For Angelyn Hazel Si,
My love and my inspiration
This book will never be possible without the great grace of God and without the people who have influenced me – shaping me to be who I am today. To you I give my thanks.
Jesus Christ – Thank you for giving my life purpose and meaning. Without you, I wouldn’t know what to do with my life and how it would end. You have given me peace, love, joy and eternal life. I could not ask for more. I hope this book will bring you joy and glory.
Angelyn Hazel Si – Your love and beauty has always captivated me. Thank you for your support of me writing this book through the long hours of the night. Your wisdom and encouragement has been a big part of this work, and ultimately, of who I am today. I love you.
Troy Ferdinand Si – Thank you pa for raising me up the best way you know how. I know that it was especially hard for you because you did not have your own dad to father you. Your hard work, determination, encouragement and presence inspires me to be a great husband and father.
Marisa Si – Thank you ma for always being there for me when I need a shoulder to cry on. Your smile and laugh never fails to soften my day. Thank you for always believing in me even when I lost hope and failed to believe in myself.
Pastor Dennis Sy – Thank you for inspiring this book and leading me to the Lord on my “sponge years”. I have absorbed everything you’ve taught and modeled towards me. I’ll always be grateful on how you have fathered me spiritually and on how you are proud of me and my work. You are my personal hero.
Pastor Joby Soriano – Thank you for all the love, wisdom and grace you have passed on to me. Without you, I will not be where I am. Your patience with me during my darkest of times is priceless. I cannot thank you enough.
Aumar Aguilar – Thank you for reminding me of God’s truths when I went my own way. I know I can be a hard case but you did not give up on me. I’ll always keep you in mind when I’m in search of wisdom and advice.
Jayson Lo – Thank you for supporting my passion for public speaking and giving me the best advice I could find for publishing this book. You are one of the people I sincerely look up to. Your kindness and honest approach to someone like me is astounding.
Randell Tiongson – Thank you for pushing me to write this book and for giving me sound advice in financial concerns. Your help in building a good financial foundation for my family is deeply appreciated.
David Bonifactio – Thank you for being who you are. Knowing I have a fellow entrepreneur who is experiencing similar set of problems and challenges I’m facing is a great gift. Your mentorship of how I should face and deal with challenges in business is a rare gem.
Grant Merriel – Your advice and crazy ideas never fail to inspire me. I deeply appreciate the way you helped improve my business processes. Thank you for the way you helped me think out of the box and pivot a part of SEO Hacker to other by-products and ventures.
Francis Kong – An encounter with you is a humbling experience. Your demeanor is quite far of what I imagined. As a senior motivational speaker, you are one of the people I look up to. Thank you for writing the foreword of my first book and for all the advice and time we may from hereon out.
Introduction (And Excerpt at the Back)
Age is a Sort of Time Limit
Let’s face it, the reason why your holding this book in your hands right now is because of the fact of the age.
I was 22 when I became CEO. And this book is all about how I did it before the buzzer beat.
You see, life has its buzzers.
When you reach 13 suddenly people expect you to make your own decisions.
When you reach 18 people suddenly tell you that you can drive.
As I write this book I’m now 25 years old. People expect me to write a book in my thirties. I’m going beyond expectations.
I’m not going to let myself reach the expected time limit.
And so should you.
I wasn’t really what you’d call a good student.
I had a whopping 28 units of failure in college. A unit costs around 4,000php. If you do the math, that’s 112,000php of failing units. Not to mention I had to re-enroll and pay for miscellaneous and other fees along the way.
My parents were nothing short of furious with the path I was taking in life.
I was completely hooked with the ever-popular computer game named DOTA. Heck it wasn’t even a game. It was a map in Warcraft III!
I wasted all those years and money – and I have nothing to show for it even to today.
So what happened?
How did jump from being a computer games addict to a CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in the Philippines today?
I didn’t come from a rich family. We’re what I would like to call a middle, middle class. My dad distributed hardware supplies to ‘dirty hardware’ in far provinces like Zambales, Batangas, Cavite, and so on. I would still say that I am very blessed with what I have – my own shoes, car, clothes and home. By our world’s current statistics, I’m already part of the richest 5% of Earth’s population.
My mom’s a housewife who has a Chinese tutorial sideline job. She’s a supermom to me my two other siblings. I worked for my dad during summers when I was in grade school. Got paid 20 pesos per hour lifting stuff from his warehouse to his delivery truck. I enjoyed doing that.
High school came and my dad gave me some paperwork and IT problems in the office. It was something that I had less taste for but I still did it during summer – again for 20 pesos an hour.
Then the college years came. I went out as a sales agent going from hardware to hardware all through Cavite. It was the job I’m least fond of because of the heat, sweat, grime and ugly payout. 1% commission per sale. Imagine that! I had to sell 1,000,000 pesos worth of items in order for me to bag 10,000 pesos at the end of the month. Needless to say, I was never able to bag 10,000.
What kept me going was the fact that it was what my dad did best week after week after week.
And the fact that I was forced to do that to finish college.
I really didn’t like my course in college. I took up Information Technology. It was something I thought would get me closer to creating my own computer game. I was dead wrong.
The deeper I went into the years of studying IT, the more I wanted to get out. It has nothing to do with computer games at all!
I wanted to do writing – hell yeah, that’s one other thing I’m passionate about. But my parents discouraged me from going that route.
“There’s no money there.” They said.
Practically speaking, they were right. However, there was one thing we missed – the tech boom.
During my college years, Apple made iPads, iPhones, written digital consumerism rose to new heights. The internet all over the Philippines improved. Mobile data came in to play – and play strong.
People had internet. People had access to written content online. I was about to miss it all.
If not for my brother, Kevin.
Lending a Hand
You see, my brother studied Multimedia Arts in College of St. Benilde. He was, in fact, one of the better students in his batch.
One day, he came home and told me that he knew how to create a blog. I was ecstatic.
I was blogging in Multiply for more than a while then because I didn’t know better. So we went straight away to develop my very own blog.
It rolled on from there and I started the blog “God and You” (http://h3sean.com) where I put some of my old Multiply entries and then some. I spent hours and hours pouring into studying the theme, the plugins I can use, the lay outing, and yes, even the code.
For the first time, I was in love with code – or at least with what I could understand of it. I pored through countless of themes trying to get the ‘right one’ for my blog.
If I didn’t understand something I would ask my brother. But then he would just look it up over the web. So I wisened up and asked Google straight.
I grew in my knowledge of handling a blog and in my writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote.
And then I checked out my visitor (traffic) stats – and found out that only 3 people were regularly reading my stuff. And yes, that’s me, my mom and my brother (who was forced to read because I always asked him what he thought of my entries).
Searching for Search Traffic
So I explored the world wide web on how to increase my traffic. By this time, I was already taking up my On the Job Training (OJT) with an all-in-one internet marketing and programming company in Ortigas. Unfortunately, that company went out of business a few years back so I’ll save you the trouble and leave it unnamed.
I stumbled over the term SEO back in that company. I went in seeking a social media specialist role and they punched me through straight to SEO – which sounded funny at first. I had no idea what it was.
So I went over to my direct manager to learn what I’m supposed to do. To my utter surprise it was stupendously easy. However, it was horribly tasking.
I had to post comments, add ‘friends’ and do forum posts for 5 of the company’s clients (which I later realized was black hat tactics). For each company, there’s supposed to be 20+ blog comments, 20+ forum posts and 100 ‘friends’ adding each in a day. Oh and the 100 friends were split – 20 in Facebook (which had captcha per add), 20 in Multiply, 20 in Myspace, 20 in Twitter and 20 in LinkedIn.
I was stumped. I got this boatload of work and I had to finish it in a DAILY basis?!
What was so important about these comments and friends anyway?
On I went posting in numerous blogs and forums. Learning all about what it is to be in the client’s shoes. Relating to each and every unfortunate webmaster I stumbled along the way.
A week later, my direct manager left the company.
Now I was more stumped. Was I supposed to keep doing what I was doing?
All the workload of SEO was dumped on me. An OJT student trying to burn out the assigned 520 hours from 6am to 12mn just to be able to celebrate Christmas with my family.
What was all these things I’m doing anyway?
So I typed that life-changing line in Google: “What is SEO?”
Search Engine Optimization
Yeah, that’s what it stands for. It’s the art and science of ranking a website for its target keywords – which, in most cases will be the website’s product or service or idea. It is nothing short of a super power in today’s standards. When you are able to rank something in Google, perhaps something you’re selling, then people will find you and chances are, they will buy from you.
When you want to rank someone for something good, you can do that. Or if you want to clean someone’s bad reputation in the search results, you can do so as well. The fact of the matter is, people search. It’s part of our daily lives.
There are more than 32,000 searches happening each second. Imagine that!
People look for things – and in this consumer-driven world we live in, being found online brings you that much closer to a sale.
The PageRank System
Google came up with a metric called PageRank. It’s a Google patented system that is meant to measure a website’s quality and quantity of backlinks (links from other websites pointing back to your website). PageRank is a major metric we used in my ‘early days’ of doing SEO.
A PageRank of 0 means you’re a new site or you have little to no backlinks at all. A PageRank of 1 means that you’re starting to get some links. A PageRank of 2 is normal – we usually sites with this level of PageRank. A PageRank of 3 means that you’re doing a little SEO for your site. A PageRank of 4 means that you have an above average approach to SEO. And so on and so forth.
The thing about PageRank is that it’s exponential. A site with 0-10 links can mean a PageRank of 0. A site with 10-100 means a PageRank of 1. A site with 100-1000 means a PageRank of 2. And so on and so forth.
Disclaimer: This is not entirely accurate since the formula for PageRank has not been made public. However from my personal studies, this proves to be closer to the truth thus far.
The Business Idea
Working 18 hours a day was extremely tiring and draining. So I went ahead and applied all my the things I was learning about SEO to my God and You blog. I kept writing and I kept reading and it was awesome. I learned a lot – and so far as I was concerned, my rankings were climbing.
Sooner than I would’ve thought, my site climbed up to PageRank 4. I thought to myself “Hey, maybe I could do SEO after all!” A little while longer and I was already planning to turn it into a part time gig. If I could do it for my blog while working 18 hours for my OJT, I could do it for another person’s website.
Lo and behold, not long after I finished OJT and was about to graduate from college, a man from our local church contacted me and said he was looking for an SEO specialist. Talk about timing!
We got together, and chatted about the deal. I was getting a sweet $500 (during that time, it was equivalent to 25,000php) per month for servicing this e-gaming website. Seeing as this can be my first stepping stone to starting an SEO company, I agreed.
However sooner than later, I was convicted that I shouldn’t be doing this. After all, some people get hooked in e-games and sometimes lose their life savings there.
So I quit.
Love at First Sight
There was a 3-day singles retreat in our local church that happened while I was working in my OJT. There were more than 1,130 single men and women who attended that retreat. It was packed!
To be honest, I was there to accompany a friend of mine who’s now one of my partners in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business we are launching soon. I had no intentions of looking for a girlfriend whatsoever. I knew I wasn’t ready.
God had other things in mind.
I met my wife, Apple, in that retreat. She was a beautiful, charming young lady. Our eyes met while I was wandering around meeting new people in the event called ‘Special Night’. We talked about my blog, God and You, and about Christianity and apologetics among other stuff.
She was a person who can really strike a conversation.
Out of all the women I talked to that evening, she was the only one I could remember.
The God Plan
After I graduated from college, my dad took me to a vacation trip to HongKong and Macau. It was my first time touring both countries. We had lots of fun staying in really good hotels and eating good food.
When we boarded the ferry ride from Hongkong to Macau, there was this girl named Angeli Ko who I got acquainted with. We talked.
Turns out she has an uncle in the Philippines who was looking for SEO. He’s the founder and owner of ScubaWorld and ExpeditionFleet. The biggest scuba diving and liveaboard fleet company in the country.
Of course without really thinking about it, I said “Sure, yeah, I could help him.” We exchanged contact details.
So we went on the tour to Macau and at the back of my mind I was thinking “She’ll probably forget me.”
My parents pushed me to apply for a job. A month later, I found myself working in HP. The first thing they asked from me during the job interview was my transcript of records – which showed 28 units of failure. Needless to say, I was in utter shock that I got hired and was set to work the week after.
I was ecstatic. HP was my dream company. I got a whopping 25,000php per month plus a healthcare plan that allowed me to make either my dad or my mom as beneficiary. Of course, after the tax, and ‘government benefits’ were removed from my salary, all that’s left is 19,000+php. Still, that’s not so bad. Plus it’s a sure-fire income that I receive from month to month.
I was extremely happy.
Around this time, I was given the chance to meet the owner and founder of ScubaWorld. Angeli really pushed through with what she said at Hongkong. I was able to present what I’ve done – nothing impressive. I had no real professional experience whatsoever. I had no real registered company, no official receipt yet, nothing!
The only thing I could show for was that I was able to increase my personal blog’s PageRank to 4. Still, I went ahead and presented what I’ve got and what I think I could do for ScubaWorld.
I was blown out of my mind when the owner agreed to take me on. I got to close my first (and biggest) SEO contract! It was a whopping $1,000 ( back then it was around 50,000php) per month for 6 months – or double my monthly salary from HP. And the best thing about it is I HAVE TO go scuba diving to understand the business and write natural, transparent articles for the company blog.
Hey, it’s part of the job.
Today I’m a licensed advanced scuba diver – all for free because of that first SEO contract.
So I was a 21 year old guy who was hauling in somewhere 69,000php on a monthly basis with the whole world ahead of him.
