Co-Founder and COO
Digital marketing agency specializing in advanced SEO, Paid Ads strategy and execution.
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1. Hello! Who are you, where are you located and what is your business?
My name is Julien Simon and I’m the Co-Founder and COO of 1UP Digital Marketing. We are a boutique digital marketing agency based out of Vancouver, specializing in advanced SEO, Paid Ads strategy and execution, Conversion Rate Optimization, and Tracking/Data Analysis. We excel at turning around underperforming digital marketing campaigns.
While we are based out of Vancouver, we are a remote-first company and have staff in other parts of BC and Canada. Phil Caines is the other Co-Founder and CEO. The rest of our team is made of team leads, account managers, and specialists.
2. What is your backstory and how did you come up with this idea?
Phil and I worked together for a couple of years at another agency . We shared an office for 3 years and got along really well. Phil went on his own and I quit about 3 months later to do the same. When I left, I went traveling for a few months before starting full-time as I didn’t know when my next vacation would come. When I came back from vacation, Phil and I sat down and compared our plans. We were on the same page so decided to join forces and take on this entrepreneur adventure together.
We proceeded to work just the two of us (cue in Bill Withers) for a few years and things went well. We were slowly developing processes and templates and building our reputation until we realized that we were too tied down to day-to-day client work, couldn’t take vacations, and were dreading new leads/clients because we didn’t have any capacity. I’m sure that is a typical journey for entrepreneurs. We decided to invite more people to join the 1UP family of 2 and adopted EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) practices to develop a vision, core values, and systems to help us scale properly. We hired our first employees and in 3 years, we grew from two to ten staff. It’s a fairly slow growth by some standards but we did it organically and in alignment with the growth of our two families (BABIES!).
3. How did you get your first customers?
At first, it was a lot of word-of-mouth from the reputations that we had developed. Then our clients started referring us to more clients which is the ultimate sign of trust and good service. It felt actually pretty easy to acquire new business because we were delivering a very strong service at a good value. The main downside is that we were filling capacity faster than we could build it and were falling behind on some internal processes.
4. Describe the process of launching your agency. What lessons were learned along the way?
Since it was just the two of us at the beginning, the costs were minimal. We were able to start with client work from the get go and didn’t need any funding or loans. We just grew slowly until we decided to reinvest our profits into growing the company.
It is actually incredibly easy to register a name, incorporate, open a business bank account and you’re rolling. We got to work right away and probably went for a drink to celebrate but I don’t even remember that. We didn’t do anything grandiose. In hindsight, we probably should have marked the occasion more. It’s not every day you get to start your own business.
5. Since your early days, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We were lucky that we didn’t need to advertise to attract clients. As mentioned above, we had a handful of clients to start with and they referred us more clients and we were at capacity pretty early on.
Retaining customers was all about being authentic. We really cared about them, were invested in their business and provided them with great value. We developed great relationships and generated strong results which led to customer loyalty. To this day, we still have clients that were with us almost 10 years ago.
6. What were your challenges and obstacles in growing your agency?
Because we had a slow and controlled growth, it was pretty smooth sailing until COVID hit. We lost 60% of our revenue in 3 weeks. I was scared to open any new emails because it was just another client pausing their services. We were heavily invested in the Tourism industry and obviously took a big hit because of that. Having employees rely on us was definitely a huge motivator to move forward and we were able to keep everyone employed during that time. We diversified more and leveraged the explosion of eCommerce and the tech market during COVID to rebound and come out of it stronger. Out of all the clients who paused their services, all but one (who unfortunately went bankrupt) came back to us. That was very touching. It showed the great relationships we were able to forge with them over the years.
Besides that, the main challenge we encountered was with hiring and capacity. When you are such a small team, one person leaving or having a few new clients onboarding at once can make big waves that are not always easy to negotiate.
7. What has been helpful to you to grow your agency?
Having a Co-Founder was key. Phil and I complement each other and balance each other out really well. It’s a huge help to have a sounding board and a partner to celebrate successes (we’re getting better at that one) and support each other in moments of doubts or crunch times.
The first step we took to grow our agency was to read a book called “Traction” and follow the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). Even if it’s not EOS, having a system in place that gives you a clear vision, helps you set goals, core values and holds you accountable for it is key. It’s not cheap but it sure saves a lot of money and time compared to winging it.
Besides that, investing in the right tool and being authentic definitely helped. We are a value driven company (We Care, We Lead, We Have Fun) and we always stayed true to these values. Starting with caring (about employees, clients, partners, the community…) was a founding block to all the relationships we created along the way that paved the road to our success.
8. What is your advice for anyone looking to start an agency?
Before you start, I would urge you to ask yourself: Why are you doing it? It’s not as glamorous as people think and comes with a lot of hard work and stress. I lost a lot of hair in the last 10 years! Here are some advice I would give:
- Find your purpose and your niche
- Get a partner
- Identify your core values and be authentic
- Surround yourself with the right people and pay attention to your rock stars. The wrong people can take up a lot of your time and add a lot of stress.
- Create a system and invest in the tools that will save you time and help you stay organized
9. How are you doing today and what does your future look like?
As mentioned earlier, we lost lost 60% revenue in 3 weeks when COVID hit. However, we were able to rebound nicely and still manage to grow by 5% in 2020. Since then, we grew by 65% in 2021, and are on track to grow by another 55% this year. We are cautiously optimistic about 2023 but the current economic market definitely brings some uncertainties. We’ve seen some mass layoffs in the tech industry and a lot of ecommerce stores slowing down this year.
In the last 3 years, we grew from a team of 4 to 10 and are actively hiring for 3 roles. In the next 3 to 5 years, we expect that number to double and have a team of 20 people.
We would also like to establish more strategic partnerships with companies that offer services relevant to our clients that we don’t want to deliver in-house.
10. What are some of the platforms or tools you use and companies you partner with to save yourself time, money, and hassles?
Some of the tools we use for client work are pretty standard:
- Screaming Frog for technical SEO audit
- SEMRush for SEO and PPC, competitive analysis and more.
- Google Suite for tracking and reporting (GA, Looker Studio, GTM, Google Optimize etc..)
- Mangools: keyword research
Some of the tools we use internally are:
- Asana for task tracking and collaboration
- Xero for bookkeeping with stripe and rotessa for payments.
- Hubstaff for time management and collaboration
- Proposify for proposals
11. What book or podcast recommendations do you have for agency owners?
- Traction: this is the book that made us adopt the EOS system and has played a fundamental role in our company
- Jim Collins wrote a couple of great books: Good to Great and Built to Last.
- We focus a lot on productivity at 1UP so I’d have to name The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
12. Where can we learn more about you? (website, social channels)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/3544042 | https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliensimonseo/