Marketing Your Way to Success in Trying Times with Keith Perhac

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Keith Perhac knows a thing or two about building a success story when times are tough. He founded SegMetrics and Develop Your Marketing in 2008, right smack dab in the middle of the housing crisis.

Many of his clients are infopreneurs, bloggers, and online coaches. You may have heard of some of them, like travel blogger Nomadic Matt, natural health guru Wellness Mama, and I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He also helps name-brand clients like Toyota and Circle K, along with a whole host of other, smaller individuals and companies.

Many of his clients also got their start when times were tough. If you’re looking for some encouragement or some insight into building your own troubled times success story, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are the highlights:

  • (1:11) Why mentality matters.
  • (3:55) Where the opportunities are.
  • (9:29) Advice for individuals looking to start an agency or who want to become solopreneurs.
  • (11:01) What’s going on in the ad world, and the real ROI of content marketing.
  • (14:46) Getting started with SEO.
  • (16:34) The one thing you want to avoid if you want to avoid failure right now.
  • (20:09) Ways agencies should be talking to their clients. 
  • (23:06) Keith’s causes.

Looking for the quick takeaways? We’ve got you covered.

Why mentality matters

“The 2008 crisis was when I started running the agency. And that’s when my info-product and personality-based clients were all rocketing to success. They went from doing 10K to 100K to a million to 5 million to 20 million a year in like 3 years. When on paper, the economy was in the gutter.”
In short, it’s important not to panic, even as people all around you are telling you that it’s the worst economy since the Great Depression. There are always opportunities. Keith says that during a time like this everyone’s looking to improve, to get higher, to improve their status. Yet the ways you seek to improve your status aren’t nearly as important as the thoughts running around in your head.
“There’s a fearful mentality and there’s a success mentality,” says Keith. “There’s, okay, I’m just going to struggle and do it.”
Keith does acknowledge there are people who really can’t reach certain opportunities, who can’t go online, who can’t change their business models. Yet certainly many companies who were brick and mortar just three months ago are now finding creative ways to pivot and transition, and with the right mindset you may be able to find your way to come out on top as well. 

Where the opportunities are

Keith says the info-product industry is really starting to look just about as successful during this crisis as it looked during the last crisis. 
“The fully info-product, fully-online business is growing, especially coaching, or anything that’s building finances, or building for the next step.”
He warns “time-wasting” info products have kind of fallen by the wayside, but is seeing lots of success with: 
  • How Do I Start an Online Business?
  • How Do I Become a Coach? 
  • How do I Help Others?
He says people are spending more money, and the personality brands are the ones that are advertising right now. 
“All the big advertisers pulled out. You can’t advertise Applebees right now. No one’s buying a new car right now. This means that companies like ours that couldn’t go toe to toe with some of those bigger companies that were eating up all the ad spend can now get in there. Our click-thru rate has doubled. Our ad spend, we doubled it, and not only did our CTR go through the roof, but our leads have increased.”
One of his clients did a webinar, and 70% of the people on the webinar went right ahead and made a purchase. 
“People who have been furloughed, who have been fired, they’re sitting at home and they’re thinking about what’s next.  They’re asking themselves: What can I do so this does not happen again? What can I do to protect my family, to protect my revenue, to protect my way of life if this happens again? Yeah, when this is over, I can find a new job, but is that where I want to go back to even? All of our preconceptions about what day-to-day life is, and what society means, are now being challenged. Not only do we have a lot of time to search for those answers, but there’s a lot of answers out there to be had, now.” 

Advice for individuals looking to start an agency or launch a solopreneur business

Unless you’ve got a passion for technical digital skills, Keith does caution you against going there just because it looks lucrative. Though he does note that if you are passionate about those things, you’ve got a lot of time to learn, and “being able to understand how technology and the web works is like a superpower.”  Yet in the short term, he says he thinks ads are the best place to start, because, as mentioned, they’re cheap now. He says to strike while the iron is hot though. 
“The New York Times just ran an article about it, so don’t expect [these prices] to last forever. Be aware everyone else is going down that route as well. Maybe even next month, that advantage is going to dry up.” 
See: Even Google and Facebook May Face an Ad Slump to read the Times article.  Even YouTube ads may be up for grabs, and for a lot less. 
“Mazda’s not advertising. Subaru’s not advertising. Content creators [on YouTube] are getting no money because there’s no advertising. That’s good for us because we’re advertising and have a lot more opportunity to get that out. But at the same time, that’s not going to last forever.” 

