Mike Munter: You and I met in 2012 because we were both chasing the same keyword.
Brendan Egan: I remember it was “small business SEO” and I kept checking the keyword. It was the same three or four guys always coming up and you were one of them.
For a while, you ranked number one and I was number two. Then I overtook you for a little bit. I remember I was up until three in the morning writing these articles on BMR (Build My Rank). It was a private blog network.
I stayed up until two or three in the morning writing stupid articles that were like 300-400 words long and made no sense. The next morning I woke up and I had 50 of these articles published. I went and checked and I was ahead of you. And I was like, “Take that, whoever Mike Munter is!”
Two days later, I had let my foot off the gas and the next thing I know, you’re on top. And I’m like, “What the F?” I remember I reached out to you and I’m like, “Hey dude, what are you doing?” At first, you were a little hesitant in telling me and I was a little hesitant to tell you. Then eventually, we started off chatting on Skype and we were both like, “Hey, we’re both using BMR.”
So, it must just be a matter of who’s staying up later and who’s writing more crap. Then not long after that, I think BMR got taken down and Google got smart. Then neither one of us was on the first hundred pages for “small business SEO.”
And yeah, it’s gone from there. We’ve known each other for almost 10 years now. It’s kind of funny and we still never met. You still haven’t taken me to a Cubs game and I still owe you some pizzas with some bets that I’ve lost.
Mike Munter: The funny part about that is I remember when I did finally reach number one for that keyword, and I think Google was saying it got 5,400 searches a month or some crazy number-
Brendan Egan: It got nowhere near that.
Mike Munter: “Man, If I get to number one, I’m going to be so busy!” And dude, I got like a half dozen leads and they pretty much all sucked. I think I only closed one of them. I was like, “Well, something’s wrong here. This is not the way to do SEO.”
Brendan Egan: For all the time I put into that one stupid keyword over a three-year period of my life, I’m the same as you. I know for a fact I got three or four clients out of it, but if I do the math on how much time I spent chasing that keyword, it’s not legit. That’s what opened my eyes.
In 2021 and beyond, we’re focused almost exclusively on long-tail keywords, which are longer phrases that have less traffic. They’re easier to rank for and they have people searching them. They’re relevant.
For all the time I wasted on that one goofy keyword, the only good that came out of it is I met you, I guess. But client-wise, it wasn’t worth it. After that, I changed my focus. I know you did, too. We started creating more long-form content, focusing on longer keywords that have been our success for the last eight-plus years.
Mike Munter: And I didn’t. I continued to search for tools to manipulate, as I still do today. I don’t know what it is about manipulation. I know it’s sometimes going to be short-lived, but it’s fun.
Brendan Egan: It is fun. I’ve taken the other path. I’ve gotten out of the manipulation game and I do everything white hat: good, decent link-building, and good content. Just good fundamentals. It’s funny because both sides work.
To me, the side I take works long-term and gets people results, but it’s slower. Whereas, the method you take, your results are quicker, but you have to be constantly reinventing the way you’re doing it to make those results stick. At the end of the day, we’re probably both getting the same results. It’s just a matter of two different approaches that go down two different paths.
Mike Munter: I’m not manipulating. I don’t try to manipulate SEO anymore. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even try to do much link building because I feel like it’s so risky.
Brendan Egan: Right. Link building is risky, but I feel like it’s a necessary evil in SEO. But content is first these days. There’s no doubt about that.
Mike Munter: You taught me a few years ago that it was a two-step formula. It was just doing basic directory listings for your link building and then for your content, do great long-form, well optimized, useful, and informative content.
Brendan Egan: What’s funny is that there are all these guys out there saying that link building is dead and you don’t need it: “Don’t do it. It’s only going to hurt you.”
To this day, and it’s the middle of February 2021 when we’re recording this, the fundamentals of link building: business directories, social sites, getting content out on micro-blogs, all those things still work. You can’t argue with results. We do that for all of our clients and we’ve never had a single client penalized. We’ve never had a single client banned on Google or lose rankings or something like that.
Most of our keywords are on the first page, so contrary to what other people are saying and contrary to what Google says, that stuff still works. That’s why you and I are both doing it.
Mike Munter: Now, when you say micro-blogs, what do you mean by a micro-blog?
Brendan Egan: We go out and similar to what you would write for a blog – we usually write a blog post for your website and shoot for 1,000 to 2,000 words, depending on the topic. We then create micro-blogs for our clients. We’ll go to WordPress.com and set up a WordPress site, set up a Weebly website, or a Squarespace site.
We can set up all these different free websites and then we’ll write what we call micro-blogs – 200 or 300 words, uniquely written, handwritten posts that are about a particular keyword that links to our client’s website.
Sometimes what we do is build links. It’s kind of like a “link wheel,” where you build links to your micro-site, your micro-blog, and then you link back to your main website. We do a lot of that and find that that’s working well.
Mike Munter: So, the objective of the micro-blog is not for that site to rank or do anything, the usefulness is to link back to the client website?
Brendan Egan: 100 percent. But what’s funny is we find that sometimes they do rank. I have some keywords for clients where we have 10 or 15 micro-blogs and our client site is the number one result. Then the number two, three, four, and five search results are all our micro-blogs.
We dominate the first half of the first page. Anything you click on leads back to our client. It has that cool side effect, but as you said, the goal of it is to get that link from the micro-blog back to our main website. An unintended, positive, side effect is that sometimes those micro-blog sites rank too.
Mike Munter: A link from Weebly, Wix, or WordPress.com might not carry a lot of weight, but it’s still a trusted link.
Brendan Egan: It’s a trusted link. And when you build links to that link, it becomes even more so. It’s on a trusted domain and it becomes even more valuable. It’s passing on more link juice. There are tons of sites out there we do it on. We do it on Medium and Reddit. We can do it on all of these different sites. Anywhere you can post content, you can do it. As long as you can post content with a link.
Mike Munter: If you had to choose for a client budget, do you put more money into content or more into link building?
Brendan Egan: It depends on where we fall on the budget spectrum. These days, most of our SEO campaign’s starting point is usually $1,500 a month. You have to write a significant amount of content, both on the website, as well as in link building, to make it effective.
Let’s just give an example, Mike, if we’re at $1,500 per month, we’re probably writing three blog posts that are long-form 1,000 to 2,000 words to put on the client website. And then we’ll write maybe a half dozen or a dozen of these little micro-blogs. We’ll also put the budget into link building. Usually, our budget is split 50/50. So, half our budget goes into content and half of it’s going to link building.
Some of the budget goes toward management, but as we scale up, I don’t like to write more than four or five blog posts a month on a client website. As our budget gets bigger, and we max out the number of blog posts we want to put on the client’s website, we put that much more of the budget into link building.
What drives that is not us. It’s more so, “What are the competitors doing?” How competitive are the keywords we’re going after and how many keywords do you want to go after? That’s really what drives the SEO budget.
Mike Munter: You got started in the SEO and web design business. Was it websites that you got started with?
Brendan Egan: I got started in this business by mistake. In 2008, I was watching the five o’clock evening news and all these guys on Wall Street, pulling their hair out, losing tons of money while the market was crashing. I sat down and said to myself, “Hey, that looks kind of fun. I want to get into that.”
I don’t know what made me think that, but, the next day I opened up a trading account and I started trading from my computer. I was instantly hooked on it. It was so addicting and thrilling, watching things go up and down. You blink and something goes up and then down and you see all the ticks and you see all the trades fly by.
I spent 18 months learning how to trade, how to day trade stocks. I did that for two or three years. I had an awesome mentor who taught me the ropes of that. I did pretty well at that. I started a website that taught people how to trade. That was the first thing I ever did. I built that website from scratch for myself. It’s an old vBulletin website. I don’t know if you are familiar with that, Mike. It’s one of those discussion/forum-type websites back in the day, that used to be super popular. I built that and put together an eight-hour-long video course I sold for 200 bucks. We sold 5,000-7,000 video courses in the first two years. I did pretty well.
I started offering one-on-one consulting and I got so busy with that, my schedule was full and I had no time for anything else. I got out of that space a little bit. I said, “Hey, I’m going to push this course – get out of the consulting side of it and focus on training, focus on selling this course.”
And then what happened was I thought, “Hey, how do I sell more courses?” I stumbled upon SEO. Then I thought, “Hey, if I can just rank for these 10 keywords, I’ll sell an unlimited number of courses.”
So I got deep into SEO and link building. I started building a team of link builders and content writers. At the time, the big thing was spinning content and doing all sorts of questionable stuff. We started doing that and we ranked on the first page for every single one of our keywords.
We were selling tons of these courses, doing incredibly well. Then I started having friends and family say, “Hey, how are you selling so much of this stuff?” And I would say, “Well, look, I’m number one on Google for all this.” And they’re like, “Can you make my law firm number one?” “Can you make my dental practice number one?”
So, I started helping out friends and family with the team I built for my company. The next thing I knew, I was doing a bunch of business in SEO, just for friends and family. I’m like, “Hey, this is a cool business.” I sat there one night and said, “You know, rather than selling $200 courses to people that don’t have a lot of money and are just consumers, if I go out and start a business that sells to other businesses, that’s where the money is. Other businesses have tons of money to spend on marketing. Rather than deal with 5,000 people a year spending $200 bucks, I’d rather deal with 50 people a year that are each spending $10,000 a year.”
I built my website and started Simple SEO Group. That was around 2010 or 2011. I got that launched and had a goal for myself. I said, “Hey, in the first 18 months, I want to do a hundred grand in revenue and if I don’t do that, then I’m going to get out of this space and go figure out what the next thing is.”
