Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content, and social marketer. He started his own consultancy in 2008, with revenue of forty cents on his first project, to four hundred dollars the very next day. Today he has revenues in the 7 figures and a global virtual team of over 70 people.
He is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Louder.Online, a digital marketing consultancy that specializes in Intelligent & Effective Search and Content & Social Marketing. He has been working in the digital and technology industry over the last two decades.
The company’s grown considerably over the years. Notable clients include global brands such as Salesforce, IBM, Ford, LG, Coca-Cola, Intel, and many more.
Aaron has also worked with a broad range of small businesses, with the sole aim of creating actionable and thoughtful digital marketing strategies that achieve results.
His expertise and efforts have been recognized and featured by The Huffington Post, Forbes, HubSpot, Inc., Content Marketing Institute, Entrepreneur, and the Sydney Morning Herald.
He has had over ten years of experience in business management and is regularly invited to speak at various digital marketing and networking events.
What you will learn
- How Aaron Built a global business with Zoom (and other virtual platforms)
- Why doing is the new learning
- How to design your life around your business and passion
- The importance of managing cash flow
- The big shift to virtual and how to do it
- The importance of offshore and outsourcing teams for business growth
- Cheap countries to live in while earning USD
- How to use the power of the internet to scale your business globally
- The flexibility of virtual teams
- Books and mentors that inspired Aaron
- The importance of personal and business brand building for attracting multi-million dollar clients
- Old business models that are broken and the new way to start and grow a business online
- Why playing the long game and persisting is worth it
- The synergy of multi-channel marketing
- Which countries to use for each marketing category
- The importance of proper processes and systems
- The vital tasks of educating suppliers and customers if you want to succeed.
Jeff Bullas:Today, we're having a chat with Aaron Agius and find out what he's been doing over the last few years. So, Aaron is one of the world's leading digital marketers according to Forbes. He's CEO of Louder Online, One of the world's leading digital agencies with offices in the USA, Australia, and Asia. Aaron has a significant social following, and founded the Global Marketing Leaders group on LinkedIn with over 11,000 active members of the marketing community.
Aaron regularly contributes to some of the world's largest editorial publications, including: Forbes, Fortune, entrepreneur.com, HubSpot, Business.com, Content Marketing Institute, VentureBeat.com, CMO, Fast Company, and many more. I won't keep going because I've run out of room.
He's a thought leader on marketing and business growth globally. Aaron works globally with clients such as Salesforce, IBM, Coca-Cola, Intel, and scores of leading brands showing them how to technically optimize their sites, perform influencer outreach, and link acquisition, and produce and distribute content that drives significant lead generation and ROI.
Aaron also regularly speaks at conferences around the globe, including the U.S., UK, Brazil, London, and Australasia. His passion; to help businesses driven from his own experience. Aaron was at the cutting edge of the emerging digital marketing field over 12 years ago, he uses that lived experience and now translates into revenue for clients. So welcome to the show Aaron, I've been wanting to do this for a while.
Aaron Agius: Thanks man, that was a hell of an intro, it was a mouthful.
Jeff Bullas: Well, we've got maybe an hour here, so we can do a little intro to introduce your awesomeness, which is actually what we're going to try and discover today. And Aaron and I have known each other for a few years, and there's maybe something about Aaron that many of you don't know so, Aaron, you haven't been in the digital industry all your life, in fact, you used to be a firefighter.
Aaron Agius: I did. In fact, that was one of many roles that I had, I was actually in all sorts of other horrible roles, like IT roles and network building and infrastructure, project management and all sorts of stuff that I was good at and able to do, but it was very unfulfilling personally.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Well, I actually went and did a little bit of research about you because even though I know you, we've caught up for a few long lunches, which have been most enjoyable, including that rainy day in Manly, where we went to go to an event that didn't exist, and we said "what should we do?" and we said "I think I know a place we can go to." So we spent the afternoon watching the rain fall in a little glass house on top of a hotel, overlooking Sydney Harbor.
Aaron Agius: It was very romantic.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, we didn't buy flowers, but it was close, but that was a great afternoon that we've caught up many times since and it's been great fun. So Aaron, I noticed in some of your, I did a little bit of research about you, because you're online a lot, so you know, it wasn't hard to find.
Aaron Agius: Let's see how accurate this is. See what kind of picture I've actually painted out there.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, so exactly. So I want to find a little bit more about Aaron because I know you fairly well, but I think there's more to dig and find out about you. So apart from being a Fireman, which a lot of the ladies would like to hear about more of, but we'll get back to that later, women tend to like men in uniform, apparently.
Jeff Bullas: So the reality was that, back in about 2001, you started getting into the tech industry and you worked for some companies like Datacom, Walker and a company called SMO is. So tell me a little bit about how you got into the tech industry, but let's maybe wind that back a little bit, So you were a fireman, so how long were you a Fireman for?
Aaron Agius: I was not a Fireman for very long, unfortunately, because it was the best job I ever had. The only thing is that if you don't need a job, you don't need a job, right? If I had to have one, that's what I'd be doing. But I was in all the IT jobs first then started doing some of the marketing work and decided I wanted to be a Firefighter at the same time, so I was essentially doing both at the same time and what I quickly realized was, it was straight around the time when I had two young boys as well and I realized it was all just too much. There was no set off time or anything, it was rotating shifts at the Firey's, so there were no weekends and then when I was finishing, I was off doing marketing work and not getting enough time with the little ones. So I unfortunately had to give it up. It was amazing though.
