Let’s Talk Local SEO

Blake Denman from RicketyRoo shares some of his insights around running a Local SEO Agency.

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Greg Heilers

Greg

Awesome. Blake, thank you so much for joining us. Obviously, we were talking before this. I noticed some comments of yours over in Traffic Think Tank, and so that’s what led me to think about this and then we connected.

I really admire what I saw you shared, your employee experience at your agency. You also shared some things about how you find balance when you’re growing and you have a small clientele pool and make that work as the business owner too, that balancing act.

And then we were talking specifically about employees versus contractors. Jolly is all contractor and you guys are employees, and I admire that a lot. So I –

Blake Denman

Blake

Thanks.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah, yeah. I’d love for you to intro yourself if you don’t mind. I mean you’re been with RicketyRoo for I think three times as long as we’ve been in existence as a company, so that’s cool. Okay.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah, sure. So my name is Blake Denman. I’m the President and Founder of RicketyRoo Inc. We’re a local SEO agency based in Bend, Oregon.

My team is entirely remote, and we’re spread throughout the country. I founded RicketyRoo in February of 2009, so a little more than 12 years of being in business, and I’ve been doing local SEO specifically for a little more than 14 years now.

And I guess some caveats. I’m a Local Search Ranking Factors Survey contributor. I write for SEMrush. I speak at conferences on local search, and I’m also a member of the Local U faculty. Also I’m an advocate for Traffic Think Tank.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes. What an awesome community. And thank you for the intro.

Blake Denman

Blake

It is.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I think local is such an interesting niche because I don’t operate in that and the services – if you look at RicketyRoo’s service – clients on the website, it’s so obvious these are real business owners with – it really matters to them and their community, the people you’re serving. So it’s kind of a special niche to operate in I think.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah. No, it’s a lot of fun. And we don’t work with enterprise clients. I like working with small to medium-size businesses. Like when I talk to somebody about results I’m talking to – most of the time it’s the owner.

And like last month we were talking to a client, and he’s in a real small area and his goal is to grow like by 11 percent every year which for him equates to about $100,000 in revenue. And last year his goal was to grow by $100,000 in revenue, and last year he grew by $200,000 in revenue.

So yeah, a lot of it is attributed to stuff we’ve been doing for him, and it’s so cool to like to get that feedback from a client like this is really helping us and we’re able to grow more. I really, really enjoy it.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing. I kind of am curious to dive into at some point the client-side of interactions at your company. What we had agreed to talk about is more about how you manage your company and the team, but maybe we could get to that if that makes sense.

Blake Denman

Blake

Entirely up to you.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Okay. I appreciate it. I’m curious to lead us off. Where would you say in like the Founder’s journey or the small business owner, you referenced that client example, like where are you at today at 12 years in?

Obviously, you’re not a solopreneur, and you’ve got a fully remote distributed team let’s call it. What’s next for you would you imagine, and what kind of phase did you just come out of?

Like where are you at?

Blake Denman

Blake

So currently I’m in the phase of my process of phasing out of being like via account manager and being like the only one who talks to clients on a monthly basis. So I have an account manager Kim. She started with us in December.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Nice.

Blake Denman

Blake

And so we’ve been slowly transitioning that AM role more towards her where my goal is to still be on at least a quarterly call with each client that she’s running.

So like I said, I’m still facilitating that, and I definitely want to be on calls where a strategy is involved because one of our differentiators is we only operate in three-month sprints.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes.

Blake Denman

Blake

Like when I send an agreement it’s for six months, but there’s only work scheduled for three to four months and that’s by design.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah.

Blake Denman

Blake

Like I can’t build a strategy roadmap until we’ve actually done the research to figure out where the client is and where they want to get to, and we bill deliverables specifically designed to help them achieve those goals.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah. And we wanted to get into like documentation later, but I can’t imagine having your service without having your processes down, right. There’s no time there. It’s right there on your site, your USP.

Like you’re not locking people in for a year saying like at some point there’s going to be deliverables, and we’re going to aim for these results. Like you need to deliver your services.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right. Yes.

Greg Heilers

Greg

You’re dealing with service providers themselves, so they know well and good if they’re being served or not. It’s really interesting. You mentioned your new team member. One thing that stuck out for me, just business owner to business owner – and I think that’s maybe who this recording might appeal more to – is you mentioned you have incredibly low employee churn, right. 

You said nobody even left in the past couple of years, correct me if I’m wrong, and the couple that did leave prior to that were for very personal reasons and one even returned a year later. 

