October 28, 2016
How Johnathan Dane Built a $2 Million Dollar a Year PPC Agency, Fast
Johnathan Dane makes the hustle look easy. He played professional basketball in Denmark before attending college. He detailed cars off Craigslist in his early days, pulling in $400 daily to fund his other ambitions. He took a dead-end customer service job and parlayed it into enough AdWords experience to begin making $13,000 a month in his senior year at Cal State Fullerton. (Odd coincidence: it’s the same school Neil Patel attended.) Here’s how Johnathan channeled this hustle into building a $2+ million dollar agency in less than 18 months.
From customer support to client services
The story starts where it always does. Boredom in a theory-filled college classroom. This led Johnathan to snag his first “real job” at your run of the mill, entry-level customer service gig. In between answering support emails, he’d help out with—what else in a small company—moonlighting in their AdWords account too. After seeing the early potential, he persuaded the company to send him to a two-day seminar in LA with master ad man Brad Geddes. (An early example of Dane’s innate scrappiness.) Johnathan’s first AdWords client was a guy he met at a Barnes & Noble, who proceeded to hand him a $3,000 check to manage his $50,000/mo account. Upon walking out of the Barnes & Noble, he immediately cashed the check and went home to investigate if this guy was legit. Early successes like this were parlayed into a full-time gig by the time Dane finished college. But life as an independent consultant wasn’t enough, so instead, he partnered with a frequent collaborator to build a new agency from the ground up. Johnathan made the seemingly insane decision (for someone living in Southern California) to pick up with his new bride and move everything to Utah to co-found his first agency. Despite some early successes (along with a few failures) during the first 18 months of agency life, he knew it was time to go. The agency and his partner wanted to go one way. Johnathan wanted to go another. The all-too-familiar burnout from client work, coupled with the sub-zero temperatures outside, meant it was time for a change.
Where Johnathan & KlientBoost started
Shortly after relocating back to Southern California in January of 2015, Johnathan originally set out to start a SaaS company. However, as potential clients continued to knock on his door, he quickly found himself back in the weeds again, doing everything from PPC optimization to account management. Johnathan almost quit three times during this year. He was once again doing every single little thing, managing 15+ clients himself, trying to find the time to write and grow a brand. The “F-this” thought occurred more than once with each and every new hiccup (especially because he never intended to start another agency again). Things fortunately picked up, and instead of hiring an Account Executive or even a PPC Account Manager, his first hire was—wait for it—a designer. You know… for all those… text ads. He had six months salary in the bank for Josh (the first designer and team member). And they quickly set about with a single goal in mind: build a reputable, recognizable brand. That sounds obvious and trite. But the marketing services landscape today is fragmented and chaotic. There are zero barriers to entry for your friend’s, brother’s, wife’s, cousin who started dabbling in PPC yesterday, to set up shop and pitch uneducated buyers—winning business by charging half of what you do. Dane astutely saw how important design was to brand building, and wanted to avoid at all costs the all-too-common trap of agencies that “suck shit at marketing themselves.” (Fun fact: his second hire? Another designer.) During these early days they iterated constantly, redesigning their website three times within the first year. Today that obsession bears fruit. The light blue background with an icon overlay on each featured blog post is instantly recognizable across the interwebs. Johnathan admits it might not be the sexiest. But it is distinct. And memorable. Which was exactly the goal all along. Initially Johnathan and Josh met in Starbucks; many of them in fact. The two hit up different locations on different days, anxious about getting booted from the local one. Here they set-up shop, next to the wacky bead selling lady of course, and began growing a _different _kind of agency. One that would stand out. That wouldn’t stop short of just tweaking a few keyword match types like so many others do. One where they wouldn’t just go heads down into plug-and-play mode for client accounts, but instead do the hard work of building brand equity from day one and maturing it over time. One that would perform a unique hybrid service long needed in the marketplace—to devastating effect.
Cue KlientBoost’s rapid growth
By the end of his first year in business, Johnathan’s new PPC agency was doing $100,000 a month with 60% profit margins. By the middle of 2016, they were doing $200,000 monthly, with the goal of $250,000 in recurring monthly revenue by the end of the year. For most of that time, Dane’s kept his head down. Writing. He quickly recognized that simply going through the content marketing motions wasn’t going to cut it. (Despite the irony of a PPC company heavily pursuing content creation.) Site traffic, for the first nine months, was almost nonexistent.
So they doubled down. It was going to take Skyscraper-esque content each time they hit publish. They hired people dedicated to content marketing and promotion for the first time, helping to fuel their impressive research backed posts (like PPC History) and resource-intensive ones (like, any on their blog). A guest post on Unbounce, detailing their effective Single Keyword AdGroup (SKAG) process, has racked up 317 comments to date with at least five comments in the last month—despite being published more than two years ago. Their Gifographics, like the hilariously awesome PPC Food Pyramid, somehow manage to provide entertainment and incredible insight in the same read. Johnathan’s goal at every single conference or talk is to have the best branded design. The one that stands out, and is memorable above the rest. Memorable like this year’s Unbounce conference where he had the best damn use of a poop emojis you’ve ever seen. Content is powerful. But it’s not the end-all, be-all. You can’t use it (or any other marketing tactic) to paper over the cracks of poor execution. KlientBoost’s rapid success is due, in large part, to their hybrid value proposition. When you hire them, you’re getting an entire team of experts that can lead both PPC and traffic acquisition through to better performing landing pages and higher conversion rates. And you’ll never, ever, be able to hire someone cheaper to do it. Part of that compelling pitch comes down to how PPC (AdWords and Facebook), as a service, works. It’s not as labor intensive as say, today’s modern mutation that is SEO. So a $300,000/mo ad spend account might only take a few hours of work each week to monitor, tweak and improve (once the heavy lifting is done in the beginning of course). When done properly though, PPC has the power to deliver relatively quick and quantifiable results. Ones that clients and stakeholders can’t argue with, regardless of their industry knowledge, as they watch revenue leap forward and cash swell in their accounts. This works particularly well for direct monetization businesses, like SaaS or lead-based companies (think: mortgages), who’re savvy enough to understand their cost per acquisition and used to fronting big advertising bills. KlientBoost’s hybrid services pitch of “let us handle both traffic and conversions,” has helped literally move the needle on a thermometer on the wall of the KlientBoost Costa Mesa office (their fourth in two years). At first, that visual reinforcement was inspiring. Hitting $100k in monthly recurring revenue was a huge milestone. Heck, a huge personal accomplishment. But today, Dane’s “very unemotional” about it. He’s happy with the way things are progressing. With the money he’s making. He’s focused on leveling up his team. On working with bigger and better clients. On scratching as many backs as possible—through content and value and work—to hopefully reap the future rewards. For example, he’s currently working on a video series with ConversionXL. The potential ROI? “No idea.” But it “will open doors.” Johnathan’s also focused on backing up his Mario Kart trash talking in the office. On working with a personal trainer to get back into good enough shape to dunk again. And on being a first-time dad in a few weeks. “Growing any business [especially a marketing agency] isn’t easy”, Dane admits in one seminal post. “But it doesn’t have to be hard, either.”