No matter what people tell you, SEO isn’t easy. While plenty of people have the ability to scam others into believing they’re performing SEO just by being a little tech savvy, proper Search Engine Optimization is a skill that takes time and effort to perfect, just like any other skill.
That’s why you should be paying for a true expert to take care of your SEO needs. Eyeflow has been around since 2001, focusing on providing good SEO service before anyone but the techiest amongst us had even heard of the term. CEO/President Phil Laboon sat down with KillerStartups and answered some questions about the birth of Eyeflow, what gets him out of bed in the morning, and some advice for other entrepreneurs.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
For me it wasn’t a choice; it just happened. I started my company at 19 and back then I really just wanted to be an independent consultant. My goal was to have a few clients that I could work for virtually so I could travel and work at my own pace. As I landed more clients I had to hire help and very quickly a company formed.
For me, the benefits of starting my own company were that I could create something that no one else ever has. I am not a musician or an artist, so my company is my creative outlet. I am literally building something that has never existed before, which makes everyday exciting.
What inspired your current startup?
I originally never intended to start my own internet marketing company. The worst job I ever had was as a door to door salesman for a major phone company. It was on commission, knocking door to door to attempt to convince businesses to switch phone companies, even though the switch was more expensive. It was awful and obviously a pyramid scheme, but it did teach me to sell and to sell hard. I did that for months and made several sales but the company went under and never paid me!
Once I was out of vocational school I couldn’t find a job, so I reached out to Pittsburgh web design studios, marketing agencies, and consulting firms to outsource their Internet Marketing to me. I started picking up too many clients to handle on my own and therefore needed to hire help. After a few years I realized I was no longer just a consultant, but had a competitive ablility to compete with any of the large corporations in Pittsburgh.
What makes your startup so killer? How is it different from the competition?
Our process really separates us from our competition. Most people in our industry are offering old, outdated services or plain old “media buy” options – both are not very effective. We, on the other hand, are developing brand new strategies and techniques every month and testing them to see what is the most effective.
Most SEO companies are programmers and web developers, while our team has graphic designers, videographers, content writers, and public relation directors. We feel our creativity really separates us from the herd and shows in our process.
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
Passion drives excitement. While I come up with the direction or strategies, it’s my team that makes the ideas, pitches or campaigns come to life. We have a great team of client relation managers, programmers, graphic designers, project managers, and writers that make sure each client’s unique issues are addressed. A solid team is key for a successful SEO campaign.
If the Internet didn’t exist, what would you be doing?
I probably would have started a company in real-estate purchasing, renting, flipping and remodeling. I own various properties in Florida and Costa Rica. Or I am looking into opening a bar/arcade venture, something that seems to be an exciting area in Pittsburgh right now.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground?
Don’t sell yourself short. Too many startups kill their company before they ever launch because they sold too much equity upfront to get the company up and running. The best advice I can give a start up is try to fund as much as possible out of pocket before getting investors involved. If you do need to seek outside capital, stay clear of a seasoned investor unless you feel comfortable aggressively negotiating.
What has been the biggest startup surprise for you (good or bad)? Have you had any incredible/funny/challenging experiences that you can share with us?
One of the biggest surprises I had was when a trusted partner got greedy and stole a very large amount of money out of our bank account. I thought it would be an open and shut case and I would have the money back in months. Long story short, I have been fighting for several years and won judgements but never received a dime.
How do you handle frustration or disappointment?
Move on. If you’ve tried your best and hardest to have something work out and it doesn’t, face the defeat and learn from it by moving on and applying the lessons learned in the failure to new opportunities. Sometimes the greatest life lessons are failures.
What are the top 3 online tools/websites/devices that you couldn’t live without? (And why?)
SEMrush will give a lot more insights than basic free tools including: data trends, top ranking websites, related keywords, as well as standard keyword data, search volume, competitiveness and etc. This more in depth data gives us an edge when pitching to clients.
I’m also big fan of Moz for their tools and use them a lot as a resources for insights key to our industry. There are so many low quality sites trying to pump out false data about our industry and Moz always seems to do a good job blocking that kind of stuff from their site. I almost always recommend Moz when someone asks where they should start in learning SEO.
The last one would have to be Amazon.com. I buy everything online these days and the majority of the stuff I buy is from either Amazon.com or Reddit. I am a huge fan of Reddit for a good laugh. Everything people post on Facebook usually is posted on Reddit weeks before.
If you had $1 million and one year off, what would you do? (Other than work on your current startup)
I would open a video game arcade bar filled with old school arcade games. Or I would take an entire year off and travel. I would travel to every amusement park I could find. I love theme parks!
How do you maintain work/life balance?
You just have to learn to turn off that side of your brain that’s obsessed with following up with emails, and relax. You owe it to yourself and your peers to take a break to get in touch with reality and recharge, so you are at your best during the work hours.
Who would play you in the movie of your life, and what would be the theme song?
I have been told I have a Jake Gyllenhaal look about me when I don’t shave for a few days, so he would be my go to. As for a theme song I would probably go with Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime.” I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find someone who doesn’t like that song.
How has being an entrepreneur changed you for the better? How has it enriched your life?
I’ve been exposed to so many new things and opportunities and met so many people that I would not have if I had not had taken risks in business like I have. I also have made some great friends.
The challenges I’ve faced along the years have made me a more well rounded individual. When I first started a consulting business I was balancing everything: the sales, billing, client relations, link building, programming, etc. Looking back, it was not very profitable, but it did force me to learn every aspect of the business.
What is the tech scene like where you live?
Pittsburgh is a place to watch out for. Large tech companies like Google, UPMC, and PNC are growing fast and tech startups are coming out of the woodwork. With the fact that Pittsburgh has been at the topping Forbes list for “Most Livable city” every year, you can’t deny that there is some real potential here and opportunity to incubate cash strapped startups.
Share advice for developing a partnership with a more experienced entrepreneur.
Add value. Do not just approach someone and ask for help. Instead, see what you can do to add value to whatever it is they are doing. I’ve noticed that many “old school” successful people struggle with emerging technologies, so a great approach would be
This shows you are not just trying to get a handout but that you are willing to put in time and effort in return. Remember: anyone who is successful probably is busy so they value their time immensely.
This is exactly how I got my start with a distributor, with almost no online marketing. I found a small but growing company that had a great product. I worked with the company for almost a year helping them with online brochures, videos, and a corporate website and by the end I didn’t just know the industry inside and out but also learned a huge amount about marketing a product from the ground up. Without that knowledge it would have been very difficult for me to consult on other businesses.
Where can our readers find you?
How can the KillerStartups community help YOU?
I would love feedback on the free materials we create. Every month we are making infographics, ebooks, how-to guides or even software (SEOzio.com). Instead of buying advertising we typically spend our marketing budget on making some cool educational content and it’s important to get user feedback.