I hit that goal and every year, except for last year with COVID, I’ve grown the company. It’s been a cool, interesting ride. I checked the other day and I’ve helped 320 different clients in different niches, everything from building their websites, to email marketing campaigns, SEO campaigns, managing their pay-per-click, Facebook ads, Google ads, you name it. All things digital marketing, we do now. SEO is still our bread and butter, but we’ve expanded out into all these other complementary services.
Mike Munter: That’s a lot of stuff. I’m overwhelmed just listening to you talking about it.
Brendan Egan: It is a lot of stuff. It’s been a 10-year ride, I’ve learned a lot along the way. I think there’s still – like anything – there’s a lot more to learn. What’s interesting about this field is if you close your eyes for 30 seconds, everything changes on you. You’ve got to stay fresh, you’ve got to stay on top of your game.
It’s one of those industries where experience is always valuable. It’s always good to have experience on your side, but you also can’t rest on your laurels and you can’t rest on your experience because if you do, some of it will pass you up because everything is just constantly changing. It keeps me busy. It keeps me fresh and sharp. It keeps me going.
Mike Munter: It’s funny you mentioned that because I think about Fertility Solutions. We had the first iteration of their website in 2012 when I got them as a client. I think the website was just garbage. It was different fonts and – not to be critical if Denise is watching – it was messy.
She knew she wanted something better. With your help, we did a themed WordPress website and cleaned it up. That was in 2014. We’re like, “Wow, this thing looks great!” And then by 2016 or 2017, comparing that site to everything else that’s out there, we said, “Oh my God, this site looks horrible.”
Brendan Egan: It’s funny how fast that happens. My running record right now is seven website revisions. I have a client that I’ve done seven websites for since I started my company. It sounds like a lot. It sounds like we got something wrong, but that’s not the case. It’s just if you don’t stay up on it, after two or three years, things get stale and look dated.
I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years when I started building websites, everything was about SEO. I didn’t put a ton of emphasis into branding, design, colors and fonts. Like, “What does the page make you feel?” and all that stuff.
There’s a whole world of design out there that wasn’t my forte when I got into it. I think some of the earlier sites I put together were really good marketing websites and they ranked, but they didn’t look the best. That was one of my weaknesses that I’ve gotten a lot better on in the last five years: making sites look better.
That’s the challenge of building a website. If you ask ten different people what should it have on it, you’re going to get ten different answers. I think business owners must have a good clean brand that represents them well. If you talk to a designer, that’s where they end up. They give you a beautiful website that doesn’t rank and is missing all the SEO factors. It’s probably built wrong, structurally wrong, the URLs suck – all that stuff is done wrong.
My focus has been trying to better round myself out in terms of not just building SEO-friendly websites that rank well, but also hitting all the other things – making sure IT is happy and that the designers are happy with the brand. It’s making sure that all the different components that go into the website are happy.
It’s been two and a half or three years since I re-did my company website and I don’t go on it that often anymore. I went on it today and I thought, “This is atrocious.” So it happens pretty fast and if you don’t stay up on it every two or three years, at least do a refresh of the site.
That’s one of the cool things in WordPress, too, Mike. The CMS can update every month and keep everything fresh technically. Then every two or three years once you have it built, you just go in and create a new theme. You overlay that over all the existing info and it’s not reinventing the wheel. It’s just re-skinning it, if you will, making it look fresh, rather than having to build a whole new website.
A lot of business owners say, “Well, what does that mean for me?” Let’s say you have a 50-page website, it’s going to cost, 10 or 15 grand to build a new website from scratch. It might only cost four or five grand to re-skin it once we have it built. It’s a lot more economical to keep it fresh than it is to build it all from scratch.
Mike Munter: I know you sent me a picture of the first website you did. I’ll put that up on the screen when I produce this. It’s kind of laughable. To look back, was that in 2010?
Brendan Egan: Yeah. I sent you a couple images. I think I sent you the first thing I did for my trading company, which is hilarious to see for me, too. I did that in 2010.
Mike Munter: That’s the one of the trading company. You had this picture of you on this huge website. And you were this little midget in the corner.
Brendan Egan: It’s funny because the other thing that drives that, Mike, is you think back 10 years ago, and we all had CRT monitors. We had crappy old screens. Now I’m sitting here looking at you on a 27-inch screen that’s thinner than my phone. It’s technology that drives the change. It looks funny now because you look at it and you’re like, “Holy cow, that website is like this big,” but back in the day that filled the whole screen. That’s how the screens were, so it’s still funny to see. I like to look back every once in a blue moon. I go back and look at the old random products we did. It’s laughable to see how things have changed so much over a short period.
Mike Munter: It makes me wonder, where are we gonna be in five years?
Brendan Egan: Who knows? I mean, it’s crazy. Who knows what the next device will be. They will be designing websites for your smartwatch or virtual reality. You never know what you’re going to be designing for.
Mike Munter: Let’s shift a little bit. I remember it was several years ago now when you met John Shegerian and that took your business to a new level.
