How to Grow Your Digital Agency to an 8-Figure Revenue
Chris Dreyer is the founder and CEO of Rankings.io which is an agency specializing in SEO for personal injury law firms. Chris believes in being super niched in order to be successful for his clients. He says it takes extreme focus to deliver great SEO results and therefore his agency does not offer any other services or work with clients outside the legal industry. Chris is on the show to talk about how he’s grown his agency beyond the first million. He is also sharing some of the strategies he used to grow from 7-figures to an 8-figure revenue.
3 Golden Nuggets
- What got you to 7-figures won’t get you to 8-figures. Referrals aren’t scalable. Realizing this, Chris focuses on marketing. He has an employee dedicated to marketing for the agency, rather than just relying on referrals.
- Revenue doesn’t mean anything if you’re not profitable. As the agency revenue grew, so did expenses netting the same profit. Chris implemented the principles of Profit First and the agency’s profitability has improved because of it.
- Get and keep the right people in the right seats. Determine which skills are needed in-house vs. vendor. For the work that is being done in-house, constantly evaluate whether those team members are actually contributing to the bottom line or causing a financial leakage.
Sponsors and Resources
Oribi: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency
How Did One Digital Agency Grow to 8-Figures?
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I bring back a repeat guest, friend, member, client on the Masterclass, and we’re going to talk about how he went from a million in revenue all the way up to eight figures in the past couple of years. And we go over all kinds of really amazing stuff. So I think you’re really going to love this episode and let’s get into it.
Hey Chris, welcome back on the show.
Chris: [00:00:30] Yeah, thanks for having me, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I’m excited to have you back on. It’s been a while since you’ve been on the podcast. Obviously, we chat all the time in the mastermind and back and forth about Star Wars and all goofy stuff. But for the people that haven’t listened to the first episode, tell us who you are and what do you do?
Chris: [00:00:49] Yeah, my name’s Chris Dreyer. I am the CEO of Rankings.io. We own a personal injury law firm SEO agency. So very hyper niche, both horizontally and vertically, and yeah, just excited to be here and happy to discuss it.
Jason: [00:01:05] Yeah. So last time you were on, you were just kind of cresting the million in revenue, and now you’re a much further, so kind of take us through that journey a little bit about where you’re at now and what are some key things that kind of looking back of going I wish I knew this time and I could have even gotten to your level now faster.
Chris: [00:01:30] That’s a great question. That’s also a really loaded question. Jason, still try to talk about all the areas. I feel like I had my white belt and then I put on, I don’t know the jujitsu levels, but I felt like I had my white belt and then you kind of get your brown or whatever the next level is at a million.
And I think, you know, we’re, we’re approaching that. I don’t even know that I would say black belt, but. Yeah, we’re probably on target for our goal. This year is $9 million, stretch 10. And so it’s, it’s been a huge change across the entire company. I feel like we have a real business now. I think the difference is when you go to that million mark.
The owner can wear a whole bunch of hats and really hustle and get to that million mark and just fill, you know, use their, their sphere of influence and kind of depend upon referrals and get there. But I think that you actually have to do marketing, have to generate your own brand, your own inbound leads to really transition towards that, that eight-figure mark.
There are, if you think about the main components of a business, so you’ve got finance, you’ve got marketing, you’ve got sales and you’ve got operations. Finance wise. We implemented Profit First because I found out the hard way. I took my licks. The first three or four years of my business, we kept growing a hundred percent, but my revenue wasn’t increasing now, it was investing back in the business.
But for me, it was becoming more stressful in those times. I’m like, well, why do I need a $2 million business when I’m making the exact same? So I had to learn how to be financially healthy. And as we grew, also, our profitability would grow. That was a big one. It took some time. Anyone that’s read the book Profit First, it’s this lean mentality of working off of less and considering profit.
And when you’re don’t have any profit to create those percentages, it takes a lot of work. So I would say that was a big learning lesson. The second on marketing again, we were depending upon referrals, our entire staff. I think I had one marketing individual and. Which is funny. We still have one marketing individual, but our marketing spend’s way higher because we used strategic partners, but everyone was centered around operations and doing great work.
