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In this episode of Marketing Nerds, Brent Csutoras, SEJ’s Chief Social Media Strategist, joined SEJ Executive Editor Kelsey Jones to talk about how to manage multiple online businesses effectively.
I own a couple of companies and you do, too. I wanted to talk a little bit more about how you manage all that because I think in the marketing and digital realm, that’s a lot more common.
Brent: I think the big question is going to be “How do you manage them effectively?” I don’t know if I necessarily do that, but I’m happy to share. I’ve managed to build and fail and succeed, and abandoned the various companies and projects along the way.
Kelsey: It’s a lot of trial and error. You own both Pixel Road Designs and Kairay Media. Pixel Road is more of graphic designs and infographic, and Kairay is social media. Correct?
Brent: Yes. I had created a consultancy probably ten plus years ago when I first started in social. At first, I called it Brent Csutoras, just Brent Csutoras Inc. Then when I was involved in the roll-up of BlueGlass for a short period, that company was essentially acquired, and so when I did that, I needed to make another company to manage a couple of websites I had. My son’s middle name is Kairay so I just threw together Kairay Media.
Once I separated from BlueGlass after about a year, I ended up utilizing that company to do my consulting work under. Then Pixel Road Designs — a full-service design firm doing websites, logos, anything that has to do with design. Then of course, Alpha Brand Media. I was a founder of Alpha Brand Media which owns Search Engine Journal. I am also involved with a startup app named GoRomeo right now, and I have a couple other projects as well that I’m starting.
Is there a rhyme or reason to create a separate company? Is there a strategy behind why you would want to separate it out?
Brent: Really, just longevity of the companies themselves. When we talk about being in a marketing space and seeing opportunities, a lot of it is just literally an opportunity, right? I have the consultancy company. I need to create designs. I started creating infographics, and I was very unsatisfied.
I couldn’t find a company to create infographics for me, so I found designers that I felt understood marketing, and I started nurturing them to create graphics for me. Over time, my friends would be like, “Oh, I like this graphic that you did. Could you do one for me?” and I was like, “Sure. No problem.” Then it started to be something where I would charge a little bit extra just for the headache, and before I knew it, I had a company. But we didn’t even launch a website for three years. It was just something I created to create designs for myself. At a certain point, we started getting bigger clients. We did the Olympics. We did Warner Bros. logos. We did Playboy. We did Bed Bath & Beyond. We started getting a lot of pretty big clients also through my connections from being a speaker and a consultant.
We started getting some pretty big brands, and I was like, “You know what? We’re obviously doing something right.” Everybody was happy with what we were doing, so I put a forward phase on it and launched it as an individual company. Not because they couldn’t be together, but because I didn’t want it to be another agency thing. I wanted it to be a design firm that could exist on its own and do design without being completely tied to marketing.
Kelsey: That makes sense and that’s what I did with StoryShout. I have my consultancy, MoxieDot, and Search Engine Journal is my full-time job. But then I do SEO and content and social media for a few clients, and then I wanted to launch a content agency that specializes just in news for brands’ websites, and that’s exactly what you’re saying. That’s exactly why I created a different company. It’s because it was a very specialized service that was different even from what I was offering already, and so I think the separation does help if you’re going to be offering a very niche service or something very specific. It helps clients understand it better versus “Oh, I’m under one umbrella and I do six different things.”
Brent: It also comes down to if you’re an entrepreneur, then you’re thinking about the future. There’s an importance to having a passion in what you work on and a passion for projects you engage in. But ultimately, when I look at a company, I start thinking about “What’s my goal? What do I want to get from this company?”
If I want to sell it, one thing I’ve learned is that if you package the company from a brand name and a structure, a company is not just about the product. It’s about the infrastructure. It’s about the employees. It’s about the ability for somebody to come in, take it over, and replace you and be successful. The more you can think about your projects as individual companies and set them up that way, the more you set yourself up for success in being able to remove yourself from it in the future.
Kelsey: Exactly. That’s what I did with StoryShout. I don’t write any of the content. I just talk to the clients, and then everything else, I have someone else do because like you said, I wanted to set it up where I was hands-off. It was this great idea, and I thought it’d be a cool company, but I don’t necessarily want to do all the work. I want to hire great people to do it for me, so I agree with you on that.