Brendan Egan: He took me in an interestingly different direction. It was a Friday afternoon in the middle of the summer and I was sitting at my desk. For anybody that knows me, in Chicago, we get about 12 weeks of summer. I’m very well known to not be at my desk on Fridays and take a nice, long weekend.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon and I was trying to get out the door. I was trying to get a couple of things done before I got outside to get some fresh air and some sun. My phone rang and it was some weird area code. And I was like, “I have no idea who this is, probably someone trying to sell me some crap.”
I answered the phone and it’s this guy and he’s like, “Hey, I’m John Shegerian.” He’s just talking a mile a minute and I’m half paying attention, half writing an email, half doing 15 other things. He’s telling me he’s got this business and he’s got that business and he wants to do this and he wants to do that. He wants to market this and he knows everything about the internet.
I’m just like, “Yeah ok.” You and I get these phone calls from these characters all the time and they’re talking out their rear end and saying stuff that isn’t even true.
I’m half-listening to this guy and after about three or four minutes of that, I stopped. I said “I’m sorry, sir. Can we schedule a call on Monday? And you can tell me more about this. Cause I’m just about to walk out the door. I don’t have time for this right now.”
And he was so offended. He’s like, “Excuse me, what did you say to me?”
I said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Let me talk to your manager.”
I’m like, “I’m the owner, what do you want?”
“Wait, this is Brendan?”
And I go, “Yeah, this is Brendan. I said that when I answered the phone. How can I help you?”
And he says, “I’m so sorry. I just read all about you. And I wanted to talk to you.”
I said, “What do you mean you read all about me?”
He said, “I read it. I read your interview on IdeaMensch.”
I’m sitting here and I’m like “Who the hell reads IdeaMensch?”
And for those who don’t know, IdeaMensch is a self-interview website that I interviewed on. You did one too, Mike. It’s like Inspirery. It’s what inspired you to come up with Inspirery.
I didn’t think anyone read it, let alone people that owned businesses. So this guy is like, “Yeah, I’m going to be in Chicago on Monday, are you from Chicago?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “Let’s get lunch at noon.”
And I said, “All right, perfect.”
So, the weekend goes by and I don’t think anything of it. Monday rolls around and I go to lunch with this guy. I walk into the restaurant and say, “Hey, I’m here to meet John.”
The hostess – her eyes were as big as saucers. She said, “Just a minute.” She runs and gets the owner. The owner comes over. He’s like, “Oh, come this way.” He takes me to a weird little corner. A guy is sitting there with an iPad and a three-piece suit on. I’m thinking, “This is weird.”
Mike Munter: And you were dressed like you are now?
Brendan Egan: I wasn’t dressed in a t-shirt and a backwards hat, but I wasn’t exactly wearing a three-piece suit either. I sit down with this guy and we had an hour lunch scheduled.
The next thing I know, three hours go by. We talked about so many different things. He understood the internet. He’d owned companies that sold for millions, you name it. My business was doing well at the time. My business has grown every single year. As I said, since I started it, it’s consistently done well, but John had some cool projects he pulled me in on right away.
What’s funny is I came to find out he wasn’t in Chicago on business that Monday, he actually flew in just to meet me. Even though he told me he was already going to be here on business. That was pretty cool. That was one of my turning points. Up until that point, I ran my company like a virtual-only business.
That shifted it and opened my eyes to the idea that, “Hey, there’s a whole other world out there. By putting in some work jumping on planes, meeting with people, running this like a true company, instead of an online company. There’s a whole different world of opportunity to take advantage of.”
I started doing a lot more of that. John pulled me into some cool projects. He pulled me into ERI, which I’m still involved in to this day. ERI is the largest electronic recycling company in the United States.
He pulled me into his brother’s law firm. His brother grew that firm from a couple of employees to 50 employees. When I stopped working with them, they were getting 60 or 70 leads a day, a big volume of business.
Since then, we’ve launched a bunch of businesses together. We own a company that does medical insurance verifications. We own a company that does hard money lending. People that can’t get conventional bank loans can get loans against assets, whether it’s business loans or loans against exotic cars and things like that. That’s a cool company we’re involved in.
We’re involved in a startup company called Engage, which is becoming the biggest talent booking engine in the world. We have 2,000 athletes and celebrities that are part of it and have signed up. You can book anyone to do anything, from making a speech, to going golfing with one of your favorite golfers, or to having a cup of coffee with one of your favorite athletes.
That’s a cool site we launched that’s growing quickly. John’s been a super important part of my business life and a very good friend of mine now. We’re partners in a lot of different things. He opened up my eyes to a different side of the business world. That’s the best way I could put it.
Mike Munter: You mentioned IdeaMensch. It was the inspiration for Inspirery. I remember when we first did the Inspirery website, you helped me. We pretty much did a replica of IdeaMensch. It was very similar.
Brendan Egan: I remember calling you and you said, “Hey, I respect Mario and what he’s done here. And I don’t know if I should show him this or not, because it’s a replica of what he’s done.”
