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Ryan Deiss, founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com, got his start in what some might say was a strange business for a teenage boy. But it taught him tons of marketing lessons, and he steps into the studio with Clate and Scott to share some of those business marketing tips. He talks about the importance of keeping your business market-centric and remembering that your business is NOT about your product; it’s about the problems that exist for your target customer.
Deiss also recalls the pains of trying to make payroll, the fine line between delegating and just being unwilling to do the work, and getting over the fear of hiring other people.
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Mentioned in this episode:
“How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins
Scott Martineau: What was your first -- you know, of all these businesses you started -- what was the first one that you felt actually became viable? Take us to the first one, where you start to feel, "Ah. I'm proud."
Ryan Deiss: All right.
Scott Martineau: This actually looks like a business.
Ryan Deiss: This is -- I've never actually talked about this before or _____ _____.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: That's Ryan Deiss about to reveal for the first time, one of his successful businesses. Tune in to hear the rest of the slightly unusual story.
Clate Mask: Welcome everybody to this episode of the Small Business Success podcast. I'm Clate Mask, co-founder of Infusionsoft.
Scott Martineau: And I'm Scott Martineau, and today we have with us the one, the only Ryan D -- Deiss?
Ryan Deiss: Deiss.
Scott Martineau: Ryan Deiss is with us.
Ryan Deiss: I'm actually not the only. There is another Ryan Deiss in -- who's a realtor in Peoria, Illinois. And he really hates the fact that I exist.
Clate Mask: So you are the one, but not the only.
Scott Martineau: Not the only.
Ryan Deiss: One of two.
The one who's not a realtor in Peoria, Illinois.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: Well, thanks for taking that down. I was really trying to build you up.
Clate Mask: You're not just not one in a million. Not even -- you're one in two. Seriously, though, we're totally excited to have Ryan here because we've been working together for quite some time. It's just fun to get together and talk about different things that are happening, but we've got some fun overlapping what's happened in our businesses over the years and we're going to get to share that with everybody today. But why don't we start with you just givin' -- for the six people on the planet who don't know who you are, you know, whom might be listening here, why don't you tell everybody who you are and what you do? What's Digital Marketer?
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. I'm a realtor in Peoria, Illinois.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: No. I'm a founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com as well as Idea Incubator LP. Idea Incubator's kind of our holding company that represents our interest in all of our different brands whether it's Survival life or makeup tutorials or sewing.com.
And what's cool is in running all these different businesses -- that's what I've always done since college, right? I'd start these little web properties, selling random silly stuff. What we learned from actually running these businesses, we get to document it, aggregate it and then report on it at DigitalMarketer.com. I really -- I love the marketing stuff. It's what I've always geeked out at. It's fun day-to-day, getting to talk and play marketing and let real business people run the real businesses.
Scott Martineau: What was your first -- you know, of all these businesses you started -- what was the first one that you felt actually became viable? Maybe skip the early duds. Take us to the first where you start to feel, "Ah. I'm proud." This actually looks like a business.
Ryan Deiss: This is -- I've never actually talked about this before or _____ _____. One of the ways I got in this is I started doing web design to try to make some extra money in college.
My first client was a -- she basically taught breastfeeding. And I -- my first website was an affiliate site selling breast pumps.
Scott Martineau: Wow.
Ryan Deiss: I've never told that story, but that was the first one because I started building out all the site for her and she didn't pay me. And, so, I was, like, "What do I do?" I took back the property and I swapped out -- she was selling them as a retailer basically. I swapped out hers, found some affiliate links and put mine in there and got it to rank. This was actually before Google, so I was owning AltaVista for any breast pump that you can imagine. I was ranking pretty high there.
Clate Mask: AltaVista.
Ryan Deiss: That didn't last very long because I just felt kinda creepy.
Clate Mask: [Laughs] Yeah. I wonder why.
Ryan Deiss: You know, and it's totally fine. I have four kids now. I don't think there's anything wrong with breastfeeding, of course, but when you're 18 -- 19 --
Scott Martineau: It's still a little odd.
Ryan Deiss: It's hard to explain. Your friends are, like, "Wow. --
Clate Mask: "What do you do?"
Ryan Deiss: You're looking at some weird stuff on the Internet." I'm, like, "It's research. I swear."
We promise we'd keep it clean, so that was one of the first thing I did that actually generated real revenue, real money. I remember getting a check.
Scott Martineau: Wow. And you were cutting your _____. That was early in the Internet days.
Ryan Deiss: Back then search engine optimization was just putting your keyword a whole bunch of times at the bottom of the page in the same color as the background. We've come a long way since then, but it's funny. It's kinda been the same, right? I mean, there's people out there who have problems. They have a felt need. How do we find them and how do we allow their felt need to intersect with our solution? And that's all I ever did. Initially, it was through affiliate stuff 'cause I couldn't create my own product. I was having people write different e-books for me, had e-books on how to make your own baby food. I did a lot of stuff in the baby space because of this one client that didn't pay me. So e-books on how to make your own baby food, which was less creepy. But all these things -- it's there's these people out here who have this felt need. They're looking for a solution.