What’s your average day like? Do you spend more time on certain companies than others or does it just depend on what’s going on during that month or that time of the year?
Brent: I don’t know that my process is necessarily the right way. I will be quick to say I am not necessarily the best biz dev guy. I’m not necessarily the best operations guy, so I don’t spend as much time setting up the proper structure or doing the things that I really should be doing. But for me, I don’t treat them respectively as individual companies. I look at what I have to do for all of them to just succeed.
My to-do list is segmented by the company. But when it comes to what I’m going to accomplish for the day, it’s really based on what’s going to have the most impact for any of them.
Kelsey: Yeah. Prioritizing your tasks instead of treating everything the same because usually, most tasks aren’t the same in terms of priority and importance.
Brent: Also, if you find that one company tends to take a lot of your priority, if it tends to get on your calendar or your list a lot, that’s probably because there’s a lot of opportunities there. There’s a lot of opportunity for improvement, opportunity for sales, opportunity for growth. If you have a certain company that’s really taking a lot of your energy, it’s because there’s a lot of opportunities there for you and you shouldn’t ignore that.
I know that your companies are virtual and you have some employees all over the world which I do too, and so does Search Engine Journal. How has that helped your companies grow and what are the benefits to hiring outside of the U.S. or a combination of U.S. and international employees?
Brent: I’ve looked at a lot of the variants between working in an office and working remote. I’ve looked at a lot of the pros and cons that people mention. You have to find, not even somebody who’s responsible, but somebody who understands self-motivation and understands the feeling of saying “I’m not just accomplishing my task list.” Because when you’re not in front of somebody, you don’t end up following up with them as much.
I don’t like to outsource cheap. For me, it’s really about the employee, not the pricing. But what I do find is that in certain areas like Philippines, Brazil, Serbia — those are areas where people have two or three degrees, are fluent in English, have really good work ethic — their rate is significantly more advantageous than a bad employee in the U.S. So it makes it a little easier when you’re looking for certain roles to be more cost-effective. I think that I am also really big about, when I’m hiring, finding people who need the opportunity.
It’s like you need them and they need you, and it has to be a balance of those two things. So when I look for people, I’m looking for somebody who this is an opportunity for them. This is something that I want to say changes their life, improves their life.
Kelsey: Yeah. I love that, the idea that you said of needing each other in a way. Because in my experience with MoxieDot, when I’ve tried to hire people for as cheap as possible, it never works out because I feel like the rate that you pay people, it does impact their work a lot of times.
Brent: The another thing that I think is really important is I don’t think people look at employee hiring enough as like a friend. There’s reasons for that, because if you bring somebody into an environment, you like them but everybody else that works for you doesn’t, that’s a toxic environment. So I think you have to look at people like almost as bringing somebody into your family, and I think look at making them a part of your culture.
Do you think that being well-known or a thought leader in marketing and SEO and social media like you have, do you think that’s helped you grow multiple businesses at once?
Brent: I don’t know that it helps everyone, but it helped me, because I’m not very good at traditional lead gen. I’m not very good at setting up forms and landing pages and going out and doing PPC, and going out and doing the CRM systems and all. I’m not a good salesman.
If you didn’t have the visibility, it might be tough to run multiple ones. So yes, I think it’s helped me personally. But if you were looking to do multiple companies, it’s not something that you have to be necessarily well-known to do. You just have to know your acquisition channel, like your lead acquisition channel. Mine is talking to people in person, so mine is speaking.
Kelsey: Maybe focusing on what you’re good at, instead of you have to speak at conferences or you have to know a lot of people. On the flip side, if you’re a really, really, really good writer but you’re not a good speaker, you could use that to your advantage to grow your thought leadership that way, so maybe focusing more on what you’re naturally gifted at.
Brent: I would throw in a twist that regardless of what you’re doing, it’s important to remember that at a certain point, business is not about skill sets and qualifications. It’s about who you know. A lot of sales and a lot of success, in general, can be accredited back to your network. A lot of it comes through personal relationship. So as much as I say you don’t need to necessarily go to a conference, you don’t necessarily need to have that, I think it’s extremely beneficial to force yourself to go to some local meet-ups and to join your chamber of commerce. Go to a conference or two, spend some time online connecting because ultimately, you’re going to find some of your biggest breaks are going to come just to that.
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