Jeff Bullas: Okay, So from a fireman to getting into the tech industry, how did that happen?
Aaron Agius: Well it was the other way around. It was tech getting into Firefighter and then marketing at the same time. So it, in terms of the tech stuff, I knew computers, I know how to use computers, I'm good with them and so it just was a path of least resistance getting out of school and getting into that sort of thing, but what I found was that a lot of the work I was doing was just dealing with angry people in support requests. They're not coming to you saying, "Hey, come create this thing" or "Let's contribute to this" or anything. It was always someone angry that they didn't know how to use a mouse or something like that.
Aaron Agius: It was frustrating, at least in the early years and then as I was doing, I was building big sort of nationwide networks and that kind of thing, but still, it was just so much unhappy support stuff that you had to do alongside it, it wasn't doing enough for me.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So you were firefighting, but firefighting technical issues.
Aaron Agius: Putting out different fires exactly. And being a firefighter, So my best mate's a firefighter, has been for a lot of years. My uncle in San Francisco is now a retired firefighter, he was a captain of the firehouse for 25, 30 years, something like that. And so, two people that I'm close with are always telling me how great the role was and me, like most kids wanting to be a firefighter when you grow up, I figured I'd give it a shot when the opportunity came up, and it was very tough to get into but very rewarding.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So you're in tech and so you worked for a couple of, in the tech world for some of Australia's biggest construction companies, didn't you? I saw the Crane Group. The other one was Leighton, which is a big construction company in Australia. Was that a lot of the tech support roles? Was that dealing with users that didn't know how to turn a computer on?
Aaron Agius: No. Before that was Datacom, where it was a lot of support-based stuff doing support for Microsoft and HP and other big companies. And then when it got into Crane Group, that was doing a lot of the networking, and then Leighton Contractors... or they've changed their name now, but Leighton was building the big national networks and project managing that, and overseeing those really big... They built the Ballina Bypass in New South Wales. So I had to build the networks that connected everyone on site back to the head offices and into state offices and all kinds of things.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. So if we fast forward a little bit to 2008, which is when I believe you actually started Louder Online, what inspired you to go, "Okay, I'm going to start my own digital marketing consulting agency?" How did that happen? What inspired you to go from, I suppose, a fairly ordinary role of working for a large corporation? It wasn't ordinary, but you were answering to the bosses and now you said, "I'm going to go and work for myself." How did that come about?
Aaron Agius: There was a spell in between Crane Group and Leighton Contractors where I decided, "I can build networks. I can fix computers. I hate working for other people. Why don't I just do it for myself?" I actually bought a computer repair franchise from Australia's largest franchise group, from Jim's Group. So I had Jim's Computer Services, with a mate of mine, and we did that for a while. One of the things I found was that I bought a franchise because I didn't know anything about business and thought, "There's a security of systems and processes and everything built in and minimal revenue of security that they offered and all of that, and I can just focus on stuff that I'm good at." And it took about three months to realize that that sucked, because I was unable to influence the growth of the business marketing, anything like that, without getting approvals all the way up the chain.
Aaron Agius: And so that was my first attempt. We did really well. Sold it. Moved on. Moved back into a job, which was at Leighton's, but always had that itch. I've always been entrepreneurial. I wanted to work for myself. I just wanted to do it better than I had done it before. In terms of in 2008, I was working at Leighton's with a friend of mine at the time, and we'd both gone through various things and decided, "I'm just going to pack it in and leave and go on an extended vacation." So we decided to do that at the same time, and packed up, sold everything and went to Thailand to live in Ko Pha-ngan, just off Ko Samui for it was about six months, at the time.
Aaron Agius: What was really cool about that was that we did nothing, no work, nothing, except live on this villa on the side of an island where there were two full-time staff and it was cheaper than living anywhere in Australia. Every second day, we went and did Muay Thai training, Thai boxing, in town, and the rest of the time we sat there listening to things like Habits of Highly Effective People and How To Win Friends and Influence People, and every kind of ebook you can imagine, just on audio. Just trying to build back up and just try to learn, really.
Aaron Agius: What we decided and worked out there was that there's got to be a way where we could do this long term for as long as we wanted. As in, it was so cheap and so amazing to live there that we needed to find a way to earn some sort of money anywhere in the world so we could live anywhere in the world. And thinking, "What about the whole geo arbitrage play, earning a strong currency, living on the cheap currency? How are we going to earn US dollars?" We started researching, "Let's look into, people are saying they're making money online." And so we sat there doing some research.
Aaron Agius: My partner at the time, who's now my wife and business partner, had a background in marketing. I had a background in IT, obviously. So we thought, "I'm sure we can stick this together and figure out this internet marketing thing. There's got to be some truth to what's actually happening out there, rather than people just saying they're making money, and making money by selling courses on how to make money," sort of thing. So we ended up moving back to Sydney, and spent a good four months, just every hour of the day, sitting in front of a laptop, trying to figure out how to do internet marketing. That was exhausting, because there was nowhere near the amount of resources or free education out there that there is today.