They can't find it. Let's intersect and that's what marketing is really. It's what selling is at the end of the day.
Clate Mask: Today you got DigitalMarketer, which is really doing the same thing as teaching people how to find that felt need and connect their prospects, their customer's prospects -- they're feeling that felt need to intersect with the product, the service, the solution that you're offering. You do that on broad scale today. Super successful marketer. Teaching a lot of people how to do digital marketing more effectively. And yet, I think, it's -- for listeners, the point is where you started and how you got things going in a business. It really was -- it's the same fundamentals. It's now just taking those and applying those across many businesses, teaching customers how to do it, teaching marketers how to do it effectively for their customers. Yeah. Same stuff you're doing early on.
Ryan Deiss: That's all business ever is, right? 'Cause I talk to a lot of business owners and _____, like, "Oh. It's just not working. And I want it so badly." It reminds me of that kid in American Idol, right, was out. And there's that person who sang horribly and they're like, "No. You're -- this isn't for you. You should go do something else."
"But I want it so badly. I tried so hard." That's adorable. The world doesn't reward the fact that you want it. It doesn't want your desire. If that desire is what encourages you to push through the times that are really, really hard then great. There can be some good stuff there, but the first question that you always have to answer as a business is what is the value that I'm bringing? If you don't have a clear coherent answer to that, you probably don't have a reason to exist. And that's all marketing is. Marketing is the amplification of a brand's value.
Clate Mask: What do you think -- like, for listeners that -- you've done a bunch of different businesses. You've talked about your very first business here, but you've done a bunch of businesses that in different ways have contributed to what you're doing successfully with DigitalMarketer. It didn't just start with you created DigitalMarketer. Wow. You just found this thing. It took off. Scott and I could talk about stories of balloon attractions or law marketer or NBA fan sites dot com. I mean --
Ryan Deiss: You've probably heard of all of these.
Clate Mask: Household names for sure.
But we learn different things in those businesses along the way and entrepreneurs -- you know, this happens. You figure out different things. What would you say you learned in the early businesses? What are some of those lessons that didn't, maybe, cause those businesses to take off or be a level of success that you were hoping for with that particular business but then helped you to create much greater success down the road? Anything you can look back on and say, "Oh. Big lessons learned here or there"?
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. I mean, a big thing is the constraints, right? And now constraints can be such a big benefit. I know here I am. I'm in college. I'm broke. I can't -- there's a lot of things that I can't do. I focused on what can I do. What's some things that I can be really, really good at? Well --
Scott Martineau: I can sell breast pumps.
Ryan Deiss: I can sell breast pumps. Exactly. No. I mean, I can find the people who have a need. I know how to do that. And then I can point them in the direction. I know how to aggregate attention. I can find those people and bring them in one place. I don't know how to create products. I don't know how to necessarily -- there's a lot of things I don't know how to do so let's keep it really, really simple.
and I've applied an overlay that same simplicity to every business that we've done literally whether it's selling tactical knives or whether it's selling industrial water filters to desalinization plants. It's the same thing. It's how can we simplify this down to its core essence and recognize it no matter what you're doing. B to B. B to C. It's all H to H, right? It's human to human. There's people out there. They have an issue. They have a problem that they wouldn't be looking. They wouldn't be stumbling across it. They would be doing -- watching TV on a beach somewhere. They'd just be screwing off, right? They've got a felt need. It's up to me to identify what that is and then say it back to them. Articulate it back to them in a way where they go, "Yeah. That's it." And then say, "Okay. That is it?" "Yeah. That's it." "Okay. Here's the solution." That is all business and marketing ever is. Just that.
Scott Martineau: So interesting too because we've -- we didn't start out as a product company. We started out as dumb software engineers, at least for Eric and I, in terms of business.
But I think the temptation for most business owners is to jump to solutions in sort of a -- they don't spend enough time wallowing around in the problems that their customers have, right? And really getting clear. I think I would much rather -- in terms of success, I'd much rather have an entrepreneur that gets really good at understanding the problems and articulating them, like you said, saying them back to the customers and watching for the reaction. Did I hit the mark? Than I would somebody who could dream up the perfect -- you know, perfect solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.
Ryan Deiss: Well, I think that's a really good point. It goes back to -- I guess, another big lesson learned, which was most -- when you ask most people about their business they tell you about their product. They have a product-centric business. It's "here's our product," and that's how you wind up being the dude that invented the piano key tie, right? You got a product and as long as people want to buy piano key ties, you are in business. But if they don't, if they're, like, "Eh. That's really dorky. I don't know why anybody'd like that," you're out of business.
Because your business is not defined by the market that you serve. It's defined by the product that you sell and one of the things that I'm always respected about Infusionsoft and you guys, you've been very clear. We're here to small business owners. We empower entrepreneurs. This is what we're about. And the product _____ as a result over time, it can change. It can morph because while -- yeah, is it a product -- are you selling a product? Of course you are. But at its core, its essence, this company is about serving a market and as that market's taste change and morph, you can change your product and you're not necessarily killing a sacred cow 'cause the product isn't' the sacred cow. It's the market. It's how do we serve you.
