fan of podcasts and had no problems paying for things since the first days of my online career. If something is for free, it might not have the best quality. I prefer to pay, support creators, and at the same time, I expect to get the best things.
I follow many entrepreneurs, SEO experts on Twitter. There are instances when they share or recommend something valuable. I do not hesitate to spend money if products or services are good.
So far, one of my best investments is Traffic Think Tank.
Not going to lie; I'm not a heavy reader. I prefer to read case studies, blog posts, or articles that are related to SEO, marketing, entrepreneurship, or self-improvement.
However, I have read some books in the last 5 years:
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad
- The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy
- The New One Minute Manager
- Start Something That Matters
- Never Split the Difference
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Taking that first step is hard, but you need to get started regardless of any doubts that might be inside your head. Of course, plunging in right away is not the best method either. You need to have a plan. Create a checklist and take small steps. Each point cleared off that list will feel like an achievement and give you more motivation.
Some say that following your dreams is the obvious choice. What you consider passion does not always translate into a successful business venture. In fact, focusing entirely on your passion might destroy it and will ultimately lead you to hate the thing you used to love the most. Separating hobbies and work is worth consideration.
Learning from mistakes builds character and gets you closer to goals. Mistakes can be the best teacher. Expect that the road to entrepreneurship will be full of obstacles that will lead to errors. And do not be afraid of initial failure. Embrace that failure and turn it into a strength instead of a weakness.
Look for a reliable partner when things start to get too busy. It is a natural transition for entrepreneurs who are no longer capable of handling everything simply because they lack time. Moreover, thriving in business alone is a tough challenge, whereas building a great team that has your back will bolster the success of an agency.
Lastly, try to enjoy what you are doing. Even if there are periods when things are not going that well, and you are frustrated, there is still something new to learn and become better at your craft. Aim to end each day with a sense of achievement, even if it seems insignificant. Having a positive attitude will make you happier and more satisfied with choosing the path of entrepreneurship.
Where can we go to learn more?
Or email me at [email protected]
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