Jeff Bullas: So this is in about 2008, is that right? Okay, yeah. I remember myself doing research back then and you had to dig deep. There's hardly any free content available. This is before the advent really of serious content marketing, inbound marketing, wasn't it? So...
Aaron Agius: Yeah, and you had to wade through what you believed and didn't believe as well, because there's a lot of crap out there, people making stuff up. And so the tough thing was that we had to work out what channel we're going to get traffic from, what we're going to do with the traffic, how we're going to monetize it, all kinds of things. And when you look at a matrix of what all that can potentially look like, there's just endless amounts of things that you look into. We didn't want to do web design. We didn't want to do web development or anything like that. We didn't have a product. We thought, "How about we just sell someone else's product or drive traffic to someone else's website?" So essentially, affiliate marketing.
Aaron Agius: And so we started in affiliate marketing, and then it was, "Okay, well, how do we get the traffic? Everyone's talking about this social media thing now. Maybe we should do that." But that was too new and fresh for me, and I wasn't a huge fan at the time. And then there was either paid traffic through ads or there was organic traffic, free traffic through SEO. I had no money. We sold things and ran out of money, living overseas, so paid ads were out of the options and it came down to SEO. The one thing that I am is highly competitive, and I loved the fact that you had to be better than the other 10 on the front page of Google to make sure you're getting any kind of traffic. So, that really appealed to me.
Aaron Agius: And we had time. We didn't have money, we had time. So we started learning everything we could about SEO. It took four months of non stop work before we made our first money online in a day. I was waking up and we made 40 cents. It's really laughable now. But the thing is that it was super exciting because it proved it's real. It is actual real stuff. It's not just people making it up. There was no one that you could rely on at the time that was out there that you could say, "There's proof." You had to just figure it out.
Aaron Agius: It proved it worked, and it also proved that it wasn't all in vain and the risks that we took was worth it. And it also meant that... what we knew then is the same thing that we know now... that the internet's almost infinitely scalable and can in parts be highly automated. And so that 40 cents, we turned that into $400 the next day, just by saying, "That exact thing worked. Okay, cool. Let's do that a hundred times over on that next day." And that's exactly what we did. And then that just scaled and scaled and we were off around the world living in different places and doing it from anywhere.
Jeff Bullas: Yep. So it's, that was just, you saw even the 40 cents was enough to actually go, okay, this works. Because it's just the spark really, isn't it? Which, you going, this is actually something I can double down on. So you got a green light and the next day made 400. So the inspiration, I suppose, for you to start then is that you were a little tired of working for other people. And the itch that you wanted to scratch was you wanted to, I suppose, write your own destiny, write your own story. And also create a lifestyle around that which is what you have done because you're now in Singapore. You picked up from Sydney like nearly two years ago now I think it is.
Aaron Agius: Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: You go, well I want to live in Singapore because you weren't renting offices. So what's supported you along the way? What sort of books? Or have you had any mentors that have really guided you to actually take it to the next level and supported you?
Aaron Agius: Yeah, there's been various ones, various people, various books for various different reasons. Not just like, I'm just copying everything this person does and says, and that's going to change my world. It's been, oh sorry. I think one of the first ones would have been, and I know so many people say this, but this was, it was The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. But we didn't, we didn't read that and decide, oh we're going to go do all this. We were doing that for a year or two, something like that. And then came across the book in a bookstore in Malaysia actually, and was like, Oh wow, we're actually doing like half of this stuff already. And if we tweak these couple of things, and it just, some more light bulbs went off. We started going, oh this is great. And it just sent us down the rabbit hole further and exploring more things.
Aaron Agius: So that was really good in the beginning. And then different people have come along for different reasons. Like Neil Patel, who I'm sure most people would know online has been influential in terms of, from a branding perspective. And someone that has just invested in his personal brand from day one, and done more personal branding than anyone that I've seen consistently over a long period of time. And even when there's no business off the back of that to make revenue, he's still plowing in thousands of dollars per month building that one brand. I mean, there's a business, he just pivots that, and that brand takes off like crazy. He just uses that brand and moves it across. So from a branding perspective there's Neil, yeah for sure. I mean, there's so many people in so many different ways.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. It's very fascinating to hear about the book The Four Hour Work Week. It was one of my inspirations to start my website back in 2009. Along with David Meerman Scott's book, The New Rules of Marketing PR, which is all about content. And then as part of that too, that created a personal brand. So both you and I have actually experienced power building a personal brand by giving free content away. And that's certainly ... And we've collaborated over the years by sharing each other's content and we've discovered that it really does work.
Jeff Bullas: And it's such a different mindset to what business used to be about in the past, Don’t tell anyone what your expertise is. Don't give away anything for free, keep it hidden. So, but then you had to go and do all these things like knock on doors, cold calls to build businesses, spend big bucks, whether it's TV, print, the list goes on. So for me that was a revelation back then to actually discover the power of building a personal brand by creating content and giving it away. Because even in 2008, the reality was that there was very little free content of any value that you can really trust.