That's the difference -- I'd say that's the difference between being Chanel, right? Designs for Chanel over the decades have changed dramatically. But they know their woman and who they're serving. That's -- their business is market-centric. That's another thing. If I could just tell business owners, stop focusing on your product, right? Who is the market that you serve? Not the what. The who. If you can drill in on that, then you're good. And for me, early on, I had to. 'Cause the only thing I had control over was the what - I'm sorry -- was the who.
The what -- I was, like, "I don't know. I don't know how to make a breast pump."
Clate Mask: I don't have a what. Right. Yeah.
Ryan Deiss: Let's say I did. That'd be creepy.
Clate Mask: That's really interesting because when you don't have a what, all you can focus on is the who. And it's that focusing on the who that really gets you clear and crisp on the problems that they have and how you're going to serve them. Then that opens up an array of whats. It opens up all sorts of things.
Ryan Deiss: And you never go out of style.
Clate Mask: You said when you talk to people, you know, don't think about your product, it reminded me of something. Scott and I have shared this before on the Small Business Success podcast, but it was a really pivotal thing for us early in our business when we started to think like marketers. We started to really think about who we were serving and much more about how to serve them and what the problems were than about the product. It was -- you know, when we got the advice that really what you need to be doing is not marketing your product, but -- and not even marketing information about your product, but actually marketing information about the problems that are solved by your product.
That leap -- to take those two steps, very different than most small business owners are thinking. They're thinking about putting out information about their product. Or if they get to the place of where you're going to a little bit more of an educational marking, well now you're putting out different information about product. No. It's about the problems that exist -- that already exist in the minds of your target customer, putting out information about that. .
That was a huge thing for us when we started to recognize. "Oh, my gosh. That's the way to be thinking if you want to think like a marketer." I noticed over time we'll stray from that and then we'll come back to it. We'll stray from it. We'll come back to it. There's a ton of power. When you say, "Don't think about putting out your product," there's actually a different way to think than the way naturally an entrepreneur is going to approach things.
Ryan Deiss: I think that marketing can be really, really, really simple. Copywriting can be really, really simple. Spelling can be really, really simple.
Just speak to the desired end result, right? That's it. You want to sell really effectively. You want to market really effectively. Speak to the desired end result of your market. And if they say, "Oh, okay. Yeah. You got me. I want it now" -- it's simple. It's not necessarily easy to figure out that 'cause you gotta know who is my market. What is their desired end result? But that's what marketing is, right? We're articulating that desired end result. We're speaking to the value that our brand provides, which is we're going to move you from this state that you're in right now, this before state that's less desirable than where you want to be. You're in the before state. We want to move you to an after state. The articulation of that shift from the before shift to the after state, that's marketing. That's copyrighting. That's selling. Speaking to that.
Scott Martineau: Love it. Love it. Okay. Let's go back to the story. So you've started up these businesses. How did DigitalMarketer come about and what actually happened that pushed you into that business?
Ryan Deiss: Back then it was a pretty small world. The number of people actually selling stuff on the interwebs was a pretty small world.
The conferences that were going on were pretty small too. You know, 'cause you guys were at lot of these things. So you got to know everyone there. That's how we got to know each other, right? "Hey. Look. There's nine other people here. What's your name?" It was just such a small world. And for me, like, I was the kid, right? I start doing this at 19 -- 20. I'm going these conferences. They're like, "What are you doing kid?" kinda thing. Everybody wanted to know the kid. And so even though what I was doing wasn't all that amazingly great, like, there were lots of people there making a lot more money than I was. Everybody wanted to know who was this kid.
And so I'd tell them my story and what I was doing. I had all these different little businesses making money in all these weird little markets. And promoters of these events started saying, "Okay. Well, can you speak?" I was like, "Sure. I know how to talk, same just on an elevated platform in front of more people. Seems easy enough." So I would speak and I'd have speak people come up to me and say, "Do you have a book? Do you do consulting?" I'm, like, "Nah. I'm kinda business running my own stuff." "What about a product?" "No." "Well, I'd love to," -- and I'm seeing all these other people selling stuff.
I'm, like, "Okay. Cool. I should package up some of the things that I know and sell it." It started off just kind of -- won't this be fun? Let's see what happens. Generated some revenue. I said, "This is great," 'cause I can take the revenue I'm generating from the sale of this byproduct, right? From the sale of the byproduct which is our knowledge, our split test results, our standard operating procedures. Other people want this. It's a by product of me doing it anyway. Let me take this by product, sell it to other people.
And this is how I can fund all my new hair brain schemes. So never having to go out there and getting the investor money and stuff like that. It was always just a funding engine for the longest time. One year, we said, "Let's do an event." And we did Traffic & Conversion Summit. It's, kinda, like that kid who invites some friends over when their parents are out of town. Next thing you know, he's throwing the best party of the year and doesn't want to be throwing the best party of the year. That was Traffic & Conversion Summit. A couple hundred people came out. And next year it was 4 -- 500 people.
