EF Staff

July 25, 2016

One of the biggest questions I receive as the content manager of Empire Flippers is how to scale up your business and properly groom employees. I was recently chatting with Matt Diggity on this subject, and he offered to write up this great piece on the subject.

If you’ve never worked with Matt, he is a beast when it comes to everything SEO. He manages over 50 profitable websites and thousands of PBN websites for his own link services. He has sold 10 websites with Empire Flippers, handing off each site with a significant payday.

Want to be like Diggity? Well, dig into his post below.

Matt DiggityTake it away, Matt!

If you’re involved in the SEO industry or have been listening to what the media has been saying about it recently, you’ve likely learned that SEO isn’t as easy as it once was. But, let’s be honest, SEO is nothing like it once was.

In order to rank a website these days, you must be on the cutting edge. There is no such thing as the “SEO hobbyist” anymore. Ranking requires staying ahead of an incredibly complex algorithm which was designed by the company with the most PhD’s on the planet. How’s that for odds?

On top of all that, you need an abundance of resources. Whether you’re utilizing white hat SEO content marketing strategies or grey hat PBNs, you’re going to need a very sizable investment in order to get a website off the ground.

Then why, despite these increasing challenges, does SEO continue to grow as an industry?

Because of the margins. For every dollar you put into SEO, you can easily get out hundreds.

In my personal experience, there’s no other industry like it. To scale your income, you simply need to do more of what you’re already doing. If you’re performing SEO for clients, then get more clients. If you’re creating niche affiliate websites, then create more niche affiliate websites.

The Problem with Scaling an SEO Business

Unfortunately, doing more of what works is easier said than done. Managing websites on a large scale creates a unique set of challenges.

My company LeadSpring currently manages over fifty affiliate websites, and we’ve sold more than ten right here on Empire Flippers.

Early on, however, I ran into a huge wall when it came to scaling.

In the beginning, when you’re learning the ropes and ranking your first website, life is as simple as can be. You have one project that you can stay laser focus on every day until it’s solved: how do I get this website ranked?

Since you’re learning, you decide it’s best to take on all the tasks yourself, so you can learn the process hands-on. You write your own content. You do your own link building. Everything is done by you. Eventually the work pays off and you finally succeed in making money online.

After that first win, you begin your first attempts at scaling.

You decide that writing content is eating at your soul so you decide to outsource it. Then perhaps, you start outsourcing the link building by hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to build and manage your PBN.

This frees up a solid 20 hours a week for you to focus on ranking more websites. Congratulations, you’ve managed to offload a ton of tedious SEO work and you now can manage 10 websites. Awesome.

This is the point where I got stuck.

Identifying the Issue

The fundamentals of scaling are quite simple. In order for a business to scale, the directors of the organization need to remove themselves from the operational tasks, which are carried out by others. Only then will the key members of the organization be able to effectively focus on the critical tasks that the business needs to grow.

I knew that, in order to make it to the next level, I needed to focus on three things and three things alone:

  1. Niche selection
  2. SEO testing
  3. Staff management

However, to be able to focus on these areas, I needed to find staff that could take on the high-level SEO tasks that I was holding on to—tasks that take expertise in order to do correctly, such as onsite optimization or anchor text selection.

You see, there’s a huge knowledge gap in the SEO industry. SEO education isn’t standardized. It’s not taught (properly) in universities, so there’s a large discrepancy between what the experts and the amateurs know.

Many industry experts tend to hoard the techniques that work, while the beginners are usually bombarded with false information from shady marketers which causes confusion and inhibits the growth of a solid working methodology.

So, where could I go to find the right help? The beginners and VA’s didn’t have the competence level I was looking for. I needed SEO experts, but how would I get experts on staff when they’re busy growing their own businesses.

You can see the conundrum.

This was my reality until I started redefining the way I was thinking about scaling.

Stop Acting Like a Start Up

Like many entrepreneurs of our generation, the Four Hour Workweek was my bible. The chapters about automation and outsourcing struck home for me in particular. Leveraging cheap labor in the form of VA’s is an extremely effective way to get a new online business off the ground.