So that’s part of what stuck out at me is like employee versus contractor. Obviously we don’t have 100 percent retention on our contractor team. I’m curious if you could speak to that. 

Like what do you think – what would you attribute to that or what – how does that manifest in its team at your culture?

Blake Denman

Blake

So there’s like one word that could summarize my culture for the team and that’s balance. My full-time employees, they are all salaried whether they work 20 hours or 40 hours a week, but for my salaried full-time people, I don’t want any of them working more than on average 35 hours per week.

Greg Heilers

Greg

That’s right in your job ads which is super cool.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right. So like I don’t want anyone getting burnt out. It’s not a guarantee, but like I’d say 85 to 90 percent of the time that’s where it’s at. Like when a team member submits Harvest, their timesheet, and it’s – I’ve seen average between 31 and 33 hours, I don’t balk at that at all.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes. You lose that two hours but you keep that six months of – someone who’s enjoying the team experience. Like if you need to boil it down that way like in terms of numbers.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah. And that’s by design. I don’t personally subscribe to not working more than 35 hours a week ’cause it’s my business.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I know.

Blake Denman

Blake

Maybe one day I’ll eventually work –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Perhaps too point-blank considering we’re meeting now, do you wish that you personally subscribed to that?

Blake Denman

Blake

Yes and no. Sometimes the things I work on when I shouldn’t be working on them or because I’m really interested in the subject. So I don’t really consider it work or it’s not like billable time to a client. It’s more like I literally have on this piece of paper right in front of me it’s an onboarding automation, like our entire onboarding process. I want to automate the whole thing. And so I have this –

Greg Heilers

Greg

It’s well worth the time.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right. So it’s worth the time, but I can’t do that during regular business hours because I have other things I have to work on.

So if I do happen to find myself working on a Saturday or Sunday or in the evening, it’s usually on something like that that I’m really interested in.

So maybe one day I’ll get there eventually but that’s just not in the cards right now, and I’m okay with it. And then outside of that, like there is no – my management style if you want to call it that is I don’t really have one. 

I don’t micromanage anybody. I think the other key feature is that has enabled me to keep like my team and not have anybody churn is my team they dictate when they work. 

There’s no set schedule. I’m not a babysitter. They don’t have to be in their chair working from home from 9:00 to 5:00, five days a week. 

If a team member wants to work like three, 12-hour days and then take the rest of the week off, cool. I don’t care when you work as long as the job gets done.

Greg Heilers

Greg

And that’s documented and proven at scale, right. Like you’re doing a very advisable move. It seems like you intuited that people need to set their own schedules.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yes, yes. Like it’s having them chained to a desk for a certain period of time like Monday through Friday doesn’t – it’s kind of like jail, right.

Greg Heilers

Greg

We work more than the 35 hours as the business owners, and yet we couldn’t possibly follow that, right. Like we couldn’t say like I have to work in these time periods. It doesn’t work like that.

Blake Denman

Blake

No. I mean I’m really detailed with my calendar and my time. So my schedule is typically from like 8:15 in the morning ’til 5:00 or 6:00 at night on any given day. But just last week I just wasn’t feeling it. I was like, you know what, I’m going to take a day or two off.

Like I’ve got to get done what I got to get, but then I’m going to take the rest of the day off. And the same thing happens with our team members. One of our team members she had a migraine a few weeks ago, so she took the rest of the day off. No big deal.

Greg Heilers

Greg

What are you going to work? Work through a migraine kind of –

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah, yeah. Really cool, Blake. I mean I admire that. I can’t say that we honestly – I mean frankly we don’t have a schedule because we’re a team of contractors. 

But I can’t say that we completely – it’s not completely laissez-faire. We expect people to meet the expectations of what they signed up for, whatever they personally committed to we expect that to be fulfilled. 

And it’s similar with an employee. You trust them. You hired them. You have to trust them with the –

Blake Denman

Blake

Exactly.

Greg Heilers

Greg

– role that they signed up for.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well I guess I’m just curious from the start or was there a transition point for you? Like did you always have you and then okay I’m big enough to get an employee or was it a natural progression of filling the gaps until there was enough to go around?

Blake Denman

Blake

Honestly like the first five-ish years of being in business it was just me.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right, right, right.

Blake Denman

Blake

Like back then I didn’t really have any goal at the company. I had a handful of clients. I was paying my rent. I was in my early twenties, and I was just kind of like yeah I’m skating along until I figure out what I really want to do. I didn’t really have any specific goals. 

And then I met my now wife, and I realized it would be kind of cool if I didn’t have to do all of the work anymore, including like my bookkeeping and the admin stuff. So then ever since then like I’ve been slowly kind of building my team. 