And the third time we did that event, I remember sitting up on stage and looking out in front of almost 1,000 people saying, "You know what? This might be a business." And it was that year where we said, "Let's actually create DigitalMarketer.com." It's funny. This month we're celebrating our five-year anniversary of DigitalMarketer the business.
Scott Martineau: Fantastic.
Ryan Deiss: _____ absolutely started as a by-product, as figure these things out. We never want to stop doing. I believe that people who start teaching and then they stop doing, they just get -- your stuff becomes invalidated.
Clate Mask: That's a great point.
Ryan Deiss: I'm proud of the fact that we still do. I still own these companies. I'm still in them, operating them, working them. But I love the marketing stuff.
Clate Mask: It's a great point. I've seen times where we've gone from -- where the pendulum has swung from doing and teaching and you got to have a mix of both. If you're just doing, but you're not teaching it, your customers don't get -- this is whatever you're doing by the way. You might way, "I don't teach." Yes, you do. You're teaching your marketing. You're teaching your customer service. You're teaching working with partners. When you _____ teaching --
Ryan Deiss: Teach your employees.
Clate Mask: Teach your employees. Absolutely. Maybe the most important group you teach.
When you stray from the teaching and you just focus on the doing, that causes a problem. ON the other hand, when you -- as you just articulated, when you do too much of the teaching and you're not -- you don't have enough doing going on, you feel like you're listening to a college professor who doesn't actually have the practical understanding of how to make things work. It's a great point that you're drawing out there, and a good lesson for all entrepreneurs.
Let me ask you this: did you ever -- you know, you had a bunch of businesses that kind of propelled the success or led up to or stepping stones to the success of DigitalMarketer. But was there ever times in the last -- over the last five years of DigitalMarketer where you thought, "Crap, man. I don't think this thing's going to work." Were there times when it was dark for DigitalMarketer?
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. So, DigitalMarketer, again, only recently has been its own business with its own dedicated team and its own offices. Prior to that, it was you talked into the IdeaIncubator offices and on one desk, people working on DigitalMarketer and on another desk, people working on survival stuff, and another desk, they're working on beauty stuff. That didn't work 'cause there was no real alignment of culture or anything.
That's why we eventually split them up but back then -- and this wasn't that long ago. This was less than five years ago. I decided that I was hot stuff and we needed to scale this thing. 'Cause I'm amazing, obviously, and brilliant and have never made a mistake.
Clate Mask: [Laughs] Right. Of course.
Ryan Deiss: I thought I did once, but -- right. I mean, obviously, right? I mean, you got just this entrepreneurial idiocy that dwells in you, but we just scaled too quickly. Hired too many -- I made a really bad hire at a key executive level and frankly, I just stopped watching the numbers. I stopped paying attention to cash flow. I remember thinking, "As long as sales are good, there's going to be enough cash floating around somewhere to pay the bills," and that was not the case. I remember logging into my bank account and seeing that we only had about $48,000.00 in the bank. And payroll at that time was around a little over $300,000.00 a month.
Clate Mask: Good thing you drew that out 'cause there's some people saying, "Hey. $48,000.00. I'll take it.
Ryan Deiss: I'd love it.
Clate Mask: But if payroll is $300,000.00, it's not so good.
Ryan Deiss: And if payroll is due in less than week, that's good. I remember sitting there, thinking to myself, like -- and I'm sure you guys have been in this situation, right?
Clate Mask: No, no. [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: I mean, I didn't cry, but I remember just sitting there, just sweating as if it felt like tears. And just thinking to myself, "I'm going to have to walk into a building full of people and tell them I'm sorry. I can't afford to pay you. Payroll's going to come out and I can't do it."
Clate Mask: Did you ever have to do that?
Ryan Deiss: I had finally come to the decision that I was going to do it. That was it. We weren't going to get it done and I had to give people as much notice as possible. That morning that I was going to walk in and do it, we got notice that one of our merchant accounts did an unexpected reserve release.
Scott Martineau: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: For a little over --
Clate Mask: Wait, wait. Hold on --
Scott Martineau: This is _____ our theory.
Clate Mask: Yes. Wait. Merchant account was actually a good guy in this case? [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: This is the one rare instance where -- yeah. I mean, and if you know how merchant accounts work, right, they'll hold a reserve up until -- and we had reached our reserve peak and had requested that they release it.
_____ _____ they picked that day to release it directly into our bank account. And so between that reserve release and the sales that came through that day, we were able to cover payroll. And I got on it. I said, "I don't want to fire anybody because this is not their fault. This is mine. I need to generate some revenue really, really quickly." And thankfully, we were. In the next two weeks, we were able to -- had some offers hit and things were good. But that was a bad, bad couple of days.
Scott Martineau: I think a lot --
Ryan Deiss: There's plenty of entrepreneurs, by the way, and small business owners that don't have that mystical, magical reserve release, right? And so I'm thankful. I'm very, very blessed 'cause that could have gotten a lot worse. And it's not because I was so smart that I got out of that. That's just providence, serendipity, grace, call it what you will. But that wasn't me. I'll take it, but -- so the entrepreneurs, small business owners who've been there and yet didn't get that reserve release and you had to have that, I feel for you. That's hard.