But if you’re trying to transition from a start-up into an established business machine, you need to start hiring “the best”. And if “the best” cannot be hired, you need to hire all-stars and train them to be the best.

Remember, the idea here is to hire people that can do what you do now, so you can move on to higher level tasks.

Here’s my proposal on how to accomplish this in the world of SEO and affiliate marketing.

Redefining “VA”: The Virtual Apprentice

Meet Jay. Jay comes from Manilla in the Philippines.

Jay from LeadSpringWe hired Jay 8 months ago as an SEO Project Manager, a full time position. At the time, Jay knew the basics of SEO jargon (backlinks, PBNs, etc.), but had no formal training in SEO.

Today, Jay ranks and manages 15 profitable websites in various niches in multiple countries and in different languages. He can rank anything, in any niche, completely by himself. He’s one of the best SEO’s I know.

The key to Jay’s success was structuring his training with the primary goal of replacing myself completely. I wasn’t looking for someone to handle one-off tasks and busy-work.

What I needed was an apprentice that could do everything that I can do and hopefully surpass me when it comes to SEO.

Now, I’ll be straight with you. Jay is a super smart guy and has an incredible work ethic, which definitely contributes to why he’s such an amazing contribution to my company. That said, we’ve been able to standardize his training as a repeatable process with our LeadSpring Apprentice Program (LAP).

4 Critical Concepts for Training a Virtual Apprentice

1) Anything you can do can be outsourced

In my consultations, I often hear excuses related to outsourcing that go a little something like this: “People can’t do what I can do. It took years of learning, testing, practicing, failing, etc. to get to my level.”

I invite you to look back to when you first started building an online business. You probably knew nothing compared to what you know now, yet somehow you still figured it out. And you likely did so without a mentor.

Step one involves letting go of your ego and understanding that your apprentice can and will get the job done, and—considering they have you as their mentor—it’s very likely that they will do so faster than you and better than you.

Now start to take a look at your most complicated tasks and begin to break them down in smaller pieces. Figure out how the parts of the process can be systematized in order to take the human error out of the equation.

A common example I give of this is anchor text selection. This is one of the most sensitive parts of SEO as it can be a deciding factor in the unbounded success or complete failure of your website.

Complex tasks like anchor text selection CAN BE systematized. I’ll show you how it’s done.

In every niche, Google already tells us exactly what it prefers as the niche-specific target anchor text distribution. We simply need to look at the backlinks of the top 5 people that are ranking and come up with an average.

After that, when it’s time to rank our own sites, all your apprentice needs to do is mimic the average. The “expertise” required for this task is replaced by a simple system.

2) Fly them out and train them personally

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to train someone up to your own level. The most effective way to accomplish this is to sit down with them day-after-day until they can do the tasks you want them to do without your input.

Not to mention, hanging out with your new apprentice and building camaraderie is well beyond the cost of a plane ticket.

I can’t emphasize how important this step is. Don’t overlook the value of working in person with your apprentice.

If you live in the United States and your apprentice is from a country that struggles with obtaining U.S. visa easily, go set up shop in Thailand for a couple of weeks. There’s always a workaround.

3) The Importance of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

You need an operation manual. Everything that is required to rank a website needs to be documented in one single location. This includes:

  1. Keyword research
  2. Onsite optimization
  3. What tools to use and how to use them
  4. How fast to build links
  5. When to send social signals
  6. When to start A/B testing
  7. … and the list goes on.

Having an SOP allows you to have a resource, other than yourself, which your staff can refer to in order to get answers. In a nutshell, it’s a timesaver.

In addition to that, it creates accountability. There’s never an excuse for doing something improperly because the instructions are clearly written down.

Creating a proper SOP is a lot of work, but don’t worry, you won’t be writing it.

When your apprentice flies out to work with you side-by-side, have them take detailed notes and let them know that they’ll be writing an SOP for the purpose of training the apprentices that follow them.