Aaron Agius: Yeah, exactly. And that part of our journey as well, I didn't even care about that. I wasn't trying to create a brand at all. It was all initially just based on affiliate marketing, right? We were just moving traffic from one place to the other and learning the mechanisms and how it all stuck together. It was after that we realized how up and down affiliate marketing can be. There's some months you're just killing it and then there's no consistency. And it's like, okay now I've got to switch this. And eventually people started saying to us, "Look, if you're able to do that for your own web assets, or those guys, teach me how to do it from my side."
Aaron Agius: So it started being ... That's where we got into consulting and we started with smaller businesses, and over the years have worked our way up to the biggest companies in the world. And it's during that transition where we quickly identified, we go, we need a brand. We need a brand, I need a brand and the company needs a brand to be able to compete against others for the business, to work with these companies. And that's where I started experiencing all the same stuff that you're saying around giving away the farm in content and you know, watching it come back.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I remember having many conversations with many people when I was running workshops. Because I worked for a digital agency, we built websites. And trying to get this concept across was incredibly difficult back, you know, 10, 12 years ago. They're going, "You're giving this all away, what are you going to get back in return?" I said, "Well sort of trust me it's going to work. Trust me, I'm a salesman." So that was the reality. And I was working for two directors and I was trying to explain it to them. Because I was bootstrapping my side hustle, which was my website and blog back in 2009, and they didn't get it at all. They worked in digital because it was such a different mindset to what we'd experienced ever before.
Aaron Agius: Yeah. To be fair, I still am running into that. But different countries are educated and sold on it in different ways, and to different levels. The US, we get most people coming to us saying, "We could do this exact thing, like we get it. You don't have to sell it to us, just do it." Which I love. Australia still takes a bit of nudging and education to get them there. And then a lot of the time it's also ... If you're ever talking to performance marketers and companies who have typically done really well with ads, and set up their business with ads, and they're sitting there saying, "All right, but now we want to be able to reduce the ad spend and increase the organic traffic."
Aaron Agius: Which we come across a lot. That's still a hard sell because even though they're asking us for that, they're trying to measure the ROI and the monetary value of every single piece of content that's been created and say, "Well where's my sales from that?" Or, where's my leads from that? And you know, that's not the point. We're able to get leads to the site because of that. You're able to have more indexed pages. You know, there's so many different reasons that aren't a financial ROI for doing organic traffic and inbound marketing. And that's exhausting sometimes.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I totally get that. And the biggest challenge I had in getting that message across was, you turn on an ad and you start driving clicks straight away. You build content and you mightn't see results for six months or more. So basically by that time, the client's going, "Well nothing's happening so we're not going to do this anymore." And that's, I think, one of the biggest challenges is that ... I love the quote by Bill Gates where he says, a lot of people overestimate what they can do in one year, but underestimate what they can do in 10 years. And the game you're playing, especially in the organic SEO, search engine optimization, space and content creation, is playing a long game.
Jeff Bullas: And that's really hard to get across if people are looking for quick results. But I suppose at the end of the day, what's happening now is the organic reach of social media got wound back in 2013, 2014. That's about when it happened, when Facebook started changing its algorithm. And we both witnessed that in real time for both of us, for both our businesses. So now we're in a different sort of, I suppose, ecosystem where we need to be able to good at paid marketing as well as being good at the organic marketing such as content marketing and search engines. So tell me a bit more about how you see that.
Aaron Agius: Yeah, I mean, that's critical. Obviously, we came up through SEO and organic and when we started doing that for businesses as a service and consulting, it was that you could just focus on that one channel and you could focus on a... Back in the day it was technical and links made all the difference and content wasn't huge. You didn't need to do too much on that front. As algorithms changed, it was like, "Whoa, you can't legitimately do link acquisition and think that you're going to rank for tons and tons of things, if you don't have the right content in place." And so as well, when we started moving up the larger and larger businesses, we realized that we needed to be a data-led business, and then content that was created off the back of that data.
Aaron Agius: So we built out amazing content services, and that was the foundation for us to be able to say, "Now we can do proper link acquisition, proper technical, all the rest of them." But at the same time, it was also realizing that to be able to provide these services to big business, everyone has to play in multichannel. You have to be doing ads for instant revenue. You have to be doing social for customer service and to tap into that channel and referral traffic and all that kind of stuff. You have to be doing SEO for the free high quality traffic looking for your product or service right at the time. And so for us, our goal is to be a client's lead digital partner. And so we expanded our services again, made sure that we were killing it across all paid stuff as well. So we're able to do SEM. We're able to do Facebook ads and all of that.
Aaron Agius: And especially, as you were saying, with the decline in organic reach in Facebook was right around the time that everyone started getting into Facebook ads, because if you wanted to see that audience, you had to pay for it. So we started doing that. We've done a lot of eCommerce, Facebook ads and so on and so forth. But multichannel is absolutely where it's at. The synergies between using multiple channels absolutely help every other one. We use data from SEM to inform our SEO campaigns and vice versa. It just means that every channel is able to perform better.
Aaron Agius: SEO (Search Engine Marketing) used to be something that you did to a website, and now it's the result of having a good business and being featured in the press and creating content that's of value to people and all of those kind of things. It's not just, I'm going to do SEO to a site. It performs well as a business, and watch your organic traffic skyrocket.