Scott Martineau: Clate, in addition to being the janitor, the sales manager, he also is the master of the float.
It was not infrequent that were floating the books and we'd have -- in fact, our first -- what did we call Sam when he came on?
Clate Mask: Controller.
Scott Martineau: He wasn't really a CFO. He was the controller.
Clate Mask: He probably was the controller. Yeah.
Scott Martineau: And he came in and he looked at it and he just said, "Oh, my goodness."
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: Clate's, like, "It's okay."
Ryan Deiss: He'd been doing it for a long time.
Clate Mask: This was very early days. Let me just get this clear. [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: Yeah. This was before you guys had audited financials, right?
Clate Mask: That's right. Long, long time ago. But with reality, that's how a lot of small business owners make it work for the -- in the early years.
Ryan Deiss: There's plenty of small business owners out there unintentionally creating large amounts of fraud and have no idea.
Scott Martineau: I think this desire to replicate yourself is very common. Probably every listener right now is interested in that. How did you recover from feeling like, maybe, you had misstepped or brought on the wrong people? Was that difficult to get back to a place of letting go again? I mean, letting go the first time's hard enough.
Ryan Deiss: It was.
Yeah. It was. And what I did is I did take back control, but what I realized is that the mistake that I made was I didn't outsource it. I didn't put somebody in control of an area. I completely wholesale abdicated large important, critical roles in my company. And it didn't come from a place of I want to be able to focus on other areas. It came from a place of just being a little bit lazy and just wanting to be -- I want to be the boss that walks in with the cigar and, like, "Hey. Take a note." And I do my thing, and I'm like, "Good day," and then you leave, and everybody's, like, "Wow. That's a big shot."
Clate Mask: I actually -- I want to pause on this.
Ryan Deiss: It's just pure ego.
Clate Mask: 'Cause -- yeah. That's really what I'm getting at. I -- we see this again and again with successful entrepreneurs. We've been through this. I've been guilty of this different times and seasons in the business where we -- you get a little lax. You get a little lazy. And ego creeps in and it's very subtle, very gradual.
You don't notice it. It's not like you're just -- I mean, you just described a caricature that's not very accurate. You didn't just roll in one day and say, "You know what? I've gotten to a place where I can just kick back and light up the cigars" --
Scott Martineau: Hold on. Molly. Did he actually get that bad?
Ryan Deiss: Thankfully Molly wasn't there.
Scott Martineau: Molly's in the studio --
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: He's still that way? He's still that way.
Ryan Deiss: Molly, our VP of marketing is in the studio, and --
Clate Mask: She's like, "Wait. When did that break?
Ryan Deiss: There's lot of good stories that she can tell, but thankfully, for her sake, she wasn't here during that early dark time. No, but, you're right. It --
Clate Mask: Very subtle.
Ryan Deiss: It comes from that thing of -- right. I shouldn't have to do that anymore. Why should I be the one that has to -- that has to take the bottles of water out of the thing and put it in the refrigerator? Somebody else should --
Clate Mask: There's a very effective thing which is do what you do best and delegate the rest. You start to delegate, but there's a very subtle distinction between that and then actually delegating things that you don't -- you don't want to do. You don't want to do things that need to be done that you know need to be done,
And if you really are -- if you're really honest with yourself as an entrepreneur, you realize that you've delegated some things to people where you didn't have confidence that what needed to get done was actually going to get done, but you just didn't want to have to deal with that crap anymore.
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. You're just unwilling to do the hard work.
Clate Mask: Yeah. And you don't notice it in that moment. You don't realize that's actually what it was you didn't want to do that hard work anymore, but there's this feeling of, "Oh, well, I've" -- you know, we've gotten to a place where -- you know, we shouldn't need to do that anymore. That's a dangerous disease.
Ryan Deiss: I think what you -- what I did was I dove back into different parts. I think this is critical for owners to do. Make it clear to your teams. I'm not doing this because I want to -- 'cause you're necessarily messing all this stuff up. I just want to stay in touch. I'll go in and I'll build landing pages, right? I'll write copy. I will go in and unload the stacks and stuff like that and putting -- doing all these little things just as a reminder of you're not better than it.
And if you're not careful or just have some things not work out, you could be right back there doing that fulltime anyway.
Scott Martineau: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: You might as well just -- keep some practice just in case. You know, you might lose your day job.
Clate Mask: I'm getting close to making payroll. I'll always remind you of that reality that you --
Ryan Deiss: Absolutely will.
Clate Mask: You're never -- it's never like you get to a certain place and then you're just -- "Oh. We're just in the clear. Everything's easy from this point on."
Ryan Deiss: You've arrived when somebody has written you a big fat nasty check and they've bought your business from you, right? That's when you can say you're done. But you're no longer a business owner. You're effectively retired. Maybe you're going to do it later on. But if you're calling yourself a business owner and you're running a company and there's people who are counting on you, you haven't arrived.