And that’s just the start.
Chapter 1 Lessons
God, Guts and Hard Work
There are few people in this world who are as privileged as I was when starting out. Things just fell into place one after another in my life – my first blog, my learning SEO and being able to apply it to my blog hands-on, my first SEO gig, first SEO contract, and so on and so forth.
From this point of view, life seems perfect however there are factors that we need to consider to how I got there.
It’s just mind blowing how I would’ve missed everything had I not started the God and You blog. I told God “Lord, I want to just write for you and glorify you online. Here’s my last money, take it.” And with that 2,000php I bought a 1 gigabyte worth of hosting and the domain name h3sean.com.
Had I not started that blog, I would not have sought how to increase my traffic. I would not have any place to test my knowledge in SEO. I would not have any website to show for when I presented to the owner of Scubaworld.
On top of that, what are the chances that I would meet Angeli on board a ferry towards Macau? What are the chances that she would remember me enough to really forward me to her uncle in the Philippines after we got back home? What are the chances that I would be hired for a whopping $1,000 with just a personal blog to show for?
There’s only one thing I credit this all to: God. There’s a bigger purpose for all this than just an amazing story. I believe God is positioning me and SEO Hacker for something great.
No one barges in to the biggest scuba diving and liveaboard company in the Philippines and pitches a $1,000 per month contract with nothing to show for but a personal blog. You could say I was a bit crazy – but who cares?
I had nothing to lose when I went to their office. Yes, I lost a little time and a little money commuting but I would’ve lost a much bigger opportunity had I not taken that window. Was I afraid of rejection? Hell, yeah!
But that shouldn’t stop me from at least trying.
Michael Jordan said:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
I would’ve missed too and failed – but not taking the shot in the first place means that I miss 100%.
3) Hard Work
You just can’t beat the hours I initially put in God and You’s SEO. I had to work 18 hours a day to be able to finish OJT early and celebrate Christmas with my family. All the hours I had as ‘free time’ I spent on readings and application to God and You.
This produced results that doubled as my initial portfolio as an SEO specialist. Of course, along with studying SEO, I was able to study more WordPress coding, plugins, themes, etc. This enhanced my technical understanding of a website. Among other skills, that’s where I usually trump competitors.
I put in hours of work in my proposal to Scubaworld. It was nothing fancy- just a Microsoft Word file printout worth a handful of pages. I also had to communicate to the client regularly – and of course, schedule scuba diving trips. While you may not consider it as hard work to go scuba diving, documenting each dive and making time to really learn the ropes took days from my work in HP.
I was juggling a day job and a micro business. And I had to do both as best as I can if I want to grow.
A lot of people nowadays want the shortcut. They buy the best tools, the best equipment, the best this and that.
Guitar gurus say, “Tone is in your fingers.” And that’s true!
You can buy the best guitar, effects pedals, and amplifiers. But when you play that rig, it’s still going to sound like you.
Take the crappiest guitar you can find and put it in the hands of a master guitar player and it’s still going to sound awesome.
It’s not the tools, it’s not the equipment. Tone is in your fingers.
Nothing can beat hard work.
I worked in HP a month after I graduated. It was March 2010. I stayed there 5 short months then I quit. Oh, did I mention it was my dream company?
It’s not because it wasn’t what I expected it to be. It wasn’t even because it’s a bad company. HP is a good company – I would recommend it to any guy who’s looking to start his IT career.
The reason why I left is that my micro business was starting to become a small business – which demanded more of my time and commitment. It didn’t make sense for me to commute from Paranaque all the way to Ortigas ( around 35km) riding the trycicle, jeep, bus and MRT plus walking a good 20 minutes along the way – and get half the amount I’m getting from my micro business.
I work 3 hours a day, 3 days a week (sometimes including the scuba dive sessions) from the comfort of my home or the scuba diving resort. I didn’t have to spend for commute or food!
However, if I am unable to renew my contract with Scubaworld, I’ll be damned.
I’ll have to kiss my security good-bye.
My dad didn’t want me to quit my day job. He’s a businessman. A wholesaler of construction supply to retailers in the provinces. But he didn’t want me to get into business. “It’s a dirty world and it’s a lot of hard work and tough decisions.”
I was disheartened. I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder. It was just something I really didn’t want to do with my life!
I wanted to build a brand, lead a team, make a product people truly loved! So I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do – should I obey my dad and stay? Should I dishonor his wish and leave?
One night, I talked with my dad and laid out my plans. “Alright,” he said, “You can quit HP and continue on with building your own business.” I was relieved!
“Provided,” my dad added, “That you talk to my Dgroup (church discipleship group) leader and he agrees to let you do it.”
It was tough. I didn’t know what his Dgroup leader thought about my plan. So I prayed again.
Finally, I picked up the phone and called my dad’s Dgroup leader.
Given the Go
“Hello? Yes, is this uncle Ramon?” I was pretty nervous seeing as this was my dad’s Dgroup leader and he was held in high esteem in our church.
“Yes, this is him speaking. Oh, Sean. Yes, my dad told me all about it. So what’s your plan?”
“Well, I wanted to quit HP and start my own business, I’m into doing SEO.”
Turns out that my dad and uncle Ramon wanted me to at least have a back-up plan before I left HP. After all, it’s tough to have a 5-month stint in your resume. And if your business fails and you don’t have much professional experience, where are you gonna go?
“Uncle Ramon, to tell you the truth, right now there’s this company that wants to hire me for 50,000php per month.” True story. I forwarded him the email of the company trying to recruit me to become their SEO manager.
“Okay, you have my go. I’ll talk with your dad.”
I put the phone down and walked straight to my dad’s room to tell him the news.
During one of my LRT rides to HP, I bumped into Harry Ur Jr., an old friend of mine from college. We weren’t really close so I thought it would be a short acquaintance type of chat.
We exchanged stories on what we were up to. He said he was doing videography and photography for events which was cool – since it’s a tough industry to be in. I mentioned that I was doing SEO on the side while working in HP. With which he mentioned, “That’s exactly what one of my aunts in Uratex is looking for. I’ll refer you to her.”
We exchanged numbers. At the back of my head I was thinking, “He’ll probably forget me after this.” After all, we weren’t really that close as friends and I was typically a nobody.
So I quit – and I worked on my business full-time. I grew it even while I was in HP. My shift was 9am – 6pm however I had to wait for a friend of mine whose shift was from 3pm – 12mn. So from 6pm – 12mn I worked on my then newly bought and developed SEO site SEO Hacker (http://seo-hacker.com).
In my off-hours, I would develop, write, research, apply, test and so on and so forth. It was an unlocked passion of mine – and I could go on and on and on doing what I love.
The SEO Hacker website got a lot of traction. People started leaving comments, sharing my stuff in social media, contacting me via email about how much they appreciated the contents in the site, etc. It was fuel to the fire I had burning in me.
A few weeks after I quit, Scubaworld decided they didn’t want to renew their contract with me – since they’re in the process of selling the business. At the same time, my consulting gig with a mobile marketing company (which was a sweet 25,000php a month) also decided against renewing our engagement.
I was devastated.
Just in Time
I went down on my knees and asked God “Lord, why? Why now? I know I quit because you gave me the ‘go’ signal through my dad and uncle Ramon, but why take away my last source of income?”
Then I realized that I shouldn’t be worrying. God was in control. So I thanked Him in advance, “Lord, thank you for letting me leave. I know you have a purpose why this happened. I’ll trust in you and just do what I can for the time being.”
A day after, Uratex called. They wanted a meeting.
Harry kept his word.
To keep the long story short, I presented my previous work and online portfolios to Uratex. They were impressed.
I got Uratex plus their sister company, Roberts AIPMC – the combined contract is worth more than my salary in HP and my first contracts combined. Until today, these two companies are still in contract with SEO Hacker.
SEO Hacker took off.
I registered SEO Hacker with DTI on April 2011. It took just two days to finish filing my business registration at the DTI building in Makati. I took home the registration papers – and just like that, I had a whole new business in my hands.
CEO was not something I wanted to take on as a title. I wanted a more subtle, softer tone to my leadership role. So for the first year, I took on the title of “Managing Director”, which a very decent title for the company’s size and revenue. However as we grew (and we are now more than 15 in-house people in the team), I resorted to finally changing it to CEO and Founder.
I was 22 years old.
Chapter 2 Lessons
1) Security is a Myth
We think that the sweet, sure monthly income keeps us secure. After all, that paycheck will always come.
That paycheck can stop any minute. What’s to stop a company from laying off people when push comes to shove? Yes quitting entails risk, but don’t think that just because you have a job right now and a paycheck at the end of the month, you’re immune.
No one is immune. The only constant thing in our world is change and risks come along with it whether you’re passive or active, conservative or aggressive in your risk taking.
Here’s something I think is true: The riskiest thing you can do is to stay where you are and pass up on the next opportunity that comes along your way. You won’t realize the size and grandeur of an opportunity until you get your ass off your couch and get your hands dirty.
Real security can only come from three things: God, Guts and Hard Work. It’s the narrow, but sure-fire road to success.
2) Honor your Parents
I would never have come to where I am had I not honored my parents’ request for me to apply for a job in HP. There are some things I’ve learned there about maintaining and improving the level of service we should give to our clients.
I also saw the culture first-hand. Flexi-time, Work from home, and a service level agreement with the clients among other things. This helped me gauge the strategy on how I want my company culture to be during my first years in starting up a services-centered business.
In the end, this verse proves true: “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:2-3
3) On your Knees
I have had lots of days when I am cornered and don’t know what to do. There are days when the bills and my team’s payout are stacked so high and the clients paid late that I didn’t know where to get the funding. There are days when a client’s rankings suddenly drop because of a Google dance and it’s almost reporting season. And there are just days when I am “low.”
Going on your knees helps you remember that things are in God’s hands. You can’t be in control all the time. There are things in this world that only a being greater than you can accomplish. I tell you the truth, there have been more than enough days when I’m brought very low and God comes through.
I remember some time 2012 when all I had left in my bank account is a measly 10,000. While I’ve paid out all my bills, how am I supposed to survive the next month?
Suddenly an email from a non-profit Australian organization shot through to my inbox. They asked for a meeting. We went and presented.
After 2 short weeks, they signed the biggest contract I’ve ever had. Not to mention the work they want done is the easiest in SEO Hacker’s history.
It’s just mind-boggling how God has saw through to my needs. This verse has never been true for me until those days:
“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” – Psalm 8:4
Going down on your knees is the best anxiety prevention discipline there is since the beginning of time. It’s one of the lowest, and yet, the greatest times of my life.
Attracting the Right People
I knew I couldn’t do it all by myself. I had help from a disciple of mine, Austin Takahashi, who was from the same local church I was attending. But he was still going through college. I had a little help from my brother with the design as well but, like my disciple, he was also still going through college.
I was very excited at the thought of having my own team. So I shopped around for an office. I found one at NUR building, which was walking distance from my parents house where I was staying. It cost 10,000php a month, It was around 38sqm big, had white wooden and cement walls, and it had its own private restroom. Perfect for a startup with a small team.
I had no idea how to hire people. All I know is there’s a job interview that each applicant should go through. So I listed down some questions I thought should be asked. I asked help from my then-girlfriend, (now my wife) who worked as an HR for a few months. We came up with questions like these to name a few:
- What do you know about SEO Hacker?
- How do you see yourself 5 years from now?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What do you know about SEO?
- How long are you willing to work?
So I went about thinking of who I have in my circle of influence who I can tap into to help me build this business. I also posted in Facebook about looking for help.
I got to meet up with 2 people who I think had the right heart for the job. One of them was a college friend of mine, Vince Salud. He’s a guy who makes sure things get done – and done well. Another one was Robert Cipriano who I met at one of my talks in De La Salle University’s College of Computer Studies.
We met up. I asked them the set of interview questions I had on hand and sooner than later, we found ourselves in the office setting things up.
I always thought to myself that in order for me to lead right, I had to become the leader I myself will want to follow. It works both ways with attracting people. If you want to attract people who work hard, people who are determined and driven, people who are passionate about what they do, you have to be one yourself.
I didn’t need a course in Human Resource or in management. All I needed was to be the right guy. That’s the key to attracting the right people. Be the team you want to become.
Establishing the Strategy
We had a very old whiteboard in our first office. I love that whiteboard. It’s still in our office today. We use it for all kinds of stuff – reminders, training, management meetings, you name it.
Whiteboard sessions are prevalent in our culture – it’s one of my favorite management and training styles because of its ability to reduce the topic to a few focused points (a whiteboard has limited space). It’s also able to increase memory retention to the audience because of voice + gestures + written visual communication.
I put my desktop computer in the office together with my first office table (which was my then-girlfriend’s first anniversary gift to me) and started to train Vince and Rob to what the company is about and what I need them to do.
The strategy I have in place is really simple – do everything we can to make our clients king in their target keywords in their target search engines.You see in SEO, there are two major factors to ranking a website: on-site optimization and off-site optimization.
On site optimization deals with everything in your direct control as a webmaster such as coding, keywords, navigation, design, server performance, etc.
Off site optimization deals with everything outside of your direct control as a webmaster such as backlinks, social shares, user activity, brand mentions, etc.
I had Vince and Rob experience what it’s like to work on a website on-site and off-site. Had them learn the ropes. And based on their strengths, I delegated major assignments to them. I assigned Rob to work on off site optimization and Vince on the on site part of things. Of course, things changed and they were assigned different tasks as the business grew.