Jeff Bullas: So what you're saying is it's the synergy between the paid and organic and content, and then measuring what works through data.
Aaron Agius: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff Bullas: So you've got a bit of a different business model as a digital agency. So a lot of people have very expensive offices with flash reception areas. Tell me a little bit about your business model in terms of how you scale, but without having offices. So tell me a little bit about that.
Aaron Agius: It is very different. It was more different when we started and it used to be a challenge for us in terms of winning clients as well. So initially, we went from affiliate marketing. We decided that we needed people to help us do the campaigns and all that kind of stuff. So, we didn't want to hire expensive people. We went to India initially, and this is before we got client work. We went to India and we got so many yes sirs. Yes, we can do that. Yes, sir. And then just got nothing back, like anything we were supposed to get back. And that was a massive learning curve for us to say, "The reality is, if we're not getting back what we need, that's not actually their fault. That's on us. We haven't built out the instruction documents. We haven't given them a video explanation. We haven't shown them what it's supposed to look like as a result. We haven't done all of these sorts of things."
Aaron Agius: And what we quickly learned was that like any business, you need proper processes and systems. And we built that out, which meant that we could then go to some of the cheapest places in the world. We had a bunch of people from India working for us initially on those campaigns, went to the Philippines, went to Eastern Europe. As we moved into consulting, instead of just the affiliate stuff, we decided that for different aspects of the campaigns that we'd be offering for our clients, there were certain countries that were better than others for that kind of stuff. So a lot of the data stuff was really done really well in India. A lot of the content stuff had to be US for our US clients. You couldn't get that... We've tried so many cheaper ways of getting it done, and it just was not worth the hassle.
Aaron Agius: The link outreach stuff done out of Eastern Europe. There's many different places that we went for different things, and with our processes and systems and management structure that we put in place in those countries, it just meant that we could keep that going. We could save on overhead. And it also meant that it didn't restrict our lifestyle in terms of what we wanted from the initial goal that you mentioned, which was live and work from anywhere. And it also meant that we could have clients from anywhere in the world.
Aaron Agius: So there were so many benefits in terms of, the client needed something, we could have it delivered overnight while they were asleep, because that's when half our team are awake. And so there are a lot of really good parts, but in the early days, it was really tough for clients to say, "Well, we can't have a face-to-face meeting with you or have you in our office. And that's kind of important to our board." And I'd sit there, just shaking my head and thinking, I can do this video like we're doing right now and you can see all my body language and I can influence you just like I would.
Aaron Agius: And so I found it frustrating and you had some wins and some losses and it was harder then. And then nowadays, it doesn't impact people in any way, shape or form. And half of our clients, like Salesforce is a client of ours for years, and half the team was working from home over in New York, half was working from the San Francisco office. And no one cared where anyone was as long as they could do video calls and work out a time between them.
Aaron Agius: And so as time went on, this became more the norm and we stopped looking so cutting edge. Everyone is learning now the hard way by being forced into work from home. We've been doing it for 12, 13 years where you're used to all of this stuff. So yeah, I think the key lesson there was the building of processes and systems and taking responsibility for any failures that happened that were ours for not building that stuff up in the beginning. And good lessons learned because you sit here and say, "Okay, well you're a digital marketer and you might know some IT stuff," but I can also tell you how to build processes and systems and outsource teams and offshore teams and all of that. And those are businesses in themselves. There are people who run full businesses on teaching people how to do outsourcing and hire in the Philippians and setting up remote teams and call centers. And I've done all of them.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Because the old paradigm used to be, you used to actually have to have an office reception, you have to pay expensive lease, you had to have permanent staff, you used to actually have a landline. So you weren't a real business unless you had a landline number on your business card. And 10, 12 years ago, it's like, "You're not a real business if you don't have a landline." You're going, "Well, hang on." And we're in the middle. So the whole we've been going through over a decade now of the shift. The reality, too, is in the middle of what's happening today, we're in the middle of the pandemic, it's like, basically, wartime, frankly, is that you can't go and visit people. It's frankly, face to face is not happening anymore. So we're in the middle of a big shift to even more virtual. And I think this is going to change business forever. It doesn't mean we won't have face to face. It won't mean that we don't have real conferences. And so how do you see this playing out in the middle of coronavirus pandemic?
Aaron Agius: It's interesting. Initially, I was thinking that there's not going to be... Things are returning back to normal in a couple of months. But with the sheer volume of businesses that have shut down, people that have become unemployed, all of a sudden these people all need to figure it out fast. How can they turn their shutdown business? How can I get some revenue in by switching it online? The people that are unemployed, how can they find ways of earning an income online? So all of a sudden it's a massive wave of people all hitting these channels and going, "I got to figure it out." I think that there's going to be a lot of people that don't go back to the way things were. A lot of restaurants that are going to stick to permanent delivery instead of eat in and they'll find it more profitable. I think there's going to be a big number of changes. I don't know what they are. I hope to influence some of them.
Jeff Bullas: Right.
Aaron Agius: I don't know what they are yet.