And that helped us get referrals from our clients and helped us build to that seven-figure mark. But continuing off of that, it’s feast or famine on referrals, which I know you’ve talked about.
Jason: [00:04:02] But I like the way that you do referrals. And I love that, you know, at the experience you were like, I want to call you out, Jason, about referrals.
Cause you know, I always joke with people. And I’m serious about referrals aren’t scalable if you’re waiting for them. But the way that you do referrals is you’re not waiting for them. You’re giving ammo and you’re building strategic partnerships where that is scalable and you’ve built an amazing business from that.
Chris: [00:04:31] Right, right. But yeah, we kind of joke back and forth. You and I, and. Basically is anytime you put attention towards something and you’re intentional, it can create something and activates it. So we, after reading Chet Holmes book, the Ultimate Sales Machine, where he talks about his dream 100 clientele list.
I’m like, well, what if we did our dream 100 referral partners and were because we were so niched that there were a lot of services that our clients needed though, that we didn’t provide. So I went and sought out individuals that we were trying to find and identify the best Facebook ads individual, the best pay-per-click the best, everything, video production, the services that our clients needed and really develop those intentional relationships.
So that, that really was very powerful. I think a lot of people have a scarcity mindset when it comes to competition in air quotes. When in reality, there’s a lot of abundances. There’s a lot of opportunity and you can actually have this rising tide type of effect, where we refer a PPC company, PPC leads, and maybe they don’t do SEO and they can refer us SEO leads.
So it’s, there’s some mutual benefits there.
Jason: [00:05:43] Yeah, I love that. I mean, yeah, that’s something I wish I did better at the first agency because I was just trying to murder everyone. If you had agency in your title, like, you know, you were my enemy and I felt like you were trying to take from me. But I liked how, you know, after I sold, I realized seeing a lot of what you do and what other members do and all that. About how that’s has helped you and just also seeing how much work is actually out there and only taking on that perfect work that you look for is really big.
In switching focus a little bit. I think too, one of the main things that really changed a lot for you. I remember lots of conversations around this, was pricing, figuring out charging the right amount.
Because I feel a lot of people are way undercharging and you’ve kind of take it up a notch even above that.
Chris: [00:06:41] Yeah. It’s a great question about pricing and. I think one of the benefits of niching, particularly as niche as we are with just personal injury firms, you can really understand the market and understand the levels of competition.
I know the SEO specialists with giant egos listening are probably thinking, Oh, I can just go to Moz or SEMrush and do a competition analysis and know exactly what I should charge. No, that’s probably not the case. There are, there are intangibles that play into competition, and really understanding those intangibles and what it takes to create leverage to rank a particular industry is different.
And that’s the thing that we started understanding is, by working with just personal injury law firms, we could model the individuals that were successful and apply that to the other firms. Because the legal vertical is a very fractured environment. They’re geography, they’re there in all different places around the country, around the world.
They have different practice areas. It’s a very fractured type of environment. So the competition in Los Angeles is entirely different than St. Louis. And in some cases, Atlanta and the, uh, Orlando could be more competitive than a Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s because of who’s there. And who’s investing in their marketing. Several years ago, Louisiana from a digital standpoint, had no competition.
Now you’ve got Morris Bart. You have Gordon McKernan, and you’ve got these individuals Labrador Earl’s investing a lot in their marketing. So the dynamic has shifted, but that was a very long-winded way of saying it really helps to understand your market. But we started, I think in our first conversation, we talked about that foot in the door, the audit.
It basically allows us to set strategic targets and really understand who our client is, what their assets are, what their unique selling proposition is and what their competition truly is on a deeper level. And a lot of our competitors, they kind of try to play that against us. They’ll say, Oh, well, we do an audit for free and other people charge $5,000 – $7,500 bucks.