The ROI of content marketing

Keith says he’s a huge proponent of SEO and content. 
“When you just do ads, you’re paying for every single lead. Then something happens and you can’t advertise anymore.”
He says ads are a good short-term strategy, but content is the real long-term winner.
“I’ve had clients that had written articles 5 years ago that still bring in leads. And each of those leads is worth $1. It’s a free lead. It’s an article that someone finds organically or is backlinks. They look at it. We get maybe 5,000 of those a month. For writing an article. That doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop if I stop putting money in. Other than Google deciding they hate us there’s not much that’s going to take that away from us.”
In other words, content efforts compound in value. You don’t even necessarily have to go back and update them. You also might not have to overthink them.
“I have an article I hate-wrote a few years ago. Facebook was changing around the way they were doing their ad platforms and their URL parameters, and they were breaking stuff left and right. I just wrote this really angry, angry post. Two years later it’s our #1 post. It brings in like 1000 to 2000 leads per month. Not all those convert, but that’s a lot of traffic for something I hate-wrote at 2 AM.”

Getting started with SEO

SEO can be hard, even experts like Keith struggle to predict what will actually produce results. It can also take time for the results to show, just as with content marketing.  Keith encourages you to just keep writing articles.
“At the beginning of SEO, a lot of it is like a shotgun. You just need to spray it out there and see what’s going to work.”
He says once something resonates, you can build entire content ecosystems around just one or two articles that really take off. You can write more in-depth content about really popular subjects because you know that content converts. You know that content brings traffic in. 

Avoid this if you want to avoid failure

“If I try to reduce and shrink the business, I’m going to fail. I’m seeing all my clients, all my people that SegMetrics works with, anyone that is shrinking, and trying to stop and hold back, they’re missing out. Because a lot of the agencies are going gung-ho and getting more clients.”
Bottom line: If you can afford to keep advertising, don’t pull back on your advertising and marketing. You want to go as strong as ever because there’s space in the market to stake a claim. Keith stresses that there are a lot of opportunities right now. 
“I’ve gone through two recessions now. The first Dot Com bust. The housing crisis. The last time we went through this, the chaff all sank down, but the people who are succeeding and took advantage of it, man! And they’re still strong today.”
Again, Keith did acknowledge there are socioeconomic factors that can hold people back, this isn’t a matter of blaming victims. It’s just a matter of understanding that everything isn’t doom and gloom, everything isn’t necessarily terrible for everyone, and there may be opportunities that you personally can find if you keep your spirits up and look for them.

Ways agencies should be talking to their clients

Keith has plenty of advice for agencies who have to handhold panicky brands because he does it himself every summer.
“Sales always dry up in the summer. The affiliates are on vacation. Your main customer base is on vacation. Sales go dry in the summer and they come back in October.”
He says he always encourages clients to know this, be ready, and to use the time to build a foundation. Fix all the things that needed fixing at launch that you didn’t have time to fix. Create new marketing campaigns and make sure it’s all done. Go through the data. Handle everything that went on your “when I have time” to-do list. 

“But a huge percentage of people don’t do that. They panic. It’s so funny because I’ll have these conversations in May. Hey, sales are going down next month, here’s what we’re going to do to prep. And they’re like yes. Totally agree. Awesome. Let’s do this. 

June comes and they’re like, we didn’t make any money, aaaaah! They start churning and working harder for less return, and it’s actually worse for the company.”

Yet in spite of this tendency, he’s learned to talk clients through it, and he says you can use similar methods during this downturn.

“It’s important for agencies, when they talk to their clients, to say: look. We understand. This is a downturn. It’s going to be hard. But now is the time to prep for when it gets better. It’s not going to be bad forever. We have all these opportunities.”
Keith also really stresses that positioning matters.
“Agencies need to make sure they are not seen as a cost vector. Paying us does not cost you money. Paying us is an investment in getting more money later down the road.”
He says this has been, in talking to other agencies, the biggest differentiator between people who are keeping, or even getting, more clients, and people who are losing their clients. 
“Are you seen as a cost vector? Or are you seen as a lever to success?”

What’s your right now cause?

Keith’s not focused on charities right now, but he is focused on local businesses, especially restaurants, who really can’t go 100% virtual. 
“We used to never eat out. We now eat out 2-3 times a week, meaning we’re doing pick-up because we want to support the businesses around us so they can have at least some of the benefits we can.”
So true, and what a delicious way to help out! Bon appetite, Keith, and bon appetite to all of you agency owners out there. Get a full stomach for the opportunity hunt ahead.

Connect with Keith Perhac

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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