Clate Mask: There's no arrival. When Jim Collins talks about how -- he wrote called How the Mighty Fall, and he basically talks about ego and the role that it plays in companies and individuals and what happens.
But there is -- he talks a lot about arrival syndrome. And this is something that you might say -- you know, listeners might be saying, "Well, I'm not there. I'm not at that certain level." It's very subtle. You move to a new office. You're in danger of arrival syndrome. You get to a client that gives you the biggest check you've ever had. You're in danger of arrival syndrome. You bring on an employee or a key hire that you felt like, "Man, we've always ben trying to get this person." You're in danger of arrival syndrome.
If you don't notice the little subtle things that are so sneaky in the back of our minds that can cause us to start to think differently and lose -- I mean, there's a whole Rocky movie about this, by the way. Go watch Rocky III, right? That's the whole thing, right? Keeping the eye of the tiger and not getting to that place, and it's easy to get into that spot where you have lost the eye of the tiger. You've lost that edge and you're not -- you don't have that same hunger and drive and passion. Keeping, like you said, if you're a business owner, you've got to have that. You got to keep that.
Ryan Deiss: You gotta have people around you that'll call you on your crap, too. Like, good spouses and partners can be helpful in that.
But having key people who will go, "Hey...shut up."
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: Those are good people to have.
Scott Martineau: One other aspect I want to pull out here, too. I know just from our conversations that you -- today when you described your team, it's generally with lots of control and trust. It's not -- you jumping into help does not mean that you don't have faith and trust in the team. What do you do to instrument the business and make sure -- how are you monitoring -- what is your evolution of that look like?
Ryan Deiss: Sure.
Scott Martineau: So that you can really let go, right?
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. For me it is difficult as a business owner to want to let go because you're thinking, "I'll never find somebody who's as good at this as I am." And you know what? You might be right. You may never find someone who is as good at all aspects of running and performing in your business as you are. But what you can probably do is find somebody who's better at one particular aspect than you are. So Russ Henneberry, who's our editorial director, well, he's far better at content marketing and product creation than I am.
I'm really good at it. Molly Pittman who's in studio, VP of marketing, right? She's far better at media buying and managing traffic campaigns and generating new leads than I am. I'm really, really great at it. That's where I cut my teeth, right? When you get people around you who -- they're better at a particular thing than you are, giving up that -- letting them have it becomes easier 'cause kinda you're humbled a little bit. But what that means is as a business owner you have to be willing to hire people smarter, better, faster than you at that area.
Scott Martineau: And disciplined to wait until you have the right person, right?
Ryan Deiss: But sometimes I think it's good to swoop in and show them that you still got the goods, right? You do bring to it experience and wisdoms and reps that they maybe don't and that's what I'll say to them. "I just want to do this to see if I can kind of bring a new flavor, see if," -- and I really see that as my main thing right now. I want to go in and consume and try to get out of the business every now and then, and then dive into the specificity of the business.
I'm either, like, all up in your world, like, sitting next your desk, or I'm gone completely. I know I'm not doing my job if I'm sitting in my office at my company for an extended period of time by myself.
Clate Mask: Let me ask you this. You talked about finding people who do a particular thing better than you do and being excited about that. You said it might be the case that you won't find somebody who does a particular thing better than you. By the way, that's also can be a dangerous thought process if you allow yourself to never see that there's another way or potentially another right way. But let's leave that aside for a second. I want to get at the fact that you find people -- you know, we got Molly sitting here and she does aw great job on your media buying.
And you talked about your content leader. You find great people and you give them the ability to go take it and run with it. What I see a lot of times, particularly with entrepreneurs who are trying to get to that seven-figure level, and they're only about 3 percent of businesses in the U.S. --
small businesses in the U.S. that have achieved that elite level of getting to a seven-figure business. What I see so frequently when a business owner's trying to get to that point is they're not willing to pay for the smarts and the expertise that are going to help them get there. They're carrying all of that responsibility on their shoulders and I refer to it as poor boying it. They're trying to always get the least expensive and what happens is they err on the side of a skill level that's insufficient for what they need.
Ryan Deiss: And you wind up with somebody who -- you know, they're always -- you as their employer are always their best-worst option.
Clate Mask: Yes. Right.
Ryan Deiss: You stick around because they're, like, "Eh. I can't really get anything else 'cause I kinda suck at everything. But they're paying me and that's cool." Yeah. You're right. It's awful.
Clate Mask: And that's the most common scenario. There's an exception to that that sometimes is the extreme where they hire way above.
"I'm going to go find this person and they're going to go pay $200,000.00 for this super experienced person."
There's something in between where you're going and getting the right level of experience. But what I've found is that's usually an uncomfortable hire for entrepreneurs that are trying to get to that seven-figure level. Think back on your experience. Think back on the people that you hired. How did you get -- how did you push yourself to get to that right level of expertise that's going to help your business grow and push through that next stage of -- that next stage that you're trying to get to?