Slow but Sure
After a couple of months, we interviewed more people. Some came and went for different reasons, while some stayed for the long haul. We hired carefully, making sure that we were not just getting the people but that we were getting the right people.
The new hires were put in teams. I personally trained each one of them and gave Rob and Vince the chance to teach as well – after all, as the one and only Frank Oppenheimer realized, “the best way to learn is to teach.”
As the team grew, it was tougher for us to stay in the 38 square meter office. New clients were coming in and we had to train more people to be able to take in more work.
We were definitely not the best, biggest company to work for out there but being based in the south side of metro Manila posed a very simple but critical benefit: We were able to get people who were fit for the job and happy to be working with us.
You see, the bigger corporate positions are based in Makati and Ortigas – the two biggest corporate districts of Metro Manila. Those are the places where most people dream of working for. High pay grade, good benefits, beautiful and comfortable offices, you name it. But it’s just too damn far when you live in Cavite or Laguna or Las Pinas.
That’s what we tried to attract. People who wanted to work in some sort of a corporate setting. We put up marketing strategies to be as transparent and cool as we can be in attracting team players. The latest jobs page we have can be visited at https://seo-hacker.net/jobs
We weren’t really into posting job ads at paid job listings – it’s just too darn expensive. We stuck with our connections and with inbound strategies to attract team players. As far as the early days of SEO Hacker is concerned, it worked.
Scaling things Up
Through all these, I made sure to keep SEO Hacker’s website in the best shape possible. I started with http://seo-hacker.com and then bought http://seo-hacker.org and http://seo-hacker.net because I knew that I will have some sort of use for it in the future.
When my brother, Kevin, came in the team full time we got to work. We went on to give SEO Hacker’s website a facelift.
[IMG of before and after comparison of SEO Hacker]
I believe that in order for us to serve our clients the way we want them to be served, we have to serve ourselves first. Reminds me of the verse:
“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31
If you don’t know how to take care of your own website and branding, you won’t know how to take care of your client’s website and branding. It’s just the way I want SEO Hacker’s value to be. We’ve stuck with it since day one and we’re still stuck with it until today.
Of course, this came with the need to employ online tools and platforms. We’ve used tools to help us with email marketing, making noise and followers in social media, proxies, bigger and badder servers, and so on and so forth. The expenses mounted up but it helped us automate, learn more, and be able to take on more clients.
Some tools really just helped us expand our skills and services vertically. My knowledge in email marketing deepened only when I built lists myself and studied strategies to increase my open rates and make my subject lines more effective. Same goes for my knowledge in copywriting, analytics, click tracking, conversion rate optimization, and the list goes on.
We stayed a full year in our office just to let the contract expire. Then we knew where we had to take the team. We had to move out to a bigger space. The thing is, I didn’t have too much time to go scouting. I had very limited time because my contract with NUR’s owner was expiring soon.
So I grabbed the nearest, cost-effective place I could get. It was at BF NSHA. A 280sqm office for 20,000php a month. The spaces were a bit tight and there was no huge place where bulk of the team could be. Each team would be separated by a wall or some hindrance. I wasn’t very fond of the office especially since the flooring was sort of uneven – as if there’s a small volcano waiting to pop out of the cement and wooden tiles.
There were three rooms – small ones. I think two of them measured somewhere 15sqm and the master’s bedroom measured around 23sqm with the comfort room included. I imagined the master’s bedroom to be the studio and the two other rooms to be extra rooms for meetings.
“It’s not so bad,” I thought to myself, “Considering we’re twice as big as when we started.” Looking back, I couldn’t be more wrong. I should’ve scouted for a much better place.
Oh well… God has His purposes.
SEO Hacker School
I finally found a purpose for my http://seo-hacker.org domain name. During that time, I’ve been teaching SEO online through an email marketing course I set-up using MailChimp. So I figured “Why not make a membership site for this? We’re doing it anyway – let’s monetize it!”
We set-up a studio in our new office at NSHA for video recordings of our online SEO School. We had studio lights, a newly bought DSLR camera with the proper lens, a newly bought whiteboard and lots of egg tray cartons for sound proofing.
Our first shoots were very exciting and nervous at the same time. I practiced over and over again so we wouldn’t have to re-shoot the videos. Until the time came when I’ll just wing it and let the mistakes flow even during the video shoot. It was a lot of fun.
It was also very time consuming.
So what we did was focus on a strategy that no other online SEO knowledge-based website is doing. We set-up lessons in beautifully designed and easy to understand PowerPoint format. Every lesson we have in SEO Hacker school today is built by dedicated content and graphic specialists. We teach over 1,800 students online. There school’s membership is separated into two: Insider and Pro.
Insider members can access free SEO lessons that deal with fundamentals. This is for users to have a feel of what it’s like inside the Pro membership account – which costs $30/month.
There is an existing demand for learning SEO right, however I wasn’t entirely sure of the product-market fit of SEO Hacker school with a newly established company such as SEO Hacker. Right now, the school is not yet profitable however it’s not really a big issue because the cost of capitalization is really low.
SEO Hacker School is not yet at the stage where we can tell if it’s a pass or fail – it’s simply a project that’s yet to really fly. We haven’t really given it the dedicated time and effort for us to tell yet. In any case, it’s been a huge help since we use it internally to onboard new hires.
Four Months too Early
The landlady of our NSHA office did not inform me early on whether we would be able to renew our contract with them because one of the landlady’s relatives is thinking of moving in the house. This posed a problem for me because of the renovations for sound proofing we did to the “studio room” for SEO Hacker school video shoots.
So I shopped around for another office. We were 7 months in our contract with NSHA when my mom got in touch with a friend who was renting out her house. It was at Tierra De Maria (TDM) in BF Paranaque – much nearer where my parents lived than NSHA.
One day, we finally arranged for a tour of the house. It was simply perfect. There was a huge hallway, around 60sqm, which seemed like a town hall where I imagined the bulk of my team to work in. There were also two other rooms approximately 25sqm in size where I imagined the conference table and bean bags would be.
It was just perfect! I fell in love with the idea of moving in to TDM and living there. There was just one huge problem – wiring.
The house was really old and the electrical wiring was not done properly. There were risks on having the entire house burn down if we transferred all our air conditioning systems and ran it all at the same time.
We had two 1.5 horsepower and one 1.0 horsepower split type air conditioners on top of one 2 horsepower and two 1 horsepower window type air conditioners. It was simply a recipe for disaster when we’ll have all of those running and the wiring system is too thin.
So I had it changed. I had help from my then-fiancee’s company, Meiji Electric, to fix all of the things that were wrong with the wiring. I also had to call up Meralco to make sure that things were consistent down to the meter wire – which we also had to change. It was a huge hassle but I learned a lot along the way.
Once the wiring and electrical provisions were ready, we moved in. It was June, 2013 when we did. We didn’t have any working internet at first because PLDT was delayed – which, sadly, is no real surprise. We had to make do with everyone’s mobile data – each of us contributing bandwidth. In fact there were a lot of times when I had to leave my Samsung Note 10.1 just for my unlimited data plan to be utilized by the entire team. Good thing Smart has a very loose Fair Use Policy (FUP) regarding mobile data consumption.
I moved in to the TDM home-office since I wanted to try living by myself and my room at my parent’s house isn’t really a room – it’s more of an attic. My cabinet is not in my room and I had to go down just to be able to use the restroom. It was getting uncomfortable for me especially when I’m on a roll with work. So I asked my parent’s blessing to move out.
“Just remember, if you do anything stupid, you will regret it.” My dad kept repeating those words to me before I left. I heeded his advise.
The bars and night life is just around 100 steps away from the TDM home-office so it wasn’t impossible for me to do something stupid. However I made it a point to allow my people to stay over and bond and have fun. This is so I literally had no chance of doing anything stupid.
Sooner than later, I invited my brother to stay over my place – which he did. It was quite lonely when I’m all alone in a 380sqm house with just my PC and 8mbps DSL to boot. My brother was having a hard time getting good internet from my parent’s place anyway. He had to go all the way to the attic to be able to take advantage of the 3mbps connection I left behind there. In my place, we both shared the juicy bandwidth speed.
For months to come, it was nothing short of an online paradise. Me and my brother would play a game called League of Legends almost every night after work. It was our bonding session. We would have tons of fun just adjusting to each other’s playing style together with three other friends or wild cards as teammates. It was a game of 2 teams, with 5 players each, fighting against each other.
As with all other team games, the team which is able to adapt to their teammate’s playing style and play well with each other wins.
Playing computer games has always been a weakness. The 28 units of failure in college wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t such a computer games junkie. The moment that the game DOTA was introduced to me in college, my world started to revolve around it – and the friends I have who were at the same addictive solar system.
I would play hours and hours of DOTA. I cut classes. I left home late and would arrive in school late – which will result to me just foregoing the class and going straight to the computer shop. Looking back, it was a very miserable waste of time. Of course, I didn’t appreciate my time back then. All I cared about is to win, be praised by my teammates, and tell stories of the game afterwards.
It was a very shallow passion to behold. However I must admit, I learned a couple of things playing DOTA. There was team play, adjustment, strategy, the desire to win, and so on and so forth. Although it was not directly highlighted as it was, after all a computer game, my brain registered all these things.
Needless to say, DOTA evolved into other games such as DOTA 2 (duh!), Heroes of Newerth(HON), and League of Legends (LOL). Me and my brother got hooked to the latter.
We would play long hours and sleep late – going as far as 3 or 4am in the morning. And yes, my teammates would come in the morning after – and we’d wake up, open the door and find some of them already knee-deep at work. Talk about the shame!
What I would do to keep myself in check is to delete League of Legends from my computer. I realize that there is no other way to discipline myself. If I’m addicted, I have to go cold turkey – there just isn’t’ any other way. I tried lessening it down but whenever I’d win, I’d want more games. And whenever I’d lose, I’d play one more to win. It was a vicious cycle.
Of course, it didn’t help that my brother had his own struggle with his addiction to the game and he wouldn’t delete it whenever I would. Worse, I’d watch him play at times and cringe at the fact that I’m simply a spectator.
However the times I sacrificed playing League of Legends or even simply having it in my computer, were very productive times. Those were times when I was able to bring SEO Hacker forward. Times when I was able to blog more, innovate more, discover and employ more tools, reach out to other industry and thought leaders, and other important stuff like that.
Everyone has their own sets of weaknesses. At least I got to identify mine at an early stage. I sometimes go back to playing League of Legends with my brother and online buddies – but I make it a point to delete it afterwards. It’s more of a seasonal break rather than an addictive vice nowadays.
Chapter 3 Lessons
You just won’t be able to do it all. Delegating is one of the secrets of an effective manager. It’s simply the process of replicating some of yourself – your values, your discipline, your principles, your vision – and passing that on to someone else who can carry the ball and run for you.
As Dale Carnegie wrote in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’: “Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself.” I make it a point to get people in my team who I know have the potential to change the game. People who are better than myself in one aspect or another.
The fact of the matter is, if I hire people based on what they don’t have that I have (hence, securing myself to be always needed and making them dispensable), I am not making my business any better. Hiring is one of the best things you could do to influence your company culture and future.
Remember, your time is limited. So get your best people – your ‘A’ players with the most potential to take your company forward. Empower them through encouragement. Equip them with the tools, authority and working environment they need. Then replicate in them what you need them to have to play in your league.
2) Embrace change
There will come a time when an event in your business’ history will force you to take a look at the brutal facts of reality and reflect. Of course, this will entail a hard, grueling change if you want your business to grow and succeed.
There are lots of companies that don’t reflect on the brutal facts as they grow – and they are left with remaining the same even before the tides turn. Of course, the end result is a slow, painful deteriorating death of all it stood for.
I used to live in the SEO Hacker office. It was a home-office that we love. Sometimes my teammates would sleep over and bond with each other. It was really cool.
I got married just last February. This has forced me to move to at least hour and a half drive away from my office. I work remotely now – and so does 2 other teammates.
Even before moving out, we had this problem of accountability. Not everyone was really making an effort to make themselves accountable to their team leaders. I didn’t know what was happening.
All I knew that our numbers looked gruelingly ugly. And I wasn’t at all happy about it.
There are some underlying subtle problems that are posed:
1) People are habitually coming in late
2) Most of the team is not intentional on their personal growth
3) Output, quota and menial tasks are not respected by some teammates
4) There is a silent managerial problem: the managers are not voicing out, and solving the quota and menial task problems
These are just some outlying problems among others.
So we made a few changes. Namely, daily reporting via Email, Intentional Blogging, Skype, and Hubstaff.
1) The daily reports have to be a one-look report that the team leaders can immediately understand the moment we open them.
2) I have found blogging to be the best way to grow in our field. You blog about the things you love – making you grow personally. At the same time, you realize you need to learn about blogging and how to make your blog look beautiful – making you grow in your taste and technical skills. Then you realize you want people to read your stuff – making you grow in digital marketing in general. This goes without saying that the blogs of our team are all sponsored by SEO Hacker – domain name, hosting and WP set-up down to the paid themes.
3) There has to be log-in and log-out on Skype for coming in and out of the office, lunch breaks and our free time breaks.
4) Hubstaff is pretty much a no-brainer (even if I was in the office). It tracks the hours of everyone in the team (including me!) and everyone who falls short of at least 7 hours should put a note as to why. It also takes 3 random screenshots within 10 minutes – which I rarely check but it keeps us all on our feet.
Implementing these three things have improved our team visibility almost overnight!
People have been more accountable, productive, and efficient. It has made us all aware of our work. It has pushed us all to grow more and more each week. Times are changing and the team is growing. We’re around 18 people now working in-house full-time. Our salaries can only go up.