Well, guess what? Your audit sucks because if it’s free, you’re not putting a lot of staff and time, and effort into that audit. It’s automated by some tool. And it’s garbage. So that’s the difference. And the discoveries really helped us determine what we needed to do to get results from clients.
Jason: [00:09:16] Yeah, I love it. And the last thing I want to chat about, that I, I feel that you’ve done really well is kind of the structure and the different levels that you’ve created within the agency. Because a lot of people are like at the million, I feel that anybody can get to the million mark and a lot of people can maintain the million mark, but getting to the next level like you are, it’s very challenging.
And a lot of times we go, well, who do we need to hire in order to get further along and really scale the agency rather than just kind of hit that glass ceiling? So what were some of the roles or what was the mindset that you had a couple of years ago in order to make that transition and really start scaling?
Chris: [00:10:05] It’s a great question. And I obsess about operations and the right people in the right seats, more than any other thing. I think it’s the most important aspect of running a business, particularly in having the ability to scale and scale with quality. The things that we’ve done is we’ve created, there’s this big controversy, right?
You’ve had the pod people on and let’s do the nomenclature really quick. So a pod is a cross-functional unit. That is cohesive. They’re self-governing. Each individual has their own function in the pod that contributes towards a goal. And then you have, what’s more traditional; the traditional hierarchy and the teams where a team has individuals all in one function.
So you have all the developers together, all the account managers together. And there are pros and cons to each. The pros of a pod is communication, collaboration. It’s, they’re self-governing, they can operate in their own P&L. That’s kind of the pro. The con is they’re harder to start up. You have individuals who don’t have soft skills.
It’s harder to, uh there are a lot of challenges and those situations, um, then with the team. The pro, and I’m kind of getting long-winded here, but the team is you have a deeper level of expertise, but there’s challenges in those communication silos. So, we really embraced after a lot of time and energy and reading about the biggest organizations, whether it’s GE or a Ford motor company or Toyota, or Apple, we really embraced teams. Functional teams.
Because even though there’s the downside of communication silos, you have extreme levels of expertise, deep level of expertise. Which by the way, Apple who is gigantic, that’s how they operate is, they have teams, not pods and they have this deep level of expertise and they talk about their challenges.
There’s a great article on Harvard business review that talks about their organizational structure that I really encourage individuals to read.
Jason: [00:12:16] Love it. Well, this has all been amazing, Chris, and I appreciate you taking the time for coming on the podcast and everything you do to help out the mastermind.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?
Chris: [00:12:29] Geez, I think the most important thing is to, you know, think about your operations. Right people, right seats. And then also one thing that’s not talked about as much as to eliminate waste, where are you leaking money?
What tools should you not be using? What individuals aren’t truly driving an impact for your organization? You need to evaluate those situations too.
Jason: [00:12:50] What, uh, I guess the last question, since I lied. In figuring out how to eliminate the waste, what’s the best way to figure out where you’re wasting money?
Chris: [00:13:00] Yeah on the tool and software aspect as an owner, or if you have a CFO or Director of Finances to do consistent reviews of your P&L and your vendor expenses. That’s a big one that you can bring your leadership team. Uh, from a utilization standpoint, it depends on if you’re using vendors or if you have in-house labor.
If you have in-house labor and you’re doing almost everything in-house, you need to track it to see if individuals are really contributing for utilization. If you’re using vendors, you’re paying for a unit. So it’s a little bit easier to track that.
And, um, it’s having a scorecard or jumbotron, whatever you want to call it, to have this top-level view of your metrics, to understand where there are leakages because you can see on the scorecard where they exist.
Jason: [00:13:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on, everybody, go check out Rankings.io and follow Chris and what they’re doing, they do an amazing job. And it’s been an honor to see how far you’ve progressed year over year. That’s why we do what we do.
And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing owners like Chris, and figure out the things that you might not be able to see in front of you because you’re just too close to it I want you guys to go to DigitalAgencyElite.com.
This is our exclusive mastermind for really experienced agency owners that want to scale faster, do really cool things, and be surrounded by even more amazing people. So go to DigitalAgencyElite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.