But then last year my team I think doubled in size and then this year we might – we probably won’t double again, but we’ll get close to doubling again. So that’s –

Greg Heilers

Greg

So you’re really making a good push right now it sounds like, like you said, to go from real all-in and operator mode to more strategic on the business side and less every single minute operating shall we say. But that –

Blake Denman

Blake

Like –

Greg Heilers

Greg

– balance you said too. You want to stay in touch with your clients, and that’s –

Blake Denman

Blake

Absolutely, because I don’t have any sales reps, so when someone is interested in talking to us about our services they’re talking to me directly.

So I can’t just bring them on board and say, all right, you’re going to deal with my team now. See you later. I’ll never talk to you again.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah.

Blake Denman

Blake

So no, that’s not really part of it. Like now, we’re introducing them to their project manager and to the account manager and then kind of say, look, after our kick-off call, I’m still going to be on the calls, but I won’t be on all of them, and your AM is going to run most of these calls on any given basis.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right.

Blake Denman

Blake

I’m CC’d on all communications, and I’m definitely working on a strategy with your AM too.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah, yeah. You’re busy doing the strategy, not necessarily all the –

Blake Denman

Blake

Right.

Greg Heilers

Greg

– back and forth. I guess that leads us kind of into you had a quote, and I think I copied and pasted so I’ll get it write. You wrote, “If a process doesn’t exist, you’ll then be the source of all questions from your team and the quality of work won’t be great.” I mean I couldn’t agree more. 

We stumbled into documentation, and people on our team like to laugh and throw out the word SOP with exclamation marks at one point and the transition to like oh man we got to get used to this. 

But where for you – I guess do you try – when you come across a new responsibility at your company do you try to throw up like an outline let’s say or are you more asking your employees like, look, as you work through this can you document what you’re doing and it builds up from there historically?

Blake Denman

Blake

So historically all the processes were originally built by me.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right.

Blake Denman

Blake

And then as the team started to kind of grow – and I’ve always told my team all of our processes are living documents. They’re not engraved in stone. If you find a better way, I want to know about it, and then you can update it. Like this was actually Kim’s idea. 

It wasn’t mine. We’re calling it Café Disco – which like you can see Dwight Schrute back here, I’m a big “Office” fan – where every month the team is going to get together, and we’re going to go over certain processes together and see if there’s a better way to go about that kind of process or if we need to improve on it. 

So I’m really excited to kind of get started with that so that way our processes just aren’t shelved and then referenced whenever they feel like they need to be referenced.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah. I’m not that familiar with the “Office” so I missed the reference, but I think if I follow, sounds like something we at Jolly should be doing quite frankly. Get all the relevant people and see what an outsider would bring to the discussion perhaps or just at least let the person doing it daily, weekly ask questions and be like is this optimal? I’m not sure.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right. Or there might be a better way of going about this. Like we’re actually bringing in speakers. I think we’re averaging right now once a quarter. So early this year we brought in a pretty well-known link builder to kind of talk to the team. 

And then early April we’re bringing in Dave Ojeda who is also a TTT member to – we’re just calling it Schema School, and he’s going to talk to us and educate us on how he approaches schema.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Cool.

Blake Denman

Blake

And then we’ll take that and say, okay, how do we adapt this to our processes? What do we need to change? What do we need to change it to? So that way we’re always ahead of the curve.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Super smart. We don’t do anything like that. You could adopt a mindset of oh competitor and so could Dave, right? But it’s more like oh skillful practitioner. Let’s up our game a little.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah, absolutely.

Greg Heilers

Greg

That’s awesome. I guess there’s no segue for what I was hoping to get to next, but it still falls under business owner. I’m not sure if I exchanged comments with you or I found what you wrote, and so many people talk about this. 

As a business, you always want to keep your pipeline full, right, of clients, even if you want to keep it small.

You talked about an example I wanted to share after this. I’m just curious for your particular pipeline. Like where are you at in terms of RicketyRoo? Are you doing cold outreach? Are you doing like more brand development? There’s so many different ways people could play it. And I have to apologize. 

I didn’t study well enough. I could have probably answered if you were doing social or not at least myself if I looked.

Blake Denman

Blake

Very little social to be honest. Like I can’t remember the last time I submitted a Tweet.

Greg Heilers

Greg

And yet you’re in TTT, and I consider it almost like a form of social.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right, which it absolutely is. Like I’ve been kind of spending some time on Clubhouse just because it’s fun, but I don’t approach it as like a lead generation strategy. 