Jeff Bullas: Well, there's certainly been a big move to what we call dark kitchens where, actually, there's no actual restaurant, but it's basically designed entirely around take away, home delivery service. So I think this is going to accelerate. The thing that worries me is so many businesses have had to close. Some will not survive. I think we're going to lose some of our favorite places that we used to hang out at. And for me, I'm terrified for that. And also we need to look after the people that, in some way, that are most impacted by this, for example, I was supposed to go and have my hair cut a couple of weeks ago and I went, "Maybe not a good idea," because it's fairly up close and personal.
Jeff Bullas: And I went, "You know what?" I rang her up and said, "I'm actually going to pay you and I'm going to make another booking, and if it's not available in five weeks, I'm actually going to pay you again,"
Aaron Agius: Nice.
Jeff Bullas: The reality is I'm in a position at the moment to be able to do that. And my cleaner, the same. And I spoke to her and said, "Look." She said, "I can't come and clean." I said, "Okay." I thought about it and said, look, I want to make sure she's still around and make sure I look after her. So I've paid her as well for a fortnightly cleaning services, because I think the great thing about this community, this worldwide community we live in now, is I think we're just going to double down and look after each other in whatever way we can. And some of us got more resources and means than others, and that's fine, but it's a very interesting time. And I, basically, had a chat with Liam Austin the other day, and he runs virtual conferences, as I think you might've heard of Liam, and...
Aaron Agius: I did an interview with him once.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So, well, exactly, I did the same. So it was great to have a chat with him about how he sees conferences playing out and the actual technology to deliver a conference at scale. Now, Aaron, one thing I would ask you is, okay, so you've built, essentially, a global team that delivers high value, working for big brands. So what's the size of your team. So how many...
Aaron Agius: Yeah, there's over 70, but it's in varying capacities. And so there's full-time, part-time, contractors, and so on. One of the things that we did that was talking about the whole setting up of remote teams and all that kind of stuff is that we, actually, did something really different, which is to help businesses, help people set up their own businesses to support local clients like in the Philippines. And we gave them our processes, templates, everything else. We taught them how to do what we needed done because, they need to do it for us. And then we said, feel free to use them to support your own clients. But we remain, essentially, the number one client, you are our team, you deliver this as expected. And we did that in a number of different places and it felt good because we were giving back to them. And at the same time, the loyalty that we built was huge.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So what you've done is actually you've taken content marketing to a whole new level. You've given away your IP in terms of processes and templates, but what you are, is you're bringing value to them because you're, actually, the conduit or sales conduit that keeps them busy and paid. So one of the big questions we have about businesses, especially online businesses is about getting your product or services distributed. In other words, scaling your sales. Tell me a little bit about how you go about that.
Aaron Agius: So in other words, how are we doing lead acquisition for the agency growth? So, I mean, that's touching on everything that we spoke about before, which is inbound marketing. We eat our own dog food, so to speak. So with the size clients that would go for, so funded startups through to enterprise, there's not many people who are going to sit there, reading out on Facebook and then fill in their details on a landing page to buy a million dollar a year contract, which is the kind of thing that we'd sell. It's not how they operate. A CMO of one of those companies, a VP of marketing, that kind of thing, they need to feel like they came to that decision on their own to reach out to you that they saw you were featured in Forbes or writing in Fortune Magazine or whatever it is. And saw your content on LinkedIn, they read your blog, they saw all these different places.
Aaron Agius: They've got those 10, 15 touch points on you personally, and your brand and then they decide to reach out. And yeah, we can influence that through making sure we're publishing everywhere, making sure our brand grows, we're getting interviews and so on. We can also influence that by running ads at people who have read certain bits of content. And so they're seeing us in ads, they're seeing us in inbound, multichannel approach that we spoke about, but we've never successfully just gone, we're going to run a paid campaign that's just pure paid to lead to those big companies, which is unfortunate because I'd love to just turn the tap on and know that whatever I put in I'm going to get X amount out. That just doesn't work for our particular business with the target market that we have. So yeah, we do a lot of publishing, something like 20-plus pieces of content, blog posts per month on different publications, a lot of social stuff, a lot of interviews, a lot of PR, eating our own dog food, things like speaking with you and doing this kind of thing.
Jeff Bullas: That's right. I think the sales funnel concept is a little bit outdated now. It's more like a matrix. It's almost like there are so many doors into this digital world to capture leads. And it's about building credibility and trust first, before you actually ask for anything. And some of the data I've heard on that is up to 60 to 70% of the research being done on you before they even pick up the phone or send you an email. In other words, your content has defined you before they actually try even to contact you.
Aaron Agius: That's huge.
Jeff Bullas: It is huge, yeah. And if you think about the typical sales approach today, the old sales approach was you ran multiple meetings in conference rooms, in front of CMOs, whatever buying decision makers. And over time you revealed your expertise. Now, they've been doing that and you don't even know because they've actually been reading a blog post, they've downloaded your PDF, they've read your book, all of that. So now it's the matrix of credibility building through content, where they come in through so many doors, whether it's paid, organic, search engines, whether it's a Facebook ad. The list goes on. And it's complicated, as they say. Quite often I'm just intrigued, actually, to ask how'd you find us?