Ryan Deiss: My process is always do I know anything about what this person's going to do? For me, hiring a bookkeeper was brutal. 'Cause you'd lie. They can lie to me. I don't frickin' know. I don't know. How does this work? Those are the toughest hires to make. Hire for a role that you truly know nothing about is difficult but it's really common. And so that's where jus talking to people, having a good network of folks and finding somebody who's already been successful in that role can help. At that point, what you need to do is you need out hire somebody with a track record of doing what you want at the level that you're doing it. Understanding that --
Clate Mask: At the level.
Ryan Deiss: I'm a small business owner so I want to hire somebody -- not somebody who is a CFO for a Fortune 500 company. But I need _____ bookkeeper for a frickin' landscaping company for the last 20 years. Or even in the same industry, right? But so trying to find that and paying what it costs -- understanding what it costs and understanding that the good news about people is they come with a 12-month finance plan. When you got to hire somebody that's $100,000.00, you're not _____ them a check for $100,000.00 day one. It's $8,000.00, right?
Clate Mask: If it doesn't work, you're not paying $100,000.00.
Ryan Deiss: Exactly. If you -- there's no pressure on your part to "I forgot I've got to train this person to bring them on board, and" -- no. I don't know what this is. You do. That's why I hired you, so do it. Either they can and they're worth it or they can't -- the other thing you have to ask yourself is if you're truly exceptional at something and if you're a successful small business owner or entrepreneur, you are. And if you are at that level, then I'm all about hiring to train. Hire good, sharp people with enormous amount of give-a-damn, but invest in them. Invest in them to train in a big, big, big way. It's self-serving and obviously we sell trainings and certifications at DigitalMarketer, but that's why we build something.
So we can train our own internal people. Knowing -- I think it's okay to say we're really, really great at this. So let's try to hire some good people to take us to the next level even doing what we do. Then when we get to that next level, then you got to go beyond yourself and find somebody who's great and pay what they cost.
Clate Mask: Hire people who have had the success at the level that you're going to, not three levels above, and not two levels below. Or even the current level you're at, but the level that you're going to. And then really develop your people, invest in them, apply that small business savvy that you have as an entrepreneur to find the people who have that right skill set and be present for the fact that if you don't have that skill set and you don't know how to hire a bookkeeper, for example, that you get people that can help you to identify the right fit. That's good stuff.
Ryan Deiss: That's what I do.
Scott Martineau: Tell us the -- what's the time in DigitalMarketer where you felt the most proud? Most excited about what you're accomplishing in the world?
Have you had any of those moments?
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. I mean, thankfully --
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: [Laughs] I'm just kidding.
Ryan Deiss: Thankfully, those outnumber the ones that I described before, right? We've had lots of days where we launched a new product and it just worked, right? Everything clicked. You knew you had product market fit. Just good. That moment when you make that sale, and it just -- it repeats and it happens. That's a really good feeling. I know for me, the proudest moment in the history of the company where I was, like, "Okay. We've really got it," was when I rolled out to the team -- 'cause we were getting in a little bit of a lull culturally.
And when I just sat down and I wrote out -- like, "Okay. What are all of the things that we believe? What are all," -- and I drafted it. You guys have seen it. Here's our statement of beliefs. Here's what we as a company believe in. Here's what we're about. And I remember taking that to the team and saying we have a mission, right? And here's what it is and we're all about that. But we have values. Here's this. And being able to read that to the team and talk about who we are and where we're going, and just looking out and seeing some people were crying, lots of people were smiling really, really, big.
But in that moment, I knew, like, "Okay. I've got a room full of people who -- they've --
Clate Mask: Bought in.
Ryan Deiss: bought in."
Scott Martineau: Love it.
Ryan Deiss: They're there and for me, that was when I said, "You know what? You know you're a leader when you turn around and there's people following you." That was the time where I really felt like, "Okay. I think I might have finally encapsulated what we're about and I've got a room full of people that, for whatever reason," --
Scott Martineau: For better or worse, they're following you.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: For better or worse, they've bought in. And that, for me, was a turning point where I was really able to double down and say, "This is it. This is my calling. This is what we're doing.".
Clate Mask: That's great.
Scott Martineau: It's so fascinating because I think if you're sitting in this place of survival in your business, it's hard to think forward to that time, but I feel the same way. I think that some of the most meaningful experiences have to do with leading and watching people grab ahold of the mission that you're trying to promote. It's awesome.
Clate Mask: IT's great. We always ask our guest on the Small Business Success podcast if you had to attribute your success to one characteristic more than any other, what characteristic do you possess that's really helped you be successful?
Ryan Deiss: You're probably going to think I'm joking, but I'm dead serious. Apathy.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: Right? I mean, at some point, as a business owner, you have to get to the stage where your business doesn't define you, right? And not that you don't care. But that you're, like, "I'm going to do the best that I can and what happens happens. For me, I know when I've been in those really, really, really bad places, and have my wife say, "I don't get what the big deal is. You'll figure it out. You always do," kind of, "Shut up," right? But to recognize that one, she's right, hopefully. And thankfully, when she's said in the past, she has bene. But to recognize that my business and that doesn't define who I am. I think it's so difficult as a business owner to get outside of that because for many of us, it does define us.
Clate Mask: It is your identity.