Mike Munter: It’s so funny because I sent him an email. It was my first introduction to him. I wrote, “Hey, I feel like I should tell you-”
Brendan Egan: “Just a heads up, I’m launching a website that’s the same as yours.”
Mike Munter: His reply was, “Well, I kind of wish you hadn’t copied my design exactly.” What’s funny is that after that first email with him, he could have been a jerk about it and said, “I don’t want anything to do with this guy.”
We became really good friends. He’s been to Portland a couple of times. We go out for dinner and it’s a great time. Our conversations were so rich and now I consider him a friend like you.
Brendan Egan: I’ve never met him, but we’ve talked and emailed a bunch. He’s a good guy. He had a cool concept at the time. It was so unique. There was nothing else like it at the time.
I remember when you and I came across that site, it was like gold to us. There are a lot of sites that are similar to that now. But at the time, that was the best site out there for interviews. When I go to the site and go through the old interviews from 2014-2015, there are some very legitimate people on there. There are some high-quality people that you can reach out to. The people who have done those interviews are super because they understand online marketing.
They get the stuff that you and I get. And you understand that “Hey, just because I put an interview up, doesn’t mean I’m going to get a million leads from it, but I might get one here, one there, or you might meet somebody that becomes your next business partner.”
It’s one of those things that I think people in marketing don’t understand. The game of marketing is let’s throw a bunch of lines in the water and see which one catches a fish. Not every line is going to catch a fish. Sometimes you’re going to catch a little fish. Sometimes you’re going to throw a little line in the water that’s going to catch a huge fish. You never really know until you do it.
That’s what excites me about marketing. When I did that interview, I was just doing it to get a link to my website. All of a sudden, I’ve had a few people call me and say, “I read your interview, I want to talk to you. I want to do business with you.” It’s cool how those things have positive, unintended side effects that lead to different opportunities.
Mike Munter: You must’ve done a better interview than me because I haven’t had anyone call me to say they want to do business with me.
Brendan Egan: I don’t know if it was better or not. Maybe I just expressed myself better.
Mike Munter: It’s all good. I’m not complaining. You mentioned ERIdirect.com. Do you want to talk about that a little bit and what that’s doing?
Brendan Egan: ERI is a cool company. John and one of his business partners, Aaron, started a company that was California-based and they were running a bootstrap company. It was 2005 when they started recycling electronics.
John came in and he had just sold a company called financialaid.com he had started. It was the largest student loan originator in the world. He had some money from the sale and he wanted to get involved in ERI. So he, Kevin Dillon, who was John’s CMO at Financial Aid, and Aaron got together and formed ERI.
They had no idea it would turn into what it is today. ERI services a variety of Fortune 500 companies. Almost any electronic device you can think of, they recycle. Anything that has a battery or a cord or runs on power, they recycle. They’ve grown into the largest brand in the space. It’s a really good company.
Mike Munter: I’m sorry to interrupt, but how do they make money? Do companies pay them to recycle this stuff?
Brendan Egan: There’s a variety of ways they make money. Companies pay them to recycle for two reasons. One is that they have to because there are laws and regulations. This phone, for exampl,e has a ton of different toxic metals. If I were to throw it in the garbage can, it would go to the waste dump. It would get smashed and all that toxic material leeches into the soil. It’s terrible for the environment.
Some states are working on federal regulations that prohibit what you can do with electronics, both for consumers as well as for businesses. Businesses pay ERI to take their old electronics.
What’s become a growing part of the business is the data aspect. One gigabyte of data could be up to 236,000 pages of information. When you think about all the different devices we have, from cell phones to desk phones, you may not realize it, but everything you put through a copy machine, there’s a record of that document stored in it’s memory. A hacker can retrieve that and get all your information from the document you faxed or scanned or copied.
Anything that has any data bearing capacity needs to be handled with care when you are done, to make sure all the data is properly destroyed. That’s become a huge part of ERI’s business: making sure that companies they work with, all of their data is destroyed, so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
ERI works with Fortune 500 companies. They also work with manufacturers of electronics to make sure they comply with the different programs. Different states have different requirements. If you want to sell a TV in a certain state, you have to have a program set up to take that TV back when the consumer is done with it.
There are all kinds of different regulations rolling out by the day, that determine what you can do with electronics. Electronics is the largest growing solid waste stream in the world. Think about all the garbage and the waste. Nobody wants to look at a landfill. Electronics is the largest growing waste stream. ERI’s success is a combination of John and his partners running the company well and being in the right place at the right time as the electronics revolution has exploded.
Mike Munter: What are you most excited about? You mentioned multiple businesses that you’re involved in. Is there one of them that is the most fun?
Brendan Egan: They all are unique. I’m still in love with my core SEO business. I still love doing that. Sometimes, clients can be challenging. I’ve gotten better at dealing with them and explaining things over the years. You and I talk about that offline, the challenges of dealing with people and trying to explain things they don’t understand.