Aaron Agius: Yeah. Oh, you mean to a client. Yeah, exactly. I often ask that because with the myriad of different ways that your content can be found, you're looking at attribution issues then, first click attribution, last click attribution. How to map and track things is super complicated. But it keeps coming down to exactly what you said around credibility and authority building through brand.
Aaron Agius: You were talking before about when we were trying to close a client and we weren't located in their city and we had a distributed team and so on, they're like, "You don't exist unless you have that phone number or that address or the fancy office." Well, one way of combating that, a big way was to build the brand so they can Google my name or Google anything related to us, the company brand, and see that we're everywhere and we do these things and we have content in these places and we've been featured here. And that helped us. Building a brand was the difference between being able to close $60,000 a year contracts and million dollar a year contracts with no difference to the level of what we were giving them, other than people simply sat there and going, "Oh no, but they're in Forbes and over here." So that brand value increased our revenue dramatically. It's one of the things I wish I did from day one, because it made a huge difference.
Jeff Bullas: Well, you've done a pretty amazing job, really, in terms of growing what you do. I'm constantly amazed that you've built essentially a virtual digital agency that operates with you and your wife as part of the team. You're in Singapore. None of your rest of your team actually... Maybe some in Singapore, but essentially they're all around the world.
Aaron Agius: Yes.
Jeff Bullas: So here you are, you've built a 75-person digital agency that's servicing million dollar clients every year and all around the world, and you've done it essentially in the cloud, in this virtual digital world we live, with no overheads.
And I think this is good for people to know what can be done if you're willing to actually embrace this brave new world that we've actually been plunged deeper into because of the situation globally with the coronavirus. Yeah, it's fascinating to hear your story.
Aaron Agius: The advice on that particular point was that I didn't plan for it to be like this. I planned what the result was, which was to be able to live and work where we wanted. I planned that sort of financial freedom or geoarbitrage aspect of it. That was it. So whatever we did needed to be unencumbered by location. But in terms of how we were making the money online, it came down to where we first made the money and doubled down on that and where the opportunities led from that. I was fine, I was flexible. It didn't matter as long as we could scale what we were doing. So, follow the data.
Jeff Bullas: Yep. I was listening to a Tim Ferriss blog post the other day and Gary Keller (the author of “The One Thing” built the biggest real estate company in the world. And he uses the philosophy of green light, red light. So if it's working and it's a green light, just double down. If it's a red light saying stop, he stops it or minimizes it. So what you've done is you had your first 40 cents that turned to $400 the next day and you've been doubling down ever since. So watching for the green lights based upon data.
Jeff Bullas: Now, this entrepreneurial journey is not really all a bed of roses, which is a terrible cliche to use, but I've just used it. What's two or three of the biggest challenges that you've experienced along the way to get to where you are today? What are your biggest challenges?
Aaron Agius: Yeah, I've definitely touched on one of them, but I'll give you the biggest one first. The biggest one that still kills us today and it'll kill most businesses is cash flow. It's just something you got to stay on top of. When I'm talking about signing million dollar contracts, they're with companies that will pay you in 90 days after you start the service now. And then if they don't, trying to go up against these big companies and say, "Give us our money," is a nightmare, right? Managing cash flow is super difficult. You've got to keep in mind businesses, your own clients, open and close for different reasons in different places all the time, and outside of your control. So you just have to grin and bear it and make sure that you budget accordingly and price accordingly to cater for people who just won't pay.
Aaron Agius: We've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in money that we could never recover over the years. We've got businesses that haven't paid in nine months that are owing loads and loads, hundreds of thousands of dollars. You got to plan in advance. Even setting up contracts, getting payment in advance, all those things have not worked for us. You got to think about these big companies, and you want to work with the likes of Salesforce... I'm not saying they didn't pay us, but think about companies like that. They've got their own purchase order system, their own accounts. You adhere to what they want, otherwise you're not working with us kind of thing.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Aaron Agius: Yeah. I mean, that was a big one.
Jeff Bullas: Okay.
Aaron Agius: I can keep going if you want.
Jeff Bullas: A couple more, if there's some that come to mind.
Aaron Agius: Yeah, that was a big one. The other one was brand. The challenge or the frustration of not having a brand was really painful in the early days. And that was a lesson learned, do it from day one. The hard bit is that it's just like any other business, whatever you spend, you want to see an immediate ROI on. So having that confidence to invest in a brand and not see anything for a long time is tough. That is the number one thing I wish I did earlier.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Yeah. Certainly, because the issue with this digital virtual world more is that you need to build an online brand, which wasn't part of your training 101 in marketing or business school, was it? So who told you to create a personal brand online and do that via content and be everywhere and be ubiquitous? You know what? It's mostly not even still in marketing 101 at universities around the world. You've learnt by doing, which is something that's pretty awesome. You've just gone in and done it and learnt along the way, obviously with some challenges.
Aaron Agius: One of my favorite things about that is that people like yourself, you and I and people like Neil Patel and others, some of the most known people that are online at the moment and killing it online, have no formal training in business or marketing at a university. I'm not trying to speak on your behalf. Maybe you do, and I know you were a teacher previously.
Jeff Bullas: That totally qualifies me to be a digital marketer and blogger, doesn't it, really?
Aaron Agius: Exactly.
Jeff Bullas: It just set me right up. It gave me all the core skills, like being able to write, really, I suppose. That's a core skill.
