Built and Operate Portfolio of Sites Making Over $25M Annually - AMA

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Benni

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I'm still a pretty new member here, but BuSo has fast become one of my favorite forums for meeting makers. Everyone I've met on here has been genuine and hungry.

My core focus for the past 18 months has been on strategic partnerships (investing either time or money, or occasionally both) in companies that are making money but have hit a ceiling -AND- on building more of my own standalone products.

My goal is revenue stream diversification, and it's been working pretty well. My main sources of revenue on the day to day are the company's where I'm a W2 employee (in addition to being a vested equity partner) with cash-outs coming quarterly or annually in the form of partner distributions.

I am a partner/owner/investor in 3 Ecommerce businesses (2 operate 1 site each; 1 CPG the other is in the local service niche, the other operates 4), a founding partner at a software products company (we build custom CMS's and operate a few category leader websites in Germany, Philippines, Japan, and Brazil), part-owner of a new sports infoproduct company (sold as SaaS, i.e. monthly reoccurring subscriptions) that's ~4 months old at $50k MRR, and an active investor in growth-stage tech company's

All of the growth in my ventures has come through a heavy mix on customer acquisition and retention leverage search and UX.

My core focus area is keyword research and CRO - I'm happy to lend any information that I possibly can to help any fellow entrepreneurs / digital marketers.

Obligatory screenshots of my main gigs (all Ecommerce): https://www.buildersociety.com/threads/the-bragging-thread-inspire-a-newbie.171/page-2#post-2589
 

Callum Short

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Awesome to have you here Benni.

How did you initially start gaining capital? presumably your ability to have investments and equity in additional online ventures were enabled by an initial cash-flow, if this is the case I'd love to know more about that initial channel of income. Where did it come from? How did you get into it? Thanks.
 

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This forum is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious, information rich resources for online entrepreneurs. Christ, I can't believe I have this opportunity to pick the brains of so many millionaires and established marketers...

Don't have questions right now (don't know where to start), but appreciate that you're here and willing to share and inspire.
 

dwa

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My core focus area is keyword research and CRO - I'm happy to lend any information that I possibly can to help any fellow entrepreneurs / digital marketers

I think keyword research is the 'starting point' of everything. What do you think is something that is vital and important when doing research on the niche.

Thanks a lot for allowing people to pick your brains. :smile:
 
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Interested in learning how you started building momentum. Was there anything specifically that you had to change before seeing these successes?
 

RomesFall

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Welcome back Benni!

I do have a question :smile:

- Since focusing in the last 18 months on strategic partnerships for revenue stream diversification, how much of an impact has that had on your business? Both revenue wise and process wise. Are there any sage pieces of advice you have for someone who is at the very start of going down that road?
 

emp

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You posted this in the bragging thread:

[don't link to images, embed them]

My question would be .. how did you change your sites to arrive at this improved conversion rate?
Or just Xmas?

::emp::
 
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My core focus for the past 18 months has been on strategic partnerships (investing either time or money, or occasionally both) in companies that are making money but have hit a ceiling -AND- on building more of my own standalone products.

1.) How do you identify a company which has hit a 'ceiling' (or do they come to you for assistance)

2.) What steps do you go through to verify there is, indeed, more room for growth

3.) What do you look for in an actual partner (as in the person) which makes/breaks a deal

Thanks for the AMA, looking forward to this one.
 
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My core focus area is keyword research

Hello @Benni
You mentioned your focus area was Keyword research. Do you have a different way of approaching keyword research that has seldomly been mentioned in the IM world? If so, can you elaborate on it more in detail.
 

chaddicus.

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You look just like Andrew Garfield.

698291597521044002.jpg

So there's that.

But moving on, when you focus on customer acquisition, what is the main platform or system you use to reach potential customers -- SEO aside?

I'd also be interested in how you got your start, what partnerships you feel comfortable forming, ect. Basically just seconding what the others have asked. Thanks brah.
 

Benni

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Awesome to have you here Benni.

How did you initially start gaining capital? presumably your ability to have investments and equity in additional online ventures were enabled by an initial cash-flow, if this is the case I'd love to know more about that initial channel of income. Where did it come from? How did you get into it? Thanks.
Hey Callum - My first investments were all sweat in exchange for equity. S I would contribute hours each week working on picking up more traffic and monetizing that traffic in exchange for a revenue share or founders stock in the company. Many businesses are willing to do this, with the revenue share option (either class b stock with a dividend stipulation or straight revenue share percentage when distributions are made) being how cash is accumulated.