These days everybody thinks they understand advertising. They get Facebook ads and they think it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s challenging. But I still love my main business.
I recently took on a bigger role with ERI. I’m on the board of directors now and helping them with a lot of technology initiatives. I’ve been doing their marketing for about seven or eight years. I’m excited about where ERI is going as a company.
I’m excited about Engage. Engage is a company I have a couple of wonderful partners in who are young kids in their early twenties. They’re youthful and energetic. They have the same energy I had 10 or 15 years ago when I started my first company. That’s a fun one because it’s a cool industry. It’s a cool space to be in. We’re connecting people that have a story to tell with businesses and consumers that want to hear that story. It feels good and it’s a cool industry to be in.
We built a technology solution that changes the way people book talent Prior to Engage, you would go online and Google the person. You’d try to either find their agent or find a speaker’s Bureau they belonged to and reach out. There’d be a series of phone calls going back and forth between the agents and the talent.
It would take two or three weeks to get an answer. You would get a paper contract faxed to you. You would sign that contract. You put a check in the mail and mail it.
Another week goes by before they get that check and deposit it. They sign the contract and fax it back to you. The next thing you know, a month has gone by, and you don’t even have a booking. That was in 2019. People were still faxing and mailing checks.
So, we built a platform that digitizes that process. We built the “Uber” of talent booking, if you will. You jump on LetsEngage.com, you pick who you want, you fill out the pre-defined contract and agree to the terms. You put in the travel budget, your bank information and your credit card. The website puts the payment in escrow. The talent gets notified; their agent gets notified. They can accept it or reject it from their mobile phone, wherever they are in the world.
So, what used to be a month-long process of paperwork and phone calls, has turned into a 5-10 minute digital experience. It’s all online. It’s a cool site. It’s growing by the day. Every week, we add 50-100 more “talent.” It’s exploding. That one excites me.
I’ve got a bunch of other little businesses we’re involved in. My focus for the last two years has been partnering in different businesses.
Rather than, if someone comes to me and says, “Hey, I want to get a website for this,” if it’s something cool I can get behind, I’ll say, “Hey, instead of you paying us for that, give me equity in your company and we’ll get involved in it.”
I’ve been getting involved in more and more businesses that way. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I have a lot of expertise, not just building websites, but building custom software, designing different software systems, and how to market them.
I can bring a lot to the table in terms of getting companies from zero to 60 and getting them started. People value that and I’m fortunate to be involved with these companies. That’s what excites: having a ton of different things going on at once and being in a bunch of different niches.
I don’t like doing mundane stuff. So, every day is a little different. Every day has its challenges.
Mike Munter: Maybe that’s the INTJ thing that we share?
Brendan Egan: It is because I can’t sit and do the same thing for more than five minutes.
Mike Munter: I’m the same way. I probably have five or six different revenue streams, and then I’m looking for something new. It’s always more exciting to look for something new.
Brendan Egan: Exactly. Some of these businesses don’t make a dime. That’s most of them. Most startups don’t make any money. It’s moreso the potential of what they’re going to make once they get to year two or three.
My goal has been to get involved in companies that one day can get acquired by a bigger company. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, trying to get into different industries and spaces where the business is easily scalable. You start something, you build it, you scale it and sell it. Get out and move on to the next thing.
Mike Munter: So, a company comes to you and they want a new website or SEO and if you’re excited, you say, “Hey, let’s maybe go into business together?” How do you structure a deal like that? Do you, say, “I’ll do free work and take a percentage?” How do you put that together?
Brendan Egan: Every deal is different. It depends. It requires research to evaluate the potential. If it’s a business I think has massive potential, like I thought Engage had, than I’ll get involved. That’s one where I did get involved. John’s involved, as well.
We said, “Our time is free. We’re going to give you guys unlimited access to our development team, our marketing team. You guys pay for the advertising we run and we’ll cover of our time.”
That was a very sophisticated build. If you look at the website, it’s LetsEngage.com, that’s not a simple website. It’s a very sophisticated piece of software. We spent a couple hundred thousand dollars out of our own pockets to build that. It was a significant investment, but it was one where we said, “Hey, we want this portion of the company for building that. We think the company one day is going to be worth a lot, so we’re going to take that risk.”
Other times, clients will come to me and maybe I’m not as excited, but I still want to work with them. They’re good people and they think there’s an opportunity to be more than just a client-provider relationship.
So I’ll say, “Instead of you paying us three grand a month we’re going to charge you only our costs, say $1,200 – $1,500 a month, whatever it is. So, you’re getting my time for free. I’m not making any money from it, but in exchange, I’d like a small percentage of your company.”
Some people I’ve offered that to say, “Oh, we’re not interested in that. We’d rather just pay you guys.” That’s fine too. We’re running a business. So, that’s fine, as well.