If we are going to grow more, we need to have a standard of accountability, and personal growth. Of course this goes without saying that I’ve lost charisma with my team with implementing these things. The phrase “Not everyone in your team will like you” continues to ring in my ears.
So long as we secure SEO Hacker’s future and pivot to the right direction when confronted with the brutal facts to do so.
Remember: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.“
And when you are confronted by those facts, only the act of embracing the changes you need to implement will be able to guide you to victory.
I love how Steve Jobs ingrained focus on Apple when he returned in the company. Here’s an excerpt from his biography by Walter Isaacson
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards, because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
Remember our whiteboard? Well, you can only write a few things here and there. Usually we’re limited to 3 – 5 major points in that whiteboard. If we discuss any more, it would look and feel messy. Hence, it will be remembered messily by the team after the discussion.
So we keep the discussion focused. Just 3 – 5 points. Anything more than that is considered secondary. And secondary points are eliminated or deferred.
Those 3 – 5 points are thought about, debated upon and acted upon. The meeting will not end until there’s some change that will happen and until the team agrees to do something about it. Throughout the week, we’ll leave those points in the whiteboard so people will remember and act.
Eliminate or defer secondary priorities, know what your company should not be doing and stop it. Focus saved Apple. There’s no reason for you not to do the same.
4) Go cold turkey – Identify what the distractions are in your life. Then eliminate them completely. There is no other way than to go cold turkey in things that take away your time. I never realized how much my time cost until I put a value in it. I’m paid an approximate of $500 per hour of my time in SEO consulting. Knowing that, I deeply regret all the hours I wasted playing computer games. Don’t let that happen to you. Your time is valuable.
Computer games are of little help in bringing me to where I am today. It eats up a lot of my time and makes me hopelessly unproductive. It has always been like that – and I have categorized it as one of the main distractions in my life.
Trimming it down doesn’t work – I’ve tried it. There’s only one way to go – and that’s to kill it off completely. Delete it. Throw it away. Never download it again.
I was hired for SEO consulting before – it was a completely strategy-based consulting work. I didn’t need to do any hands-on legwork for the company. All I had to do was think, talk and send some analysis each month. I spent an approximate 1 hour of my time per month doing this.
And you know what? I got paid $500 to do it. Which means that an hour of my time costs approximately $500. When I think about it, compiling all the hours I’ve spent playing computer games, I would’ve been a millionaire today. It’s crazy when you realize how much an hour of your time costs.
Identify what the distractions are in your life – whether it’s major or minor. Do everything you can to size it down, or better yet, eliminate it completely. Go cold turkey like I did.
Trust me, you’d be a millionaire a lot faster than having all that distracting baggage on your back.
More About You
So now you know some things about me. But what about you? I want this book to be a tool where you can derive wisdom from. After all, learning from other people’s experience is the best way to learn. That’s why the Bible is so good – because it’s full of other people’s experiences that we can learn from!
From here on, I will tell my story more to relate it to you than just for you to know more about me and what I’ve been through. You ready?
Okay, here we go.
Carrying the Load
I vividly remember there was one time when I had all but 10,000 pesos in my bank account because of office concerns. It was a time when I was completely devastated. “How am I gonna pay my people?” I thought. “I’m doomed.”
I got down on my knees and prayed. I asked God “Lord, what now? You see where I am. You see my bank account and what’s left. Payday is coming soon. Please help me.” I got up and resumed work. My shoulders slung low and my heart was heavy – but things have to go on.
I have to heave and push and move the company forward as best as I can. Through the heaviness I told myself “The Lord will see me through. He started this company, He must have a plan. I won’t worry about it anymore.”
I kid you not, I felt like my heart was going to be torn apart. It’s the first time in my life that I face having to take on a loan. You see, I didn’t grow up with loaning money. I almost never loaned money from anyone – except, of course, my dad. And it wouldn’t ever be a big amount.
I hated loaning money.
“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” – Proverbs 22:7
I never wanted to be a slave. Not to be proud. Rather, I want to be a financially free man. So I would never ever loan unless it’s extremely needed.
And this time, it was looking to be that way.
Then a call came in. It was from an Australian non-profit organization. At the same time my classmate from high school emailed me about the same company. She mentioned that they were looking for SEO. As it happened, one of my people were already in negotiations with them. So we went ahead and scheduled a meeting.
The company wanted to rank for their own brand – which is relatively easy to do. However, they have an acronym for a brand that other companies and organizations are also ranking for. “Not a problem,” I thought, “We can do this.” Seeing their office and their capability to pay, I pitched an unusually high amount – of course knowing that we will give them the best value for their money.
It was the biggest pitch I’ve ever made for a new client with a single website to work with. Within 2 weeks of negotiations and 3 simple meetings, they signed the contract and gave me their first check.
That check, I believe, is a saving investment from the Lord. It secured the future of SEO Hacker for years to come.
My team didn’t know all these things that were happening in the background. They did not share my heavy heart and the risks I took during those times – and that’s completely fine. It’s not their load to carry. It’s mine. God made me the main steward of SEO Hacker as a company.
As for you, you will also go through difficult times. Times that bring you down to your knees. Times that crumple you up. As an entrepreneur, it’s no surprise. We took the risk, jumped the job and career ship, and piloted an uncharted course to create business history.
When push comes to shove, it’s your difficult and critical decisions that will make or break your company. Make the right critical decision and you’re up for another bout. Make the wrong one, and you’ll be on your way to one of the most devastating losses of your life.
I won’t sugar coat it for you. Starting up a business can be likened to fighting a war. Don’t expect things to be all flowers and fluff. It can get bloody real quick. One wrong management decision and your blood pressure can shoot up the roof. And no one but you will know what’s going on. Not your team, not your husband/wife, not even your parents. It’s just you and other direct business partners you may have.
When crunch time came for me, the first decision I made is to go and humble myself to the maker and giver of all – God. Then I made the decision to carry on – keep doing what we’re doing and do it the best way we can. Then, when another opportunity came our way, I did my best to grab it and to grab it good – squeezing the income to be the best it can be so that SEO Hacker will have a bright future.
Going down on my knees is the single, most important strategy in my management playbook.
Losing Big to Win Big
Risk is perhaps one of the most used term in business.
“You have to take risks when you want to do business.” That’s what my dad told me. And it’s true. Taking risks is one of the things that make the ‘Dip‘. It’s why 90% of startups fail. It’s why most people quit before they make it. It’s why most people stay on their comfort zone as employees.
While I don’t agree that everyone has to be an entrepreneur (because God wired each one of us differently), I think that it’s pretty darn awesome to be on this side of the fence.
I started SEO Hacker risking my career as an IT professional. While it’s true that I practiced IT for just 5 short months, I still traded that sweet, secure monthly income for the unknown.
The Things I Love
I was always someone who is fond of writing. Put me in a box, give me a pen and paper, and I would write the whole day. It’s simply a passion of mine to put my ideas down into paper – a step closer to turning them to a reality.
As I started SEO Hacker, I realized I was very fond of marketing. And I did have a knack specifically for online marketing. I would try to learn the ropes of email marketing, analytics, social media, SEO, CRO, and the list goes on.
What I didn’t have was a love for management, accounting, finance, accounts management, admin, HR and all things related to that.
Rolling the Dice
So I took a risk. A sort of gamble.
I went to a good friend of mine in church who I knew was a very able project manager. We went under negotiations of what it would take to get him in the team and lead the management roles. The stakes were high for me to be able to get him in.
After much prayer and counting the cost, I rolled the dice. I hired the most expensive person I’ve ever hired.
It came to the point where I had just a measly 10,000php in my bank account – and I was down to my knees in despair. I lost big.
It was even more painful because his salary would sometimes be bigger than mine. That’s because my ‘salary’ is what’s actually left of our revenue after all the expenses have been taken out. And I thought to myself,
“That’s fine. So long as I can take the company forward and execute on my vision, we’re going to grow.”
And man, did we grow!
Forgetting the 20%
I focused on all the things I love. My strengths. My passion. I worked on it ferociously without much burnout. I realized that if you’re working on something you’re not passionate about, you spend 80% of your energy getting through 20% of the task.
So if you need to go through to finishing the task, that would take 400% of your energy – and you’ll finish a lot longer.
However if you just focus on the things you love, you can finish 80% with just a measly 20% energy. The efficiency of your finishing the task you love is incomparable to finishing the task you don’t love.
So what I did was forget the 20% and left it to my (during the time) very able project manager.
I got to move – and I got to finish a whole lot of work with unbelievable efficiency fueled by my passion.
Without losing big risking on hiring an expensive project manager, I would never have won big and take SEO Hacker to where it is today.
SEO Hacker is now a company that’s grossing more than $17,000 in revenue on a monthly basis. It’s exceeded my wildest dreams!
Of course, we’re not really ‘there’ yet as most of our gross revenue is mostly eaten up by expenses and business investments. The point of the matter is, oftentimes, you need to lose big to win big.
I went through it. Chances are, you will too.
Are you going to roll the dice or quit?
There was another time that we had a contract for one of the big television companies here in the Philippines. We were happy with the contract value and with the work we’ve done for them. However they did not pay up.
“That’s alright, perhaps in a few weeks they’ll pay up.” I thought.
Then a few weeks passed by. “Perhaps they’ll pay up next month.” I kept sending the updated billing statement.
Then a few months passed by. “This is getting serious.” So I huddled up with my team. One of my teammates pushed me to send a demand letter. As a peaceable person, I resorted not to do that. However, the contract has lapsed and they have yet to pay anything. They were even asking for a renewal.
“We can’t do business this way. I’m sorry.” I opted not to renew the contract. Then I drafted the demand letter and had an attorney check it out. After it was approved, I went to the television company’s head office and gave it to them.
In a matter of weeks, they paid the entire contract value.
Had I not drafted and given the contract, SEO Hacker would’ve gone through another grueling rut. It was bad enough that I just went through having 10,000php left in my bank account, it was worse having another one just right the next corner.
This is one of those times that I was discouraged being in business. It was never in my mind to give out demand letters too soon in operation. It was in our second year when we had to do this. Then again, perhaps the Lord wanted me to go through this so I’ll know how it is to toughen up and play in the big league.
Hey, it’s part of my growth as a businessman.
If someone asked me what keeps me going in business, it’s this: personal growth. Yes SEO is my passion, yes I’m the owner, but if I dig deep and really look what keeps my fire burning it’s the growth. All the things I’m learning and experiencing are going to be personally mine – for life!
Personal growth can be developed in a lot of avenues. To keep it simple, I will tell you only two major avenues I focus on for my personal growth. My favorite avenue is reading – self-help books, blogs, industry news, biographies, even fantasy fiction! Of course, I pick the books I want to read and learn from. I’m a slow reader – I finish a 300 page book in a span of 3 – 5 months. It depends on how much of the book I can apply in my life. The more application I can relate with, the slower I finish the book.
My learning style from books is read, reflect, adapt, practice. When I read something that triggers an idea or a change I want to undertake, I immediately stop reading, reflect on what I’ve read and write something about it, adapt it in one or two applicable events in my life, then practice it to form a habit.
For example: I read about the ‘Curse of Charisma’ in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. My initial reaction was “This is exactly what I’m experiencing!” Then I went ahead and opened one of my blogs and wrote my reflection. Here’s what I wrote:
“You’re a really good salesman, I give you that.”
Chris shook my hand as we were wrapping up our meeting.
He was trying to get SEO for his company. I was trying to pitch it to him at a good deal.
I walked out with a smile from that pitch.
Charisma can be such an ass-kisser.
However, there’s another side to it that is considered a curse by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great”
You see, Steve Jobs wasn’t really an engineer. He wasn’t really a programmer either. In fact, compared to his team, he knew almost nothing.
He was a non-technical founder of Apple. He was also a super, duper, mega salesman.
A man who can inspire, push, and event hurt other people because he knew how to read. He knew how to be admired. He knew how to…. manipulate.
In all, Steve Jobs man who had charisma under his command. But there’s a downside to it. In order to be a manager, he had to KILL his charisma.
Taking it from Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was nothing short of an asshole when it came to managing people and making them produce.
He would shout. He would call other people’s work as “shit.” He would throw his temper when people are not producing well.
If that’s the case, how then can such a man so radically change the world in so short a time?
Because he has a very strong command of charisma.
He could easily make people do what he wants. He could easily pass on his vision to someone else. He could easily make people whisper “Wow.”
And you know what?
Charisma is something I believe I have a good amount of. The thing is, I couldn’t seem to find it in myself to manage people like Steve Jobs does.
I can’t seem to shout. Can’t see to get angry. Can’t seem to call some output as “shit.”
Because I think it’s disrespectful.
I know, I know. Wussy of me to be that way right?
I lead a team of 20 people and I can’t even get myself to manage – or I’d be killing my charisma.
Perhaps I love my charisma too much. Perhaps I hold it too dear.
However I think it’s time to take off the curse of charisma and start managing my team. Otherwise things might get worse and company policy might be completely disrespected.
No, I won’t probably go so far as to disrespect people. There has to be some other way.
But I think I should start putting my charisma on the line.
As my mentor tells me: “Not everyone in your team will like you.”
I guess I could finally say he was right.
Charisma isn’t such an ass-kisser after all.
There was an upcoming town hall meeting with me and my entire team that Monday so, with the curse of charisma in mind, I wrote my message to them and printed it out. During that meeting, I was able to practice going beyond my curse of charisma and implementing the changes I want to happen in my team – even if it meant killing off some of my charisma toward my team.