Aaron Agius: Yeah, there you go. But yeah, I love the fact that it just threw normal education just out the window, and it was a great equalizer and you could pit together street smarts and a bit of hustle. God, I hate that word, but a bit of hustle and be able to stick together some amazing things. Some of the world's most known people are the ones that did it rather than sat there and studied it and tried to put some formal education over the top of it.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. One of my favorite quotes is done is better than perfect.
Aaron Agius: Me too.
Jeff Bullas: And for me too, the reality was as a teacher, I looked at the industrial education system, I'm going to call it. And as an observer of that and being working in it, kids would come up to me saying," Mr. Bullas, why are we doing this?" And I went... It was a really bad answer: "Because you have to." That's the way the system runs. And I, after four or five years of teaching, I went, "I just can't do this anymore." I felt I was teaching things that were either relevant, dated, and it was imposed on by people that were in ivory tours." And I've got nothing against that.
Jeff Bullas: Academics are smart, but a lot of them have never left school. I've bumped into people that teach entrepreneurship, and what's a little bit mind blowing is, "Have you ever run or started a business?" And the answer will be, "No."
Aaron Agius: I know how to explain a curriculum out of a textbook.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Aaron Agius: Okay.
Jeff Bullas: They also say…
I've got some great processes and templates that I can show you, and case studies from everyone else.
But it's certainly, in this incredibly fast moving world we're living today, the actual real learning... Okay, and I would still urge anyone to go and get a degree if they can because it actually got me into the IT tech industry because it was like a ticket in. I had a degree, showed that actually i could spell, grammar was a bit poor, but I had... It was like a ticket for entry. It was a pass in.
Jeff Bullas: But the real learning in life has come from just doing it with all the pain and all the challenges. So I know you've got things to do, like you've got 75 staff ringing you right now on their home phones. What are two are three things that listeners could take away from your biggest lessons that you would like to share before we let you go and do some real work rather than just talk around the fireside like we're doing now?
Aaron Agius: Yeah. I think one I've said before is try things and then use the data to inform your decisions. We do that for everything. I hate the guesswork. You may have to guess initially, but use the data off the back of that to decide where you go.
Aaron Agius: I'm sure you'd hate it as well; I hate content for the sake of content. I hate the idea that someone thinks they know content marketing because they wrote about their product or service. And it's like, well people aren't interested in that. Use data to direct where you're going in life, in what course you're going to take, in any of that. That's a big one.
Aaron Agius: I think probably the other one that I really like to get people to think about is the whole real risk versus perceived risk in terms of whatever choice or path you're going to go down. When we were making the choice to go to Thailand to not get a job, this was around GSE in 2008. Apparently the world was going crazy then as well, and we were going, "I don't want a job. We're going to figure it out and make some money online," and it seemed like the most counter productive thing to do.
Aaron Agius: But from our perspective, the real risk was that... No sorry, the perceived risk was we're never going to get a job again, we're going to be out of the workforce, we're going to be screwed, we're going to go bankrupt if it doesn't work. All of that. The real risk was we don't lose our skills, we don't lose our experience, we don't lose our connections, our network, our history. If things don't work out for a period of time, go and get that job you didn't want for a period of time. That's going to be okay.
Aaron Agius: And I think people just overthink things and overanalyze things and are too doom and gloom about the options that exist at the time. And if you look at real versus perceived risk, you can really kind of balance where you're going to go and make smart decisions and know that there's always other opportunities off the back of that.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. To sum up, I suppose your biggest number one lesson is, use data to inform your decisions and work out what works and what doesn't, and then double down on that? The other one is don't overthink it, just reduce your risk by... I suppose you would've been running a low-cost living environment. So in other words, a lot of smart entrepreneurs reduce their risk. And you did that by living in a cheaper country, by getting paid in US dollars, and keeping your overheads low. So smart entrepreneurs, such as yourselves, know that reducing the risks so you can actually last the journey is very, very important. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners before we finish up here?
Aaron Agius: Not really. Just if anyone wants to reach out, I'm happy to talk to anyone at any point. I'm doing my job-
Jeff Bullas: How can they find you?
Aaron Agius: If I'm doing my job properly, you should be able to Google me and find me in many places, but I'm on LinkedIn. Best place is LinkedIn or hit me up on email: email@example.com.
Jeff Bullas: Right. And you're using one of those secondary domains,aaron.online, at the moment. Haven't you? I've noticed.
Aaron Agius: Fancy.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, yep. But it's very simple. It's great. Aaron, thank you very much for sharing your insights and your entrepreneurial journey and your life. I've been impressed by and amazed by how well you've built a virtual digital business that's scalable, global. And as you said to me a few months ago said, "It's a business I can run in my underpants from home." And I know that you're wearing a nice t-shirt. I'm not sure what's below the camera shot?
Aaron Agius: You don't want to see.
Jeff Bullas: Anyway, Aaron, thank you very much for sharing your story. It's been an absolute pleasure to know you, and I look forward to the next time we catch up in real life when things are a little bit calmer around the world. Thank you very much, Aaron. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Aaron Agius: Thanks for having me, mate. I'll see you again soon.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. Have a great day.
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