Most of our inbound leads right now they’ve – historically a lot of times they come from referrals, but we also have strategic referral sources too that send us good referrals. 

And one of the niches that we’re focusing on more and more, there are organizations that exist that have like strategic partners within their network, and so we’re slowly working our way into getting into one of the largest ones which will turn into a really great lead source for us too. 

Like I always thought maybe four, five years ago that the Holy Grail to inbound leads was to be a conference speaker. If you speak at conferences, that’s just when – that’s like flipping on a switch and then – but that’s never – that’s not the case. I’ve gotten more –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well you did that, so that’s not the case.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah. I mean I’ve done some business from speaking at conferences, but for the amount of time, I spent putting together like a presentation, which can take me anywhere from 25 to 40 hours just to put the deck together and make it look good, and then travel and deal with all that –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Travel.

Blake Denman

Blake

– right, it just wasn’t proving to be like a massive – like worth it on a ROI standpoint. But it is nice to reference like when I’m pitching a prospect and say, look, I speak at conferences on this subject. Here’s what I write for.

Here’s all this. Here’s some clients you can talk to as well. It does help. But if –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well, luckily that was younger Blake. You can still reference it and be like I did the circuit. You still got the creds and you can just –

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah, still got them. Like I primarily go to conferences now. I mean we haven’t because of Covid in the last year. But once like in-person conferences are happening again, I’ll probably still speak at a couple of conferences a year but it’s not going to be – I think one year – I think last year I spoke at like four or five conferences in the year, and it was a lot.

But I don’t think – maybe two, three max every year from now on.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I mean it’s a good thing too to connect with your industry, and perhaps I’m assuming incorrectly, maybe you’re going to conferences not necessarily related to SEO either. So I don’t know.

Blake Denman

Blake

Most of the conferences I speak at are like your Pubcon, State of Search, Local U.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Cool.

Blake Denman

Blake

It’s like they’re pretty – I mean they’re digital marketing conferences in general. But I mainly go now or want to go and want to speak so I can go hang out with my industry friends.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right. Yeah.

Blake Denman

Blake

It’s right.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I’m imagining that. Morgan and I keep saying we’ll make it to Thailand if we’re allowed to attend – oh shoot, I forgot Matt Diggity’s conference they have over there. But we could find an excuse for that. That would be all right.

Blake Denman

Blake

Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Greg: I guess I really just wanted your insight on this last question I had planned, but we could almost end it on that note. I feel like that’s more than enough information for someone to know where you’d be at your stage. I guess for the early stage person though it’s still worth asking you. 

You talked about in the early years you really learned the hard way about balancing your revenue between the clients, right. And there are different numbers people say like no more than 40 percent or no more than 50 percent or no more than 80 percent or no more than 20 percent. 

And what do you think for a new agency owner like what’s that goal from a single client as a source of revenue? 

But how would they intentionally limit that and keep pushing to minimize that while obviously doing the work that they need as an early business owner?

Blake Denman

Blake

Right. There’s no definitive answer. It depends on everyone’s comfort level.

Like what happened to me was 70 percent of my income came from one account, and I would drive down and visit them every week. A long time ago I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.

Like they came and visited me in the hospital. Like I thought we were bonded. Like they would never leave.

And then one day I get a call and they left to save $600 a month to go to somebody else. And then it hit me. I’m going, oh crap, I just lost 70 percent of my income. What do I do?

And so that was the lesson that I learned. But like if someone has a handful of clients and let’s say there’s four clients and each one is the same, right, 25 percent, it’s more of if one of them leaves, are you going to be able to pay your bills and are you going to be okay?

If not, it’s probably a good idea to consider bringing on an additional client or two where if one or two of them left you’re not going to be hurting to make your mortgage payment or your car payments or put food on the table for you and your family.

Like we had a client leave last month, and they were a pretty large client. But I knew when they came on because they had many, many websites.

They also had an internal team that they would never be a permanent client. They would eventually leave. It just happened to be that they left last month.

And I never really relied on the revenue. It’s like when they left I didn’t have to scramble to – with my pipeline to be like, oh crap, we need a new business to replace it.

Otherwise, I can’t pay myself or I’m going to have a hard time paying the company’s health insurance or the 401K match. I was prepared for it. So like anything with SEO, the answer it depends.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah, it depends.

Blake Denman

Blake

Right.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Perhaps the best way to end this one. I really appreciated this, Blake. I think if anyone wants to find you, first of all you guys should consider TTT, but RicketyRoo.com.

And I don’t know if you want to direct people anywhere else. Thank you for coming on.

Blake Denman

Blake

You can absolutely hit me up on Twitter.

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