Personal growth is of vital importance to me. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable about talents.
“14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 25:14-30
We are given an initial set of talents. And you know what? We are called to cultivate them – to invest them in something that will make them grow. Keeping your talents dormant and stale is a sin – and a huge waste.
Another avenue of personal growth is taking on mentor. This is arguably the easiest avenue to be in. I told myself that I’m young and I don’t know it all – and it would be extremely stupid of me to think that I can make it on my own. So I prayed and asked God for a list of mentors who will be able to help me grow in the different aspects of my life.
Today, I have mentors who specialize at what they do and I can tap into their wisdom any time. My mentors help me with financial intelligence, public speaking prowess, book writing and publishing, e-commerce and drop shipping, services business and people management, and spiritual matters.
It’s the highway to personal growth because mentors are rich with the wisdom and experience of their own victories and failures. Of course, make sure to take on a mentor who is good at teaching and instruction. You won’t want to have a mentor who has a difficult time relaying his wisdom to you – that will take up unnecessary time for you and your mentor. And most importantly, choose a mentor who has the same faith and principles in life as you do. Doing otherwise will lead you on a broken and confusing path and you’ll be worse off than when you started.
Laying Down Principles
One of the best and most valuable traits of an individual is his/her principles in life. Principles make life more efficient. When you have a principle in place, you immediately have an answer for life’s circumstances. For example: I have a principle against smoking. So when someone asks me if I want to have a smoke, I have a simple, immediate answer of ‘No’. There’s no more thinking needed to be done. No more brain power needed to be used.
Someone who has no principle to put his feet on will fall for any and every distraction in life. Drugs, laziness, computer games, sexual immorality, gambling, and other fleshly vice in our world today. A person who has no principle is easily swayed. The result? Most of that person’s life will be a waste.
I can’t begin to tell you how much principles have helped me start SEO Hacker. I’ve said ‘No’ to a million things before I ended up to where I am today. I said no to vacations, to women, to drinking, to concerts, to events, to gimmicks, and yes, even to computer games. And no it doesn’t make my life boring because I love what I’m doing! And I did say yes to a lot of other fun stuff along the way – dates with my girlfriend, bonding with my siblings, movie dates with my family, to working and finishing tasks for SEO Hacker, and other things that are important and dear to me.
Set your principles now while you’re young. You will live a more efficient, focused and value-driven life for years to come.
Developing the Team
Here I was, a CEO of a company with a team that I didn’t know how to lead. Everything I knew about leadership mainly stemmed from the books of John Maxwell and Dale Carnegie. I knew that there will come a time when the team will grow bigger and I will need leaders to rise up from within to help me lead a bigger team. While there are natural leaders in my team who can pick up my leadership style just by observing how I am with the team, there are others who cannot.
I found out that developing leaders have to be intentional. You can’t simple expect people to become leaders just by leading. While it is a great thing to practice model leadership, I learned that there are some aspects in leadership development where intentional mentoring is a must.
First thing I do to be able to mentor and develop someone is to gain that person’s trust. The best way to do that is by modeling discipline and hard work. If your team can see that you work harder than all of them, they will begin to respect you. There is nothing better than for your people to see you leading from the front. You see, leaders who lead from behind are the types to issue commands, and whip their team to push forward, all while sitting comfortably and raking in the profits.
A leader who leads from the front is a leader who is willing to get his hands dirty. I personally still write at the SEO Hacker blog, I read the latest industry news, I develop and code for my own website and for client websites, I push myself to grow and share to the team what I’m reading, I still personally meet clients, take calls, close deals, all while developing and managing the team. If that’s not leading from the front, I don’t know what is.
When your people respect you, trust comes naturally – and then they open up to your instructions and leadership. They also develop a desire to learn from you as they follow you. When this happens, then the next step is to identify your potential leaders.
It shouldn’t be the case that because someone has spent more years in a company, he/she is naturally the next best leader. I refuse to accept that as the norm. Leaders have to have more than just years spent in a company. Leaders have to have skill, discipline, commitment, influence, knowledge, tact, principles, and time management among other things. I believe the highest form of leadership depends on a person’s spiritual discipline and faith. When I’ve identified a potential leader through these things, I make sure to spend 1 on 1 time with them.
I get to know what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about, how they’re doing at home and what they think the company will be in the near future. These things help me align with who they are as a person. As John Maxwell puts it “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A potential leader will only let himself be holistically developed when he knows that you care for him as a person and not just as a colleague.
After spending personal time with them, I make sure to cast the vision to them – vision for what the company would be and where they could possibly be in the near future. Vision leaks until it dries up so I regularly cast this vision whenever I can and I make sure I do all the little things to keep momentum. A vision for the company shouldn’t be kept stale. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to do all the little things and make all the right decisions to steer the company towards that vision. When my potential leader begins to embrace that vision, then I ask that person to push.
My style of pushing a person to leadership is giving him/her a way to grow personally. Often times, it’s through reading and then blogging what they learned. Everyone in my team is given a blog – where they can write out their thoughts, design the template, learn a little code here and there, and ultimately be proud of their work. I grew from my first blog God and You – it’s not far off that my team will be able to grow from a blog as well.
Of course, this comes with a deadline and proper monitoring. My team is asked to blog at least once a week (I personally blog approximately 4x a week in different blogs) and I would read them and see how much they’re growing. This also cultivates camaraderie as they help each other out in designing, editing and commenting on each others blog entry. Pushing people to grow can be tough – and they may not like you for it. But someday, after the heave and ho has been done, they’ll look back and realize that you’ve made them a better person.
And that’s enough thanks for me.
Chapter 4 Lessons:
1) Toughen Up
Not everyone will know what you’re going through and not everyone will play nice. Sometimes client will stretch their payment terms as best as they can. In my case, a client paid 10 months late. It hit SEO Hacker hard. It meant that I had to take no salary for a long time! Every revenue went straight to my people and to my business expenses. If I didn’t send a demand letter, I may have lost SEO Hacker and we wouldn’t be here today.
Once you step in as an entrepreneur, you have to realize that clients whether big or small will ask for discounts, freebies, and whatever they can squeeze out of you. Most startup business owners are weak willed. Don’t let yourself be bullied into giving the cheapest price you can give. If you know what you’re selling and you know it’s not cheap, then charge for what’s right and what’s profitable. Otherwise, it will turn out to a vicious cycle. You don’t want clients to spread word of mouth about you because you’re cheap – that will mean more cheap business. You want clients to spread word about your quality of service, your quality of product, your skill, your prowess, and other things that are profitable to you.
It starts with charging right for your stuff and making sure you get the value across to the prospective client before you sign a contract or close a deal.
2) Intentional Growth
People think that just by living this life, you grow. Physically, that only happens until your 18 – 21. Emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and financially, growth is intentional. You can’t expect to grow in those areas just because you’re living and breathing and walking this Earth.
I personally read an approximate of 25 blogs per week to keep up on my knowledge of SEO and digital marketing. And that’s on top of all the book readings I do. In a later chapter, I’ll outline all the books that have been helpful for me starting out and tell you exactly what it has done for me.
I’m very intentional with my personal growth and I push my people to do the same. In fact, it’s in their daily things to do in the office. I sacrifice paid office hours just to make sure that they grow where they are. People who are driven to become better will find your challenge of personal growth to be helpful rather than more work to be done. If you have people who find personal growth as ‘more work’ you better think twice about keeping them in the team.
A tree never stops growing. Physically it may stay the same but on the inside, it’s still developing. Just like a tree – the moment you stop growing is the day you die.
My advice: Don’t keep a dead tree in the team.
3) Set your Principles Early
And stick to them. These things are those that cannot be negotiated with. Principles save you approximately 75% of time in making decisions. A person who has little to no principle in place in his life will find that 75% of the time he spends to make decisions is spent in undecision. In short, a person who has little to no principles in place wastes 75% more time than a person who has them.
Knowing which things in life are negotiable and which ones are non-negotiable can be the difference between success and mediocrity.
How do you know which principles you have to set? Learn them in books, ask them from mentors, look at how the people you consider as your inspiration is living his/her life. From the way a person lives, you can already tell what principles they have in place.
4) Lead from the Front
Lots of movies, TV shows and series portray the boss as someone who calls the shots – all the while bumming his ass around in the office. In truth, a boss is someone who carries the load. He’s the one who takes the most risk. He’s the guy who’s accountable for most of the things happening in the business.
The sad thing about this is, our culture and generation has caught up with the idea that a boss leads from behind. He’s the guy in the desk barking orders to the people who’s pulling the weight of the company. He’s the guy everyone should gossip and slander about. He’s the guy who’s done nothing but push his weight around his poor, poor employees.
Don’t bite into that thinking. Take off that picture of a boss from your head and take on the image of a leader. Someone who is in front pulling the most weight of the company. Someone who doesn’t expect from his team that which he does not do himself.
When I was starting out I told myself I would never be a boss who barks orders from behind. I would lead from the front. And that’s exactly what I try to stick to everyday.
I blog and read more than my team. I go out to the field to win clients and close deals. I edit articles in the SEO Hacker blog myself. I publish them. I connect with other thought leaders. I manage changes in the team and ensure that growth is prioritized. I do all sorts of things just to show my team that what I expect from them is not unreasonable because I myself practice what I preach and command them.
There is nothing better for a team player than to see the leader himself play his heart out for the team.
I failed a lot in college. And it hurt pretty damn bad. I’ve never failed in high school before. Never had to take summer classes. Never had to repeat a year. Ever.
And yet, the moment I stepped in college, I failed in my very first term. What’s worse is that I binged. “I failed already anyway, doesn’t matter if I fail again anymore.” It was one of the darkest times of my life.
It wasn’t a surprise that I was going to graduate alongside the lower batch. My block mates were good people – however I couldn’t relate well with them. They’re people who love to go out, hang out, have fun. I wasn’t really the type. I’d rather be at home and play computer games. I know it sounds geeky. And it is.
In my course in college, if you didn’t have a good group to do your thesis with, you will fail. I guarantee it. There’s no such thing as a one man team. Someone has to do the documentation, someone has to go talk with the client and do the analysis and translate it to a system, someone has to code and design that system, and someone has to present it to the panelists.
In my group, I was the one doing the analysis and translating it to our programmers so they can code it effectively and turn the system into something useful for the client. I was the only upper batch in my group. And that’s fine. I had a really good group. We complimented each others strengths and weaknesses. But the coding requirements of our project extended beyond what my groupmates can handle.
So we went ahead and sought help. A group mate of mine knew this guy named Richmond Ibasco. Turns out he was a programming freak. We had sleepovers at his place – his dad was kind enough to accommodate us while working for our thesis.
At the same time, I had another problem before I finish college. My last programming class which dealt with mobile Java programming was giving me a hard time. I was in a rut. I didn’t know why my code wasn’t working. I went over to Richmond and asked him for help.
All this time, I no longer received allowance from my parents because I was doing really bad in my academics – and besides, I was overdue in my college years. I had to look out for myself and figure out ways to buy my meals.
Richmond agreed to help me out so I bunked in his place for a few days. I was really hesitant about food but he would always (I kid you not), ask me if I’ve already eaten. Naturally, I’d say yes. Then he would ask “What did you have?” Sometimes I’d laughingly ask him “Why do you care?” But every freaking time, he insists in asking. And finally I would consent and tell him I had some Sky Flakes crackers – which costs a measly 18 pesos for a pack.
During that time I was thin and pretty malnourished because all I had were Sky Flakes crackers. Richmond would always take me out, walk over the nearest Red Ribbon franchise and treat me lunch or dinner there. The funny thing is, I was even the one in need of help with my mobile programming project. I saw that this guy was a real pal. And even today we’re still working together in projects that require both coding and marketing expertise. He deals with the code, I deal with the marketing.
I think through all the failures God put me through, this is one of those that are most important. If I didn’t fail in college, I would never have met Richmond. And we wouldn’t be able to do the awesome projects that we’re doing today.
Failing in college wasn’t so bad after all.
Today, SEO Hacker is a company that’s grossing around $17,000 a month. Of course, that’s nothing compared to other crazy tech start ups out there. However considering that we’re based in the Philippines and the entire company’s history and financing was bootstrapped by a broke college failure, I’d say we’re doing pretty damn well.
However working on client projects and marketing other companies’ websites is just not what I want to do for life. It’s great and it brings in the dough – for now. But being a tech start up means that what you’re doing could easily change. New mobile phones come out each quarter, new innovations in the web roll out like hotcakes, new this, new that. It’s crazy when you think about how fast the tech industry is changing.
Once you stop innovating new things, you’re a sitting duck.
Sooner or later, you’re gonna get shot dead while you’re swimming comfortably in your dirty green lake.
So what I did is I took the extra cash that SEO Hacker is making and I re-invested it. No, not on personal investments. I invested it in new projects that we would have full control with. I started with SEO School – and when that didn’t work as much as I hoped, I thought of new things to do. As I write this book we’re starting a new SaaS product called Qeryz (you can check it out at http://qeryz.com). It’s a simple information gathering web tool that’s crazily easy to use.
I think that data-driven marketing and blog entries are what’s really valued and shared today – across all industries. This tool enables you as a webmaster to be able to gather that data with ease and beauty – right inside your website. The data gathered can be used to create video marketing campaigns that your audience could relate with and that answers their most important and frequently asked questions. The data gathered can be used to pivot your other SaaS to other areas that you were blind-sided about because you weren’t hearing out your audience in alpha or beta testing. The data can be used for so many things! And the best thing about this tool we’re working on is that it costs just a measly $30 a month!