To me, it’s been exciting to get involved with different people in different businesses and learn how they work. I think when I get involved on that level, I’m able to influence the company decision making more and shape where they’re going as opposed to if I’m just an agency provider for them.
I’ve done some cool things and had some projects we got involved in on a small scale and we’ve made a huge impact for the customer. It can lead to a lot of other business opportunities. If I’m partnering with someone, they’re more receptive to introducing me and giving us referrals. So it’s been a growth tool for us.
Mike Munter: You’ve got some skin in the game.
Brendan Egan: You’ve got some skin in the game. We treat all of our clients the same. We give them plenty of attention, but if you have skin in the game, you’re going to take the extra steps, stay up late, do what you’ve got to do to get it done.
Mike Munter: We better not let any of your clients see this video. Now they’re all going to be like, “Oh, hey, we’re going to stop paying you and give you 2% of the company.”
Brendan Egan: That’s the other thing too. On the flip side, Mike, I’ve had people that have asked me for that type of deal and I’ve said, “Sorry, we’re not interested.” It’s no disrespect, but you have to balance that. You only have so many hours in the day to get involved on a deeper level. You have to pay the bills at the end of the day.
It’s an interesting world. If you get out there and look, there’s an unlimited number of opportunities. It’s a matter of picking the ones that are the best fit for you.
I had one company come to me and say, “We’d love to work with you on more of an equity basis.” And it wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I could help them or that they didn’t have a cool business, it was something I just wasn’t interested in. I wasn’t into that space and I didn’t want to get into it.
So, I said, “We’ll work with you on a regular client basis.” You know, that’s fine. I don’t have to be interested in order to take you on as a client, but if I’m going to take you on as an equity partner and you’re going to bring me in as a partner in the company, I want to at least be passionate about what you guys do. It’s an interesting place to be where you can evaluate it both financially and also based on what you’re interested in and good at. You get to pick and choose.
Mike Munter: Anything else you want to get into here?
Brendan Egan: I don’t think so. There’s a lot of stuff we can get into.
Mike Munter: We could probably just talk for hours and you got to go work on your boat.
Brendan Egan: I’ve got this crazy boat project I took on. As I said, last year was the only year our company didn’t grow. I blame it on COVID. I hate to point the finger at something, but COVID screwed up a lot of people. We had a really good end of the year, but I was looking for something to do.
As you know, everything’s closed; restaurants are closed. You can’t go out. You can’t do anything and it’s 10 degrees and snowing here right now.
I said, “What the heck can I do over the winter that would be kind of a cool project?” And I’m like you, Mike, I love to build stuff. I love to get my hands dirty and see a project through from start to finish.
So, I bought this old boat. I know nothing about restoring boats. I cut it to pieces and I’m rebuilding it. It’s been a heck of a project. I’m on day #106, as of today. I haven’t missed a single day. I’ve been going there every night from 5:00 PM till 9:00 PM. I’ve been there every weekend and it’s been a labor of love. I’m about halfway through with it, but it’ll be a cool project when it’s done.
Mike Munter: That’s cool. You have to send me a picture.
Brendan Egan: I’ll send you a picture. I don’t know if we’re friends on Facebook. I’ve got an album going on Facebook.
Mike Munter: The boat is indoors, I assume?
Brendan Egan: It’s inside. I have a good friend who has a body shop that’s five minutes from my house. I’m renting some space from him. It is in a nice, warm, heated building.
Mike Munter: I feel like it’s a replay of three or four years ago. You bought the house and every day you were cutting out of the office at three o’clock to work on it.
Brendan Egan: Are you ready for this? That was seven years ago.
Mike Munter: Holy sh*t.
Brendan Egan: Isn’t that crazy?
Mike Munter: Wow.
Brendan Egan: I always have to have something. Sitting at a desk all day, I just can’t do it. I always have to add some after-hours, hands-on projects going on. So, I’ve always got something going on.
Mike Munter: You told me you got engaged here. Have you guys set a date yet?
Brendan Egan: We did. It was October 2020. Then COVID screwed that up. So, now it’s October 2021. So it’s full-on.
Mike Munter: I’m excited for you.
Brendan Egan: Appreciate it.
Mike Munter: All right. Well, thanks for coming on.
Brendan Egan: Thanks for having me, Mike, anytime. And hopefully, your listeners learn at least one or two little tidbits of information.
Below is the original interview completed by Brendan Egan in December 2013, so you can see how far he’s progressed in 8 years of operating Simple SEO Group.
Brendan Egan grew up in the northern Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois. At an early age, he realized he had an entrepreneurial mind and started experimenting with new business ideas as early as 12 years old.
Brendan attended high school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette and college at The University of Illinois where he majored in finance and economics.
Since graduating from school, Brendan has started a few small businesses, including his current business venture Simple SEO Group. Simple SEO Group is a small online marketing firm focused on helping small to mid-sized businesses improve their online presence through search engine marketing, web development, and additional services.
