This interview is dedicated to those of you who are looking into internet-related franchise opportunities. While SearchMarketMe is not a franchise, it will appeal to those who wish to receive the kind and amount of support and guidance that a typical franchisor would provide. SearchMarketMe is a Seattle, Washington-based training and support organization that assists entrepreneurs in opening and operating independently-owned and independently-branded internet marketing agencies around the world. SearchMarketMe’s 104 Agency Owners are located in North America, the Middle East and Africa.
Boyd Karren, President and CEO of SearchMarketMe, is a former owner of two advertising agencies and a former director/manager at two “Top 100” agencies. He also has other small business ownership experience. Boyd earned his MBA at Indiana University, and Master’s in Global Management (with Honors) at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you tell us how SearchMarketMe got its start?
Boyd Karren (BK): Founded in 2007, SearchMarketMe was originally an internet marketing agency. Its founder was so skilled in internet marketing that people began asking her to teach them how to do internet marketing work. Seeing that there was greater opportunity in helping others start their businesses, SearchMarketMe reinvented itself as a training and support organization for entrepreneurs opening and operating their own internet marketing agencies.
By 2009, SearchMarketMe had already assisted 50 individuals in opening their internet marketing agencies, and at the end of 2011, that number had exceeded 100.
In January 2010, a team of investors and I purchased SearchMarketMe from its founder. We’ve since added a small business management training curriculum, and placed significant emphasis on a sustainable business model for solopreneurs called “The Money U.”
FC: What are some of the things that set SearchMarketMe apart from traditional internet marketing franchise opportunities?
BK: Internet marketing franchises sell you a sales job (selling for them). SearchMarketMe provides you with a business opportunity designed to eventually operate successfully without your day-to-day involvement. Our ultimate goal is to help you build an internet marketing agency that someone else will want to buy from you. We have a “build it to sell it” mentality.
Owners of internet marketing franchises have nothing to sell later, because they themselves are the business, and that’s not an attractive investment for the next buyer.
FC: What are your thoughts on the competitive landscape of the internet marketing industry today? How are your Agency Owners able to compete?
BK: In my view, there are two types of competition: 1) traditional advertising agencies that are trying to add internet marketing services and 2) single-operator internet marketing “franchisees” that send work to a central fulfillment center.
Having come from the world of traditional advertising agencies, I know that many existing agencies are having difficulty making the switch to “new” permission-based, in-bound lead marketing. It’s a major shift in thinking for them. They know they need to adapt, but they don’t quite know how to, or where to go for the training and support they need. They’re largely unprepared and the owners of those businesses have to rely more and more on young staffers and freelancers — which is less than
ideal for establishing consistency and sustainability in work quality.
Single-operator internet marketing “franchisees” only have to know more about internet marketing than the people they’re selling to, because all the technical work is sent to a central fulfillment house. They make their money re-selling the master franchisor’s work, living on the margins. While it seems like a good idea to send all the work to a single fulfillment center, it can be a dangerous and vulnerable position for the franchisees, because the master franchisor — in order to maximize profits — has reasons to keep the production team (overhead) minimally staffed, and with the least costly people possible, and following a basic template for internet marketing activities that may simply miss greater opportunities that a more skilled marketer could easily identify.
The SearchMarketMe Agency Owners can and do compete very well against both of these groups for two reasons: 1) The training and support that SearchMarketMe provides, and 2) The owner-level collaboration and assistance available among the Network of 100+ Agency Owners.
Our training and support program provides technical know-how in all six channels of internet marketing, sales training for selling internet marketing services and small agency business management training. This training allows a SearchMarketMe Agency Owner to operate successfully as a single-person agency for as long as they choose, before scaling up to become a larger agency.
The Agency Owner Network provides an always-available, on-demand network of expert help and fulfillment assistance to meet any need and challenge. Having access to 100+ other partner/owner level people is a huge advantage.
FC: What are the different stages in the life of a typical internet marketing agency? Can you describe the first year of a typical agency?
BK: We talk about it like pushing a car. At first it takes significant effort and energy to get it to budge, but it will, and as you continue to push and apply effort it becomes easier, and then, finally at some point, its own momentum will carry it forward and you’ll be chasing after it! Our training and support helps steer and control the car so it never gets away from you.
BK: Well, there certainly are a lot of “hucksters” out there promising to get you first place on Google, “guaranteed.” If you ever encounter someone guaranteeing placement on Google, put your hand over your wallet and back away slowly. You don’t want what they’re selling.
FC: Based on your experience, do most franchisees have realistic expectations about the amount and type of effort needed to be successful in this field?
BK: I think they do, yes. There is no hurry when investigating the SearchMarketMe program. All investigators get ample opportunity to check us out, speak to existing Agency Owners about their respective experiences, and gain a clear picture of what is required to be successful in this program.
FC: Can you describe the ideal internet marketing Agency Owner? What skills or attributes are required to be successful?
BK: Enthusiasm and (friendly) tenacity. We have people from various backgrounds and work histories enjoying success as SearchMarketMe Agency Owners, from sales and technical backgrounds both. Those that are doing best financially are those who understand the need to focus on a specialty, industry or geography — and go at it with friendly tenacity.
FC: What are some of the things you are doing to help your Agency Owners become profitable?
BK: Everything we do is intended to help our Agency Owners to enjoy profitability (training, support). However, our “Money U” business model is perhaps the most effective collaborative working arrangement in existence for single-operator agencies. The collaborative network is a support structure for single-operator agencies that maximizes their opportunity to get established, achieve stability, and grow revenues and profits. It is a revolutionary business model that sets people up for success.
FC: What are your goals for SearchMarketMe in the next few years and how do you plan to grow your business?
BK: We will continue to grow, but sensibly. We don’t care about becoming the biggest this or that in the world. Instead, we want to be the BEST internet marketing business opportunity in the world — providing the greatest value, growth and profitability to our network of Agency Owners.
FC: Is there anything else you wish to share about SearchMarketMe?
BK: SearchMarketMe is the only internet marketing business opportunity in the world with a “build it to sell it” mentality. We don’t just sell you a job (as the franchisors do). Instead, we provide you with an opportunity to build an internet marketing business that can operate successfully without you, and which may be attractive to a future buyer.