I think that having your own product to sell is where the real money is. If SEO Hacker can do excellent SEO and help lots of business grow and earn millions online, why not do it for our own product? It makes a lot of sense, and that’s where we’re heading for the next few years.
Innovation is the only way for us to move forward now.
I wrote about personal growth and developing the team back in the last chapter. Cultivating growth is making sure that you have the right tools, environment and people for growth to happen. You see, for a plant to grow it requires certain things. Good fertilized soil, water that contains its natural nutrients, and the sun. Without these things, the plant will never grow – in fact what could happen is that it may just wither and die.
Just like how a plant requires certain things for it to grow, your team requires certain things as well. In my team, these things come in the form of an air conditioned office to work in, their own space, smart, hardworking teammates, a leader who leads from the front, their own personal computer or laptop, good, consistent internet, and so on and so forth.
Of course, this is my opinion – and it is working well thus far. Aside from the office and tools, they need time – and not too much work so that they have time to read, discuss, write and apply what they’re learning. My team has all these.
However things can get out of hand real quick. Just like how my team wanted the office to have a maid to help clean it – and I consented. Yeah a maid sounds awesome and we can always tell ourselves that it saves time and such but is it really necessary?
Not really. In fact, in our team history, it caused more harm than good. We would debate what the maid’s responsibilities extended to, and whether the company would partially or completely subsidize her salary. Just like how it would be nice if the plant had the wind to blow at it from time to time – but is the wind necessary for the plant’s growth? No. It’s a luxury. The problem with luxury is that we often get attuned to it. When in fact, it shouldn’t be the case.
Make sure you have an environment that cultivates growth, not luxuries.
Shaping the Company Culture
I’ve been hearing a lot about company culture even before I started. I loved the idea. I saw the culture when I worked for my dad, I saw the culture in my OJT, I saw the culture when I went into HP. In all, they were extremely different cultures. I was excited about the idea of trying to create my own company’s culture – naturally, it would stem from my DNA as the founder.
I believe there are three things that shape a company’s culture. Value, vision, the team and goals.
Value is what you instill in the team in terms of what’s principally important to them as a person. In SEO Hacker, we instill Christian values such as integrity, honesty, accountability, discipline, trust, and so on. This helps to dictate how the team should act and react under any circumstance. It also helps dictate the team’s moral efficiency by giving them a default response when it comes to laziness, procrastination, doing personal things on company hours, and other things that are not consistent with our Christian values.
Vision is how the team will see the big picture in light of the tasks they have at hand. This is vital. You don’t go driving towards Baguio with your eyes on the top of the mountain. That’s dangerous. You see the huge mountain landscape of Baguio from afar, you drive towards Baguio, and you fix your eyes on the road. Whatever the next turn brings you, that’s where your eyes and mind should be – even if you already know where you’re headed. Vision gives people hope, direction and a big picture perspective. That is very important because it helps the whole team to know that you are going somewhere – and you’re going to get there sometime soon.
The team drives the company culture. It’s common sense that the team chemistry will change minutely or adversely whenever there’s a new hire or there’s someone leaving. Primarily, the team consisted of me, Vince, Rob, Kevin and Austin. 5 guys who have a very relaxed and flexible set-up. Work from home was still an option. We got practically unlimited vacation leaves, sick leaves and emergency leaves. And we got little work to worry about. Life was easy. And so the company culture we started with was very relaxed and slow paced.
Today, the team consists of 18 people and rapidly growing. The clients are piling up fast. So everything’s pretty much agile. We need this and that and we need it fast. People need to keep up. The culture, as we knew it when we were starting out, has drastically changed. Work from home was abolished, vacation leaves, sick leaves and emergency leaves are now measured, and the set-up is now much tighter in the sense that we have regular meetings to keep each other updated and on track.
In all, the team has influenced (and will continue to influence) our culture like no other. However it’s dangerous to think that the team is the culture. It’s not. The team embodies the company culture. But ultimately, company culture is the combination of the things you make it out to be. It often starts with the founder and the principles you lay in place of change after change.
Lastly, goals help shape company culture because of its next-step nature. The goals I’m talking about is not the big, colossal goals of your company – that’s most probably your vision. I’m talking about the little minute goals you have. Take your marketing team for example, one of the goals you may have is to have an event by this year or to finish this number of guest posts by 3 months time. It really depends on what little steps you have outlined in order for you to meet your vision someday.
One of the goals we have as a team is to organize a yearly event for SEO specialists all over the Philippines to come to and learn and connect. We’ve actually finally started it on June 21, 2014. We named the event SEO Summit 2014 and we made its debut a blast with the top SEO personalities in the Philippines – Benj Arriola and Jason Acidre. It’s always been one of my goals as SEO Hacker’s marketing manager. Little goals like these affect company culture by letting everyone see the next corner on the way to the big vision. It keeps the company going. It gives everyone momentum. It fuels your vision in the subtlest but most effective way.
Hiring the Right People
Hiring people is perhaps one of the most difficult and critical things in starting up a company. You don’t simply hire people to relieve your team of pressure. That would be stupendous. You hire the right people. Why?
Because the right people are self-motivated, driven and love working with the same kind of people. The right people hate working with the wrong people. You don’t want to dilute your team with the wrong people.
This is perhaps one of the most perplexing questions I’ve ever asked myself when I was starting out. “How do I know if I’m hiring the right people?”
As our clients grew, so did our need for people to help us do the job. My hiring strategy started out as posts in Facebook. I had more than 2,500 friends there and they would refer people they knew to SEO Hacker. Which is completely fine – at least it came from a connection somewhere – until we’ve exhausted that strategy. And we didn’t exhaust just my Facebook – we exhausted all my current team’s Facebook connections.
So we got all the people we could from Facebook connections and referrals. There were some who I had to lay off. There were some who just suddenly up and left and never came back. There were some who politely said their good-bye. In all, we’ve had some people come and go in our early years.
Of course, as the founder of the company and the main leader, it breaks my heart to see people leave – in whichever way. We spent time together, had fun, learned a lot, and had to part ways. That’s just how it is in business and career. You can’t really stop people from leaving. But you don’t have to wait until people tell you they’re leaving until you do something.
So we finally consented to getting job ad packages from websites like Jobstreet – in hopes of getting the right people. We have hiring processes and strategies in place. But how do you know if the person is the right fit?
Three things: Character, Commitment and Skill.
Character is something you can never trade nor largely develop. It is something that has been mostly intact within a person since the day they became conscious of their personality and environment. It’s heavily difficult to affect character in terms of work ethics, camaraderie, integrity, and overall values. I place a heavy weight on a person’s character. Someone who I think does not have the right character for the job will not make it to the team. That person may well just affect the team chemistry negatively.
Commitment deals with a person’s drive and loyalty to the company. How far do you think is someone going to run for you when push comes to shove? How long do you think someone is going to stay and help build your company’s dream and vision? Yes, long-term commitment is rewarded but it is first sought in the hiring process. I continually ask applicants “How do you see yourself with SEO Hacker 5 years from now?” I’ll have a good idea of their level of commitment from their answer right there and then.
Skill is one of the last, but not the least attributes of a person I weigh in the hiring process. That’s because skill can be taught much easier than character. It can be affected and improved by processes, environment and tools. However a person with little to no skill to start with has no place in SEO Hacker. We are a team that is looking to help us build a great, lasting company, not someone who will slow us down. We don’t spoon feed anything in our team. In fact, we make sure that every new hire hits the ground running. With shoes, of course.
One of the most effective ways to ensure low churn rate in your team is to sell them a dream. A vision. Something that you know you’re honestly headed to. Something that you’re trying to attain even now – with little goals everyday. I sell my people a dream. And not just any dream. A dream that will come true – and I myself will die trying to make sure of it.
One of the things I love to tell my people is that we’re going to have our own campus someday. A place where we’ll have our own sports complex, our own dormitory, research and development lab, support center, and so on and so forth. This is something that may be quite far from where we are today – but it is something that I’m definitely shooting for as the owner and founder. And by the way we’re growing, it’s looking truer and truer each day.
One step at a time.
Chapter 5 Lessons
1) Realize you’re not in Control
One thing that has constantly helped me in my journey and growth as an entrepreneur is the realization that I’m not in control. In the end, what God wants to happen will be what will happen. I can only affect things within my immediate will and knowledge – but the world keeps spinning and what may happen in your government may suddenly hit you one day. What may suddenly change in Google may change the face of your business one day. Any incoming disaster may suddenly affect your team one day.
Trying to control these things is futile. Common sense dictates that it is beyond you. Beyond your force of will or knowledge or effort.
My failures in college may be the resulting effect of my laziness and lack of passion for my course, however the good things that came out of it were beyond my control. I didn’t know I’ll meet Richmond somewhere along my failures. I didn’t know we’ll be building a SaaS business. I didn’t know a lot of things.
Good things or bad things – doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that you know you’re doing the best in light of the things you can directly affect. Anything outside of that, leave it to God.
2) One Step at a Time
Being a visionary has its downsides. Often, I am awed and enthralled by the big picture that I forget all the little things scattered along the way. I neglect the steps I need to take in order to get there. One important lesson I learned is that when you have the vision, cast it. Put it somewhere else – your team, your notebook, your phone, or just anywhere! Don’t keep on looking at it. Don’t keep on thinking about it.
Being overly enthusiastic about a new vision may shut down some important things you and your team is doing right now. Remember what Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) said?
“I very frequently get the question: ‘what’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘what’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two – because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time….in our retail business, we know that customers want low prices and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery, they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher [or] I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible [to imagine that future]. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long-term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.
“On AWS [Amazon Web Services], the big ideas are also pretty straightforward. It’s impossible for me to imagine that 10 years from now, somebody’s gonna say, ‘I love AWS, I just wish it were a little less reliable.’ Or ‘I love AWS, I just wish you would raise prices…’ Or ‘I love AWS and I wish you would innovate and improve the APIs at a slightly slower rate.’ None of those things you can imagine.
“And so big ideas in business are often very obvious, but it’s very hard to maintain a firm grasp of the obvious at all times. But if you can do that and continue to spin up those flywheels and put energy into those things as we’re doing with AWS, over time you build a better and better service for your customers on the things that genuinely matter to them.”
Take things one step at a time. Put more focus on the things that you’re doing right and make sure you’re dishing out awesomeness to your customers, rather than jumping on happy-go-luckily to that exciting thing that you want to do someday.
3) Keep Moving
Any way you put it, a company who does not invest in what’s ahead will die off. Look at what happened to A&P – they thought that things would stay the same. That what worked is what would always work. Meanwhile Kroger is investing in the future. A&P was stuck in the traditional grocery stores concept. Meanwhile, Kroger was building superstores with everything in it. To which store do you think did the modern day shopper flocked to?
It’s a consumer-centric world out there. People no longer have to get stuck to a brand. They have thousands of choices and millions of workarounds in order to find a solution to a need or want. Times are changing and if you’re stuck where you are, it’s time to pack up and get your ass moving.
The First Years
I started SEO Hacker with an extremely small knowledge about internet marketing. I had no contacts in the business. I had no mentors. I had no funding. All I had with me was a little know-how and a lot of guts. I didn’t even know if there were other SEO companies out there. It was the year 2010 when I decided to make my mark in the world of SEO.
I connected with bloggers who inspired me. One of which was Liane Candelario. She was a blogger who was creating buzz online at the extremely young age of 17. I was in awe. I had to meet her – so I sent her a message and we met up at Red Mango in Trinoma. It was a very interesting exchange of thought. She name-dropped more than a handful of bloggers – all of whom I had no idea about.
It was a start. I wanted to keep in touch with Liane because of the potential she poses and her advanced expertise in internet marketing.
Not long after that encounter, a guy named Jason Acidre of kaiserthesage.com got in touch with me. He tweeted me this:
That got my attention. So I tweeted him back. We got a conversation going. And soon, we were set to meet. We met, again, at Red Mango but this time in Megamall. Liane was kind enough to join us. We exchanged words, ideas and sooner than later, I got Jason to do some off site SEO work for me. Namely, link building. It was a time when no black and white Google animals plagued the algorithms. A time when linkbuilding wasn’t that difficult.
So I worked with Jason for good while. However the distance (he was around 80km away from me) and the fact that he does not carry a mobile phone made it extremely hard for me to get reports and collaborate real-time with him. Which, in turn, made my output for my clients a tad disappointing. And I couldn’t bear disappointing. So we opted to part ways. He would soon later co-found his own SEO company which is seeing a good run of success today. And I, in turn, would continue to grow SEO Hacker.
A Distaste for Management
I have always loved and embraced leadership. Pastor Dennis Sy, a good friend and mentor of mine while I was in my younger years, once told me “You are a leader.” Few but life changing words. You see in elementary to high school, I’ve always been the bullied, weird fat nerd who was at the bottom of everyone’s friend list.
I’ve gone through all the harsh things a young man could possibly go through. I’ve been called “pig”, “weird”, “yucky”, “gay”, “hypocrite”, and all sorts of other undesirable adjectives you could imagine. And this was when I was in grade 3 all the way until I graduated from high school.
The sad thing about my growing up years is that the school I studied in only had 2 sections – A and B – with around 30 students each. We were shuffled in Kindergarten – and never again. So the classmates I had from grade 1 will be the classmates I will have until I graduate high school. And when you’re on the bad end of being bullied, you’re at the bad end all the way until you finish.
Which sucks a lot.