Today Brendan leads strategic online marketing campaigns for his clients, helping them leverage the latest and greatest technologies to improve their bottom line. Over the years, he has developed the knowledge and experience necessary to formulate online marketing campaigns for companies ranging from small start-ups working from home to fortune 500 companies.
In his free time, Brendan enjoys spending time outdoors, traveling, relaxing, and taking on DIY projects.
What do you do?
I started a small online marketing company; we specialize in developing full circle online marketing campaigns for our clients including search engine optimization, pay per click marketing, web development, and email marketing.
How long have you been doing it?
I’ve been actively involved in online marketing since about 2007.
What inspired you to do this kind of work?
I actually was inspired in an interesting way. I owned a small online-based business back in 2007, and we contracted numerous online marketing and SEO firms to aid us in driving more qualified traffic to our website. Well, they all failed us miserably, so I developed a team to handle the marketing on our own and we saw fantastic results. I then branched off and started my current online marketing company.
How do you earn money? Feel free to be as detailed as you want.
In short we charge for our services, either on an hourly basis for small projects and consulting or on a project basis for larger projects and on-going work.
Who is your target client/customer?
We work with a wide variety of small businesses, typically businesses that have between 2 and 25 employees but have also worked with single employee start-ups as well as some of America’s largest corporations.
What does a typical day look like?
I don’t usually have a “typical” day simply because I wear many different hats. Depending on the day I may have a day full of conference calls with clients and prospects, face to face meetings with clients and prospects, or be in the pits doing leg work to help progress along campaigns for our clients. I typically work a Monday-Thursday work week from about 7:30am until about 9pm, but have been known to burn the midnight oil or work through the weekend.
Do you have employees, contractors, or outsourced help? Tell us a bit about your company structure, however big or small.
Yes, yes, and yes. Over the years I’ve developed some great contacts, learned from some mistakes, and have found what I think is the best way to currently service our clients in the best way possible while still keeping our bottom line in mind.
Is there a trend in your industry that particularly excites you right now?
Everything online marketing is moving towards higher quality. The number of websites on the internet is exponentially growing year after year, so as we see this change in the internet we’re continuing to see a need for highly strategic campaigns and high quality work.
Tell our community about one of the biggest business challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame it?
I think much like any business, the biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting things off the ground and running. It can be tough to start a business and have no clients, no case studies, no testimonials, and no results yet still try to attract clients and compete with companies who have been doing this for years. Thankfully through hard work, dedication, and some great deals we were able to get the company through the initial growth phases and to a much more comfortable place.
Could you share a funny story or something quirky about your work?
I laugh multiple times a day at things I see and come across; it’s just the nature of the job. One of the funnier things I’ve seen recently was a yard sign advertising SEO services. I still would like to ask that guy if he’s so good at SEO why he doesn’t get his leads online…
What motivates you – being your own boss, making a lot of money, helping others, or some other reason?
All of the above. First off I learned early on in life that my thought process and personality wasn’t meant for a normal 9-5 corporate job, so I love being my own boss and making up the rules. With any successful venture, financial success can be a driving role but over time becomes a secondary factor. I think the number one motivator for me is doing good work and pleasing our clients. At the end of the day, I like to see that the work we do really matters in helping business grow online.
What frustrates you? How do you deal with it?
I get very frustrated by fly-by-night and low quality online marketing firms. It’s the reason I got into this industry and is something that makes my job much more difficult because people immediately have distrust for online marketing companies. I deal with it by being the best we can be and publishing true, unique case studies on how we help our clients. This is something a low quality firm will never have.
What makes you laugh?
I love watching Seinfeld, King of the Hill, and The Office, but beyond that I find myself laughing at things I do more than anything.
How do you maintain your/your employees’ morale when things are not going so great?
I try to look at the long term and remember that long term success is always going to be a bumpy, up and down path. Few things are a smooth ride but I try to look at the overall trend to stay motivated.
Entrepreneurs tend to work a lot of hours on their ideas. How do you keep yourself balanced?
To be honest I usually don’t. When I have an idea, it’s usually the flood gates open and I work on perfecting it no matter what it takes.
When you need guidance, where do you find it? Who do go to? Feel free to name more than one source.
I have a good support network to bounce ideas off and get advice, but beyond that I usually look to past experiences to try and derive the best way to proceed.
What are your long term goals for your business?
I hope to continue to grow the business yet stay small enough to maintain the high quality we deliver for our clients. I think the nature of the business just isn’t scalable and won’t maintain the same high quality we focus on if we grow too large or grow too quickly.
What are your biggest pet peeves in business?
I hate when…
Are you willing to be a mentor to others who might want to reach out to you for guidance? If yes, how would you like to be contacted?
Yes, www.SimpleSEOGroup.com/contact or through http://brendanegan.com/.
Lastly, are there any books you would recommend to our readers?
Well, this is not a business book by any stretch, but I recently watched the movie “50 Shades of Grey,” and I’m planning to buy the book for my girlfriend for her birthday.