All processes need to be documented clearly, to the point that there is no uncertainty in their execution, and the instructions are simple enough that a child could understand them.

After the training you review the SOP and sign off on the work.

Putting this task on the apprentice’s plate will accomplish two things:

  • They will pay much more attention to your lessons.
  • They’ll see that the better job they do on the SOP, the easier it will be for them to train the apprentices that come after them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the power of SOPs, read the E-Myth Revisited. If I could go back in time and give “Little Matt” any book related to business, it would be this one.

4) Properly Incentivize

During the course of reading this article, I’m sure you’ve thought this at least once by now, “Dude, you’re giving out all the trade secrets. What’s to stop these apprentices from starting their own projects?”

Nothing. In fact, I encourage it. As long as the work is getting done, I have no issues with what is done on my apprentice’s own time. When an apprentice is ready to start their own project, I fully support them with advice and if resources are needed, we work out a partnership.

It should be clear to your apprentice that by taking them under your wing, you’re giving them an incredible gift. You’re teaching them a skill that is not taught in schools and it’s very much guarded by industry experts. In exchange, it’s completely acceptable to ask for a year contract in order to complete the training and get back what you’ve put in.

At LeadSpring, in order to keep retention high and our apprentices enthusiastic an apprentice’s income is proportional to what they can deliver. Whenever a website that an apprentice manages makes its first dollar, the apprentice gets a raise. There is no limit to their salary.

Right now, we’re in a growth mode and we’re putting every penny of our profit back into the business, and the apprentices are currently the highest paid people in the company. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

So, now what to do?

Once you’ve successfully offloaded all of the operational tasks involved in ranking websites, you will have the freedom to focus on the areas of your business that the leader of a company should be focused on.

What that looks like for you is likely much different than what it looks like for me.

In my own experience, once I had the space to focus primarily on niche selection and SEO testing, my results from SEO became much more powerful and much more consistent. My sites rank faster than ever before and the fail rate has dropped to zero. As a result, my business has grown to levels I never thought I could reach.

This all wouldn’t have been possible without the apprentice program that we put in place. Which is why we continue to focus on fostering this program and training the best SEOs we possibly can.

If your goal with your SEO business is to scale past the start-up stages and into the realm of a functioning machine of a business, I encourage you to hire your first apprentice and see just how powerful this growth strategy can be.


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Discussion
Leave a comment
  1. Hafis says:

    Great article Matt. We are preparing our SOP, lol!

  2. James says:

    Curious if you happen to provide your training resources for up and coming SEOs?

  3. Robert Atkinson says:

    Awesome article, Matt!

    I’m pretty much at the exact point you mentioned: Managing 10+ affiliate sites and “stuck.”

    Guess I need to get that apprentice ASAP :)

  4. Arun says:

    Awesome post Matt… Love the SOP concept.

  5. Great post Matt. I’ve been thinking of creating a SOP, but never got around to it. I’ve just been hiring VA’s as needed and used them for very specific tasks so far. I definitely need to get this done to scale things properly though. Thank you for giving me a push.

  6. Karl Singh says:

    Are you looking for anymore apprentices?

  7. Hi Matt,

    Great post and an amazing program you have created with your apprenticeship.

    Dale.

  8. Peter Larsen says:

    Some great tips on scaling up your business. I’m currently running around 50 website but most are projects on hold. They all make a small income but using a VA would certainly help me to get them finished and up to the level I would like them to be. I’ve learnt you can’t do everything yourself. Time is precious and you miss out on so much of life.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Absolutely Peter!

      The more you can delegate and leverage time, the better your sites are going to do. A VA is a good step, and once you have good processes down that are repeatable, it might be time to level up the VA game by using an apprentice program like what Matt is talking about in this post.

  9. Another interesting Post Matt
    Keep it Up !

  10. Alex says:

    Such a brilliant article! I like the profit share idea with the apprentices.

    The SOP is a mountain of work but worth it!

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