So I grew up extremely insecure. It felt good to be accepted, embraced and ultimately followed by people. And that’s exactly what happened when I started getting some leadership roles in college. I wanted to be the leader but never the manager.
I hate managing people. And that’s because management pushes you to deal with tasks. Which pushes you to push people. And forces you to confront them when things go wrong or when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. Which consequently makes you look bad with the people you lead. As I said in the previous chapter, changes will happen. But no one wants to be the one to implement those changes. The natural order of things is that people don’t like change.
Leadership deals with having to carry the load. Setting an example. Mentoring and replicating yourself in others. It’s identifying potential and cultivating it. It is something very different from management.
Management is knowing how to make your people more efficient. It’s measuring numbers. It’s making changes so that results are sure to be delivered. It’s even knowing when and who to fire.
Everybody loves a leader. Few people learn to love a manager.
While it’s true that I do talks and seminars for SEO, digital marketing, motivational and leadership topics, I find my job to have no real glamor because of the burden I have to carry on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, by God’s great grace, SEO Hacker has always been positive in terms of revenue since day 1. We never saw a month turn red. However, there’s always that lingering thought of “What if a client won’t renew?”
You see, our business deals a lot with client contracts. If we lose a contract, we lose big. So our main goal when we have on-boarded a client is to make sure the relationship lasts – for a very, very long time. Contract renewals are a high priority in our team – we would do anything in our power to make sure that contract renewals happen. But sometimes you just can’t predict the future. There will be clients that would unexpectedly opt not to renew and you can do nothing about it.
So I would always go out and propose to new clients, try to close deals, channel efforts to other business models, and so on and so forth. All of which costs money, effort and time. Things that are getting scarcer and scarcer every day.
I won’t lie to you, there is some aspect of glory in what I do that I have to deal with. You see, being in the limelight as SEO Hacker’s CEO has its pros and cons. The pros deal with being able to inspire the team, cast the vision effectively, market SEO Hacker easily, grab ex-deals with SaaS tools that will help us become more efficient, and other things besides.
The cons deal a lot with my heart. Is it going to my head? Am I trying to push my weight around in the team? Do I still check what I’m about to post in Facebook or tweet in Twitter? Am I making the wisest choice in light of the current situation of the company?
Glory can very easily get into someone’s head and blur the critical decisions that person has to make. I have to constantly remind myself each day that SEO Hacker is the Lord’s and I’m merely a steward of this great blessing. I’m always grateful and content where I am. I’m having it a lot, lot better than most other people and I have nothing to complain about. I’m extremely happy with my life. Glamor isn’t something I’m concerned with.
What I’m really concerned with is my heart and my effort in leading, managing and growing the SEO Hacker team.
The standard hours of a person is 24 hours – no more, no less. You will not have a second more that I don’t have. We are all equal when it comes to time.
The difference lies in how we use it.
At the SEO Hacker office, people used to have unlimited free time. They could take a break whenever they want, make noise whenever they want, go to lunch and come back whenever they want – there is no accountability with time, when they’ll be back on their desk, whatsoever.
Working time is being used up for other things.
Maybe because all of us are in our 20′s and we love to mingle and talk and laugh.
So what my team will do is to catch up – going overtime in the office or working at home.
Instead of working hours being working hours, it becomes fun hours. And when everyone has left and gone home, those who have work to finish will stay and start to do real work.
Of course, this is not true for everyone but it has been a prevalent culture with my team.
So we made some changes.
We implemented time management through accountability.
People should start signing in and out from Skype when they come in the office and when they’re going home. People are also tasked to log in and out at lunch and at their agreed-upon 15 minute break.
In all this, there’s also Hubstaff – which the team uses to keep ourselves in check in what we’re doing.
Time is managed more effectively.
Of course, this did not come without any resistance. I was already expecting myself to be frowned upon with these changes. However, the numbers speak clearly.
Things weren’t going well when accountability was shrugged off. This is the new approach we’re testing. So far, Hubstaff and Skype (tools which are usually used for remote teams) are proving to be worth their salt.
The best thing that can come out of all these changes is not really the output – it’s the discipline. The real problem is: our A players are burning their assess off because they unconsciously waste time bonding with others in our team.
Then at the end of the day, they’ll stress themselves out catching up with their quota and other creative work requirements.
It’s simply a recipe for burn out.
Another thing that needs to be checked to prevent burnout is task management.
Tasks should be segregated. I think an hour a day to do this will make a person at least 50% more efficient.
Knowing which tasks you NEED to do and do NOW should be on top of the list. List it down on a piece of paper you would always see and get back to at your desk.
Then list other tasks that are less urgent and less important in decreasing order. It’s amazing what this can do to save time – and thus, save you the stress.
Task management is still not practiced in our team although I highly encourage it. We haven’t had a town hall talk about this yet. Perhaps it should be scheduled next week.
In any case, I think burnout in a small start-up like ours should be actively prevented.
People with good time and task management skills in your team will turn out to be your best, most consistent players.
Say goodbye to burnout.
Turning off Hero Mode
I’ve had encounters in managing the SEO Hacker team wherein someone would suddenly turn into what I’d like to call ‘Hero Mode’. That person would just burn hours working through the night, foregoing sleep and rest and just force his way into doing what needs to be done.
You may be wondering, “Well that’s a good thing isn’t it?”
When someone turns on “Hero Mode” he’s burning more than just his physical strength, endurance, creativity and brain cells, he’s burning his will and his soul. Just like an airplane flying on empty will crash and burn, your people who try to wing it on Hero Mode will sooner than later crash and burn out.
Yeah it feels so damn good when you’re the hero. I know coz I’ve been there. It feels like you’re flying – like everyone’s cheering you on. Shouting “You can do it Sean! Save us! Save our team!”
It may feel that way but the reality of it all is that you’re running on less than 30% of your creativity, focus, willpower and discipline. In short, you’re being paid for 70% less than what you should be delivering.
And the worst thing about Hero Mode is it sticks.
You think that you’ve flown miles and miles and you deserve recognition and praise. You think your name and face should be plastered on the walls of the office when the truth is, you haven’t gone that far.
In fact, it would’ve been better for you to juice up with a good night’s sleep and use 100% of your creativity to create a solution that will make the effort you need to put in 900% more efficient! Chances are, when you’re running full steam, you need only 10% of your time to create a smart way to finish the task.
Apart from losing most of your professional assets, you become stubborn, irate and demoralized. Things that are going to affect the rest of the team.
So the next time you think of putting on that cape, mask and heading down the bat cave, remember that you’re not going to impress anyone.
In fact, it may just come back to bite you in the ass.
There’s this one time when I thought to hand out an anonymous company survey to the rest of my team. The reason behind this is that I very much hoped to improve my leadership and management skills – and I needed to know where I stood with the team in all this. I wasn’t expecting a good or bad answer. Just honest.
Here are some of the questions I asked in the survey:
|Is there anything you would like me to improve as your leader?||Is there anything you’d want me to keep doing that I haven’t done lately?||Is there anything I haven’t done that you think I should do?||In a scale of 1-10 how well have I been treating you as my teammate?||In a scale of 1 to 10, how am I doing as your leader?|
Needless to say, the answers were a bittersweet mix of stinging and soothing. I won’t let out the answers here, but I’ll tell you how the survey answers felt like: a razor-sharp dagger’s stab in the gut. At first, I couldn’t believe the things that were said against me. Thoughts were running in my head: “Is this how they see it?”, “What the hell does this mean?”, “How ungrateful can they be?”, and other things besides.
It was uncomfortable, painful and downright frustrating. I had to cool off.
So I let the weekend pass by before confronting the whole team with the answers – some of which I was completely blindsided about. I asked them what they meant, how I can improve and what I need to do moving forward. It was a very productive time for us. After the meeting, some of the people in my team told me how much they appreciated the effort of giving them a chance to speak their mind about me. Looking back, the changes helped me to be a better leader. I was able to apply most, if not all, of the things they were concerned about.
Handing out company surveys may not be the best thing you can do if you know you can’t handle criticism. There’s a certain emotional maturity you need to develop before you can attempt to send out an anonymous survey to your team. But it is extremely valuable for you to know the things you’re blindsided about as a leader and manager. Things that only your team can tell you because they see it clearly from their perspective.
Refilling the Emotional Tank
As a business owner, team leader and overall manager, you get to reach a point when you think you gave your team your all. A nice, air conditioned, and comfortable working environment, their own tables and chairs, a maintenance person in the office, a pantry, hot and cold water dispenser, even cooking gas and utensils. But it just isn’t enough. They need benefits, they need this, they need that. Sometimes it makes you think about those dirty offices with a poorly maintained air conditioning unit that isn’t nearly enough to cool the space and you wonder what it’s like for those poor employees who work there to come work for you.
“They would most probably be overjoyed.” I think to myself. Then again, human nature dictates that it’s “always greener on the other side.”
There were more than enough times that I felt down and out in terms of my emotional tank. I felt empty. All I hear are complaints on this and that, problems here and there – and not a word of thanks or appreciation for things you’ve helped or have done right with. It’s draining.
How I refill my emotional tank varies – sometimes I go out for a good walk or for a massage or even for good comfort food. However my favorite way to fill up my emotional tank is to go and meet up with my business mentors. Ask them what they did when faced with a similar problem. It makes me feel accompanied in my journey as an entrepreneur. It also helps me see things in a different light.
Refilling the emotional tank is important because if you’re running on empty, you’ll soon bust the engine and burn out. You don’t want that to happen. Regularly check your emotional tank to keep it pretty much filled up for the next bout.
Drafting for Mentors
I couldn’t stress the importance of mentors nearly enough. They have helped me build myself, push myself and, in doing so, move the company forward. I was extremely bad at management. I hate confronting people due to the fact that I want to come out as charismatic and favored. I would soon learn from a mentor that it’s inevitable for your team to dislike you – and that’s your job. A company that wants to grow and thrive and become great will have rough edges that need to be smoothened out – through debate, through mindsharing, through constructive criticism and through shutting down other ideas so that people can focus.
This means that there is always going to be a time when you will be unliked by your team. Because if you aren’t going to do that which will make you, at times disfavorable, then you are risking your entire company to drown and die. And that’s a lot worse for you and you will be hated because your people will lose their jobs, their working environment, and ultimately, their future with your company.
That’s an extremely important management lesson I kept close to heart even until today.
The guy who taught me that is named David Bonifacio. You know how I got in touch with him? I sent him a message in Facebook.
“That’s it Sean? A message in Facebook?”
Yeah. That’s just about it. Don’t believe me? Here’s what I said in verbatim (via screenshot!):
I see him post smart things in Facebook about management and I though “I’d love to spend an hour with this guy just so that some of that can rub off on me.”
So I waited for his response which went:
We agreed on meeting at Coffee Bean on dinner time instead. He even saved me a few bucks because when I arrived at our meeting place, he was already having dinner. David is a strong influence to me in terms of managing my team. He has his own services company and his own team so we’re pretty much on the same page on how our team is growing and the things we’re doing to make sure our company grows right.
You see, it’s not so difficult to draft mentors to help you grow. It can be something as easy as buying a potential mentor lunch or dinner. Of course, make sure that your potential mentor has similar sets of values and principles on the things you want to be mentored on.
After completing your set of mentors, make the extra effort of reaching out to them each month. I have a total of 6 men in my life I consider my mentors in different aspects. They have all helped me grow as a person. And in turn, I pass it on to my team. Ultimately, all of these things have contributed to the growth and development of the company.
Chapter 6 Lessons
1) Reach Out
Somewhere in your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll realize you can’t go it alone. There are millions of other people out there. Probably people who know better than you do. People who have gone the long and winding road of a start up to become a success where they are today. I realized this early on so I sought the help of a few extraordinary people to know where I should go and take SEO Hacker.
When you’re starting out as a company, things are foggy. You want this, you want that, and the list goes on – ultimately, there’s no real focus what you want your company to be. And that’s fine – because you really don’t know! Your a startup for crying out loud! However the fog won’t lift by itself. The fog clears up with the help of people on the same boat as you are. People who can be your mentors or your friends along your entrepreneurial journey.
I never knew where to take SEO Hacker and what it could become until days, weeks, months, even years passed by. Now the fog is still lifting but I can see a much clearer view of where we’re headed. All these things wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t reached out to the first few extraordinary people I’ve met along the way.
Reach out. Because as chances may have it, you’ve got nothing to lose when you’re starting up.
2) Keep your Head Low
Success is by far, the easiest thing that can get into a person’s head. Taking your business from shaky ground to its debut for the world stage can be a daunting task. Hence, when this is done successfully, it’s extremely easy to pat yourself in the back, relax and tell yourself “Old boy, look how far you’ve gone.”
It’s also interesting to note that the number 1 reason why great companies fall is because of pride. The success gets into their head. they think they’re invulnerable – as if reality distorts itself to conform to them. Let’s learn one never-changing lesson in life: pride comes before the fall. This truth is widely known since the days of king Solomon of Israel. That’s a long, long time ago – and yet it’s still prevalent today.
Taking SEO Hacker from its ‘baby’ days to where it is now can easily get into my head but there’s one solid truth behind all these things. And that’s God. He’s actually the one who helped me discover SEO through the God and You blog. All these things will not be possible without Him. God’s character is the only deserving way out of the pride of success. Any other way will result to futility, and ultimately to the self ego.
The moment you think you “did all this” is the moment your attitude will slowly change towards your team. Then it will change towards your loved ones and close friends. We’ve seen that happen with a lot of people. Character and personal growth is always the foremost ingredient to a truly great company. Lose that, and you lose your company’s heart and soul.