Ryan Deiss: Right. And when -- I've seen it. When your business is your identity and there's failure, which happens in business.
Clate Mask: A lot.
Ryan Deiss: A lot.
And not through anything that you did. Not your fault. There's so many circumstances out side of your control. And so to get in that place where you're, like, "You know what? I'm going to do what I think is right. And hopefully it works out, but if it doesn't, that's okay too." Like, when you get in that and rest in that apathy, for lack of a better word -- I say it all the time in our office, like, something will go wrong. And I'll kind of walk in and I'll be, like, "Well, first things first. Have we all adequately panicked?"
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Ryan Deiss: 'Cause if not, like, let's panic a little bit more. Let's get that -- but, c'mon, guys. We'll figure it out or we won't.
Clate Mask: It'll work out.
Ryan Deiss: It's fine, right? It's fine. And so I think that, for me, that's been the biggest help and it comes from having an amazingly wonderful wife who puts up with none of my crap whatsoever, having kids that really don't care that some people think that --
Scott Martineau: What do you do again?
Ryan Deiss: I'm pretty smart. Right. I think that that's where it comes from. And even if you're single and don't have kids, having good friends around you, having passions and things that exist outside your business, something that's so important.
Clate Mask: Well, you're calling it "apathy," and I think that's fair. I think that's also -- there's a certain perspective that goes into it.
What you're reminding me of the quote, "It'll all work out in the end. If it hasn't worked out, it's not the end." I think that your family, or your surroundings, your perspective, just -- they change the way you think about it. It's not life and death the same way. It doesn't mean that you're not totally passionate about what you're doing that you're not totally committed to being successful, but it doesn't define you like you said. That's great. Good stuff.
Scott Martineau: Tell our listeners where they can learn more about DigitalMarketer.
Ryan Deiss: DigitalMarkter.com.
Scott Martineau: Dot com.
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. DigitalMarketer.com.
Clate Mask: Imagine that.
Ryan Deiss: Yeah. Check it out. Lots of good free content. Lots of opportunities to give me money, which I like. Both on the same page.
Clate Mask: Let me ask this one last thing. I know we're getting to the time -- it's time's up. But I have to just ask you this. We love helping business owners get to the -- they get to that seven-figure mark. It's such an elite thing to get to that spot, and I think whether business owners have that
explicitly as a goal, or it's kind of in the back of their mind, sometimes it's not there, but they start to grow and that's kind of a badge of honor to get to that spot. But what we found is it's virtually impossible to get there without collectively as a group, if not, individually as the business owner, developing some marketing capability, some marketing expertise that allows you to literally reach out into the market, take someone that you haven't' met from Adam, bring them through a process and turn them into a client and a lifelong fan.
If you had to give a piece of advice that says how -- think about that business owner that's at half-million in annual sales, and is really -- really is ambitious and wants to get to that mark what piece of advice would you give them in terms of developing their marketing skills that would enable them to achieve that seven-figure mark?
Ryan Deiss: Just remember that marketing is a relationship, right? If you've been even remotely successful in dating, you know how to market. When -- if you've had success --
and I'm talking right now to the person who may be rake in six figures a year, but you've kinda made it because you stumbled across some good clients, right? Or you left a company. You were able to take some big clients with you. A lot of people can get to six figures.
As you said, to get to seven, you've got to go out to the people who don't yet know you. And so think about that, right? What was it like to go up to someone that you didn't know and to get to know them? Marketing is the same way. We start by delivering some value in advance, right? We start by putting things out there that people can -- you know, how do you turn a glance into a stare? That's the first big problem of marketing. How do you, especially in this day and age, how do you turn a glance into a stare? That's the first thing. Usually that's done with some type of compelling comment --
Clate Mask: Content.
Ryan Deiss: Content. Yeah. The word "content" was difficult -- which could just be a statement, right? It could be a headline. But something that makes somebody go, "Oh. I want that." And that usually comes in the form of speaking to a specific desired end result and then being able to say, "Okay. What's the next logical step?"
I can -- okay. This will help you get to this place. Now what's the next logical step? How can I take this person out to coffee? I'm not going to say, "Nice to meet you. Want to go back to my place and get freaky?" right? That's not how it works. That's not over time, right? Maybe it works once, but probably not.
And once you had coffee, how do you get the first date? And the next one? And the next one? If you will think about marketing, not as an event, but as a journey, right? This journey from awareness to conversion to true excitement and ascension, all the way up to advocacy and promotion. If you think about it like that and really plot that out, what should that look like as I progress through each stage of that prospect customer lifecycle, something that you guys are, obviously, very familiar innovators in. Think that out. Plan that out. How's that going to work? All you're doing in marketing is you're putting out messages to get somebody to take the next step. Not to go all the way to the end, but just that very next step. If you remember that, remember that it is a relationship -- it is H to H.
It is dating -- then you're going to be just fine.
Scott Martineau: Fantastic. Well, Ryan, thanks for being with us. We're out of time, but thanks for both sharing your story and also the great nuggets. We appreciate it and got lots of great ideas to noodle on. We're going to call this a wrap for this episode of the Small Business Success podcast.
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