A company without feelings is a company that is set to fail.
3) Maturing the heart
This is arguably one of the toughest things to do – especially to an emotional leader like myself. I’m a pretty sensitive guy when I want to be – and that’s why it’s unusually easier for me to get to a person and empathize with him or her. It’s unusually easier for me to manipulate another person’s feelings. It’s unusually easier for me to read a person’s character and intent. I believe it’s a gift.
However, because of my history with insecurity and bullying, I became a person who wants to be accepted and loved. So I find myself easily affected by other people’s way of thinking. Being an entrepreneur and a manager, I had to deal with that. You can’t always have your way. You can’t always be the hero. You’re not always going to play the good cop.
Sometimes your people doesn’t know which way to go. And you have to show them. You have to lead, manage, direct and confront – and it’s not going to be easy. There will be times when you will hurt. That’s why it takes a certain amount of emotional maturity for someone to effectively lead and manage a team.
I took time to read the book “Making your Emotions Work for You” by Harold Sala. That helped me a lot in dealing with what I’m feeling. Not only in business but even during courtship! I read the book way back when I was courting my wife. I must say, this gave me really good leverage in winning her heart.
It’s not that I became insensitive. On the contrary. I became someone who understood what I’m feeling and wisely delay it or channel it somewhere else. Maturing your heart is one of the best things you can do as you lead, manage and direct your team.
It’s quite a wonder when you think that SEO Hacker started from a 2,000 peso blog about God. It all rooted from there. I wrote and wrote and wrote and no one was reading my stuff so I looked around for ways to increase traffic then stumbled upon SEO.
SEO has to do a lot with content. You see, a search engine deals with your website much like how a librarian will deal with a book. The more authoritative a book is, the more it will be recommended. With a website, the thicker your pages are, the more chances it will rank. After all, no one builds a website with sweat, knowledge and hard work just to see it crash.
So it goes back to a very simple principle: writing. I cannot stress how important it is to keep writing. It’s a discipline, science and art all in one. The discipline part is having to write every specific time frame. In my case, I write every week – for four blogs at a time. Naturally, that pushes me to write around 4 times a week. And I have to keep pace because my readers are waiting for me to deliver.
The art behind writing is trying to hit that connection with the reader the moment he reads your headline. You have approximately 2 seconds in the internet to impress, intrigue or draw someone in with your headline or you lose them – probably forever – from reading your article. You could say that writing an effective headline is key to your blogging success.
The science behind it is testing which headline will win – and documenting each test so as to tweak the succeeding ones. You have the rest of your life to write. I makes sense to improve and improve and improve your writing stating from your hook (which is the headline) to line (which is your body) to sinker (which is what we call your CTA or call-to-action).
When you want to be found online, writing is one of the main things you should be committed to doing.
Call to Action
A website should not be an online calling card. There’s LinkedIn for that. A website should be something more than just your contact information and your products and services in a monitor screen. A website should be your company – online.
It should connect your company through your audience – either with getting them to engage with you through a comment, through a contact form or through a simple Facebook like. A website should allow you to gather leads through an email newsletter. A website should make you money by empowering you with the ability to sell and collect payments online.
A website is a tool to make your business grow in the digital space. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the biggest space in the entire world today. When I started writing at SEO Hacker, there’s three simple things people can do to engage – click on the Facebook Like button, leave a comment below the blog post, or put in their name and email address so they can receive our blog feeds as email newsletters.
These things are actions that I need the readers to take. Consequently, there are buttons in my website for these actions. These buttons have to draw attention or else these people will never do them. And I want people to do them.
If you notice, in the SEO Hacker blogsite (http://seo-hacker.com) there are specific buttons there that we want users to do. One is making our readers sign up in our awesome Growth Hacks newsletter. Another one is making them visit SEO Hacker school (which has its own Call to Action buttons to make people sign up). And so on and so forth.
Your website’s call to action is very important. It’s what makes your website different from an online calling card.
If you didn’t know, I’ve always loved the idea of a home-office. I lived in the SEO Hacker headquarters for 8 months before getting married. It was one of the most awesome management times of my life. To see my team immediately after opening the doors of my bedroom gives an amazing feeling of comfort and efficiency.
I got married just last February. Things changed after that. I had to move north – an hour and a half away from my home-office. These days, I go to the SEO Hacker headquarters just every Monday. The rest of the week is spent on meetings and working from home to keep my efficiency on legwork the way it is.
It’s an arrangement that most managers will not be comfortable in. As (I believe) the best management style in a growing company is still through a face-to-face exchange of ideas. Days went by and our numbers as a team, were dwindling. I was left concerned on how to get the team back on its feet again.
So I asked around and one of my mentors relayed to me how he was managing his remote team.
“Skype and Hubstaff.” He said. I thought I’d give it a try.
I asked some volunteers from my team – who were willing to test this route. There were a small few who were willing to do so. The results of the test were positive for me and some of my teammates so we decided to implement it.
Skype helped us develop a better funnel of communication. I was able to talk with my team just like when I was in the office. While it does consume process memory and speed and bandwidth, Skype does an excellent job in connecting me with my team through the miles. And since I’m mostly online on working days, my coordination with my team remains effective and relatively fast.
With Hubstaff, everyone in the team became more aware of the way we spend our time – especially since Hubstaff takes random screenshots of what we’re doing in working hours. I personally opted take screenshots of mine too so as to be transparent to my team of my activities on my computer.
The result? Less stress for me to manage remotely, and naturally, more productivity and efficiency from each of us. I immediately begin to see the people in my team who are not producing as much as they should, as well as appreciate the ones who go the extra mile. Great team players will appreciate the fact that their work is being seen – because they do great work. It’s only the players who have something to hide who will naturally not appreciate a tool such as Hubstaff.
Remote work was definitely a challenge. These tools help out – a lot, but nothing can really replace face-to-face leadership and management so I still make sure that my ass is in the office doing meetings and casting vision to the SEO Hacker team.
Even if you don’t believe in working remotely, it’s growing to be the practical trend. Not only in the Philippines but in the rest of the world. It’s just plain inefficient to spend 2 or more hours traveling when you can do work the moment you get out of bed and keep running and gunning it the rest of the day. The talents that you need to start up an awesome company is getting more and more diversified. My SaaS arm is based in Manila, my intiernal team is in Paranaque and I’m located at Quezon city. Each of those places are at least an hour apart from each other. It’s crazy to imagine how I would need to go and spend an hour each traveling just to get our heads together.
Remote work also demands discipline. It’s so easy to just bunk off in bed or go out and do some other things – hey, no one’s around to check on me and I could always say I own 100% of the company. But that’s just not gonna make it work! If you want to grow your business and you’re faced with doing remote work, you have to have the discipline to pull it off. Say no to things that are not related to work during working hours! That’s one reason why I allowed all the rules of our Skype log-ins and Hubstaff to apply to myself – because I want to lead from the front and because I want to push myself to be disciplined in my remote work.
Blocking off Interruptions
Whenever the phone is ringing, I answer. Regardless of what it’s about. That’s my job as the team’s one and only sales person. I’m also the CEO, marketing manager, internal accountant, financier, manager, etc.
You could say that I have my ‘modes’. Come Monday, I’m into my CEO and management mode. All Monday I’ll be around the office (which is a more than 40km drive from my home) having meetings – unable to do any legwork. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are field days – I’m usually out with mentors or clients or giving a talk somewhere. Fridays are flexible – I sometimes have meetings but I can do legwork if I don’t.
Thursday is my one and only day for full time legwork. And then the phone rings. Sometimes almost the whole day.
Interruptions can be such a bummer.
Don’t get me wrong, these calls are important and I do have to take them. But what about you? Sometimes the interruptions we experience are not as important. A colleague wants to chat, or someone sends you a message in Facebook, or you get called to a meeting you think is not directly relevant to you, etc.
Have you ever noticed that the most productive parts of your day is either early in the morning or late at night – when no one is able to interrupt what you’re doing? 2pm is supposed to be the highlight of your working day – and yet it’s often the most unproductive.
The book Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals puts interruptions in a very interesting light:
“Interruptions break your workday into a series of work moments. Forty-five minutes and then you have a call. Fifteen minutes and then you have lunch. An hour later, you have an afternoon meeting. Before you know it, it’s five o’clock, and you’ve only had a couple uninterrupted hours to get your work done. You can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.”
Instead, you should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done. (Ever notice how much work you get done on a plane since you’re offline and there are zero outside distractions?)
Getting into that zone takes time and requires avoiding interruptions. It’s like REM sleep: You don’t just go directly into REM sleep. You got to sleep first then make your way to REM. Any interruptions force you to start over. And just as REM is when the real sleep magic happens, the alone zone is where the real productivity magic happens.”
I love how they likened productivity momentum and ‘magic’ to REM sleep. It’s quite true. You unleash your most creative juices when you’ve been left alone to work your magic for a good, focused amount of time.
I know it’s true with me.
So the next time you get a tap on your shoulders from a colleague or a random message from Facebook or nudge from Skype, have the discipline to say ‘NO’. If necessary, shut out all notifications from any communication device you have during your ‘alone zone’.
Stop participating in unnecessary interruptions. Build that momentum to attain productivity REM.
Make magic happen.
Trim it Down
If you look at your business today, there’s not a lot of things that you need to look at to know where you’re making money. There’s just one main focus point in your business that’s carrying the load of most of your revenues. Perhaps around 90%.
While it’s good to innovate, diversify and create by-products in your business, keep in mind that your main cash cow is what you should always take care of. That’s the one main thing you’re sure you’re doing right. Keep it close to your heart and keep it going. People are loving what you do!
There are some successful start-up businesses that push themselves on creating by-products and forget that there was this one thing they were doing that was perfect. The excitement of a new by-product just overtakes everything that they were doing right!
When I started SEO Hacker School, I made sure that the main thing SEO Hacker was doing right will keep on going. So I split the team to two – our SEO Services team and our SEO School team. I put a services director in charge to replace me on the day-to-day client conversations and team output monitoring. This enabled me to focus on a new by-product while making sure that the right thing we’re doing is still going strong.
I wanted to do a lot of other things besides SEO School such as starting our own SaaS business. However during the time when me and my team were still growing, I just couldn’t start it without sacrificing my responsibilities in our SEO Services team and SEO School team. So I delayed it until I’m sure that things will keep going the way it should even if I take myself out of the picture. Sometimes trimming down the things you have to do can make the growth of your company much faster.
Chapter 7 Lessons
1) Discipline is Vital
I started SEO Hacker with a model company in mind – Google. They had a company culture and discipline that I want to be immersed in. Mostly everyone I know wants to work in Google – at least for some time in their lives. Who doesn’t? They have free food, free flowing coffee, free sleep pods, free and flexible working hours, mostly free everything!
The thing is, they only hire the best of the best – self-motivated and disciplined people. People who you don’t need to look out for. People who you know will work their heart out whether you push them or not. People who seems like they naturally have what it takes to bring your company forward even without you asking them.
We didn’t have free food, free coffee or free sleep pods when we were starting SEO Hacker out. What we did have is flexible working hours and work from home days. That worked for a good while too! Then we got a little bit bigger and some people were taking advantage of the perks. Since we don’t have the revenues Google is experiencing, we immediately felt the implications of having unaccounted flexible hours and work from home days.
There are two things we could do to solve this problem. One, we could eliminate work from home and flexible hours altogether. Two, we could implement a system that will make sure that these will still be available for the entire team as perks but they will be accounted for even at home. As it turns out, it’s not one or the other. It’s first removing the perks altogether, then building and testing a system that will ensure that these perks could work in our company.
The point of the matter is, without the right workforce discipline, we immediately felt that we are going to lose this business. Things weren’t getting done well and on time and that’s very important for us. Sometimes people don’t report at all when they’re working from home. It was really frustrating. To a start-up company, discipline is vital.
2) Remote Work can Work!
I never though I could make it happen but remote work can really work. Sure bulk of the team is still in one place but our output is consistent in terms of quantity and quality. We’re able to track what each other is up to and we’re all accountable for our time. Sometimes business owners are hesitant about this because traditional management wisdom tells us that person to person interaction is best. There are few to no communication barriers, and you can get your point across faster, and interpersonal relationship is better.
That’s true. However let’s also consider the downsides of having to commute or drive all the way to the office – shedding off precious time, energy and money. It’s an entirely different feeling to have to get up, go to your work station at home, login and report for work.
Think about it.
Starting up my own company at 22 was definitely an exciting journey. There were a lot of unexpected things – and it made life all the more enjoyable and toughening at the same time. I’m a 25 year old guy now. This book is a compilation of 3 years of experience starting up in one of the most exciting industries today.
People keep on telling me, “You’re so young!” You know what? I believe that we are in certain points in life where we can never return to again. Here I am in this point in life and I consider myself fortunate to have lived this life the way I want to. Whether I live it again will no longer be in the equation – because it has already passed me by.
Age is relative. Life is a gift. Death is absolute. I can look at myself as young but that’s not the whole truth. Youth is something you can never go back to. Hence, being young is only a one way ticket. There is no reason to waste it.
I only get to live once. Better live it best.
I have nothing much more to say since I think I’ve already given you more than a handful to think about. What I want to leave you with is that everything starts with the Lord. That is true for me and that will be true for you. Secondly, nothing happens without guts. You have to take risks. Roll the dice. The sooner you do so, the sooner you can win in life. Thirdly, the fundamental truths of hard work will always apply in any and every industry. People who know how to work hard sooner find themselves in a much better position that those who don’t.