I certainly wouldn't recommend this to anyone, and I always had a full time job when doing this - these were basically my nights and weekends and I had to contribute a lot more hours up front (sometimes 20+ per week) to get these deals done on sites with decent existing users or operating revenue. For sites already making money I would negotiate my percentage to initially be a percentage of the difference from existing revenue levels to the increases I would track and attribute to my campaigns.

Eventually this started to pay off and after 6 months I could expect a check for a few thousand dollars. One of the most important elements was that I kept all this "investment-generated" revenue in a separate account and didn't pay attention to it, I just let it accrue over ~2 years before I ever touched it.

How do you stay organized?
I use a mix of PM tools including Basecamp, Trello, and Jira.

I have trello boards for almost all of my projects where I'm in charge of managing timelines of overall implementation of new functionality / views / etc. Trello has worked very well for content, but I've found for development priority management it's not great and prefer Jira which has way more infrastructure to support the nuances included in building software.

For anything client facing, i.e. when you need to depend on an external party to make decisions or move a project along, I use basecamp. I'm far from a BC fan-boy, but the simple interface and notification system tied to it does make it an easy tool for this particular aspect.

*My Most Important Tool*
Is the simplest of all. Email. Starting out on one of my big software projects that was angel funded I was introduced to "the status email" which is one of the most powerful and scalable aspects of project management I've ever used.

It was introduced to me when my software team was only me and 3 people, with the biggest focus being on the format; 3 sections, bullets points in each, sent during the last 5 minutes of your day to your immediate superior.

The angel investor asked me to send one of these emails to him at the end of my day (whenever that was) every day I was working. The emails were to include a first section called "Accomplishments" where I was to list out the specific items I had completed or made progress on that day. A second section call "Roadblocks" where I listed anything that was upstream and holding up progress on specific parts of the project. And lastly "Questions" - which is pretty self-explanatory, but was a place for me to ask any important or pressing questions and have the chance to have them answered before the next work day.

This is Huge.

It scales. As my software company grew to 8, 15, 20, 30, and eventually 42 people, each subordinate in a department would be required to write one of these for their department head (again, they are only supposed to take 5 minutes) at the very end of their day. The department heads were required to write one of these for the PM's of those departments, and then my PM's would each write one for me. I would have 5 emails at the end of the day that would be representative of progress and roadblocks company-wide.

This forum is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious, information rich resources for online entrepreneurs. Christ, I can't believe I have this opportunity to pick the brains of so many millionaires and established marketers...

Don't have questions right now (don't know where to start), but appreciate that you're here and willing to share and inspire.
I couldn't agree more. My favorite part is how humble and willing to help everyone here has been.

I'm here when you're ready and more than happy to help.

I think keyword research is the 'starting point' of everything. What do you think is something that is vital and important when doing research on the niche.

Thanks a lot for allowing people to pick your brains. :smile:
My pleasure :smile:

I think one of the most important and frequently glossed-over concepts is rank potential, or in other words, based on your available assets, resources, and capital, where is it realistic that you can rank for a particular keyword. This requires an understanding of competitive analysis but also some common sense; if you're gunning for an informational term and the top 5 are locked down by wikipedia and about.com, while there's some things you can try to crack the intent-signaling of that SERP - it's not going to be a profitable place to focus.

I actually cover this pretty extensively in my kw training course.

Interested in learning how you started building momentum. Was there anything specifically that you had to change before seeing these successes?
Momentum built up (initially) slowly over time, and came mostly from networking. I focused on building my personal reputation in the space while meeting (and helping) as many people as possible.

Many years ago at this point i heard someone mention the idea of if you want to make a million dollars, help a million people, and that really stuck in my head for a long time.

Your second question is actually one of my favorites, and one that has the most un-exciting, non-sexy answer; I had to start scaling back to focus on the golden tickets. There's a large number of ways to crack the million dollar net worth threshold, and in the software world these are often referred to as "ticket collections."

You can have 10 bronze tickets, 3-5 silver tickets, or 1 golden ticket. I spent way too much of my time chasing the golden ticket (though everyone should) and actually developed a FOMO on my golden ticket opportunity. So I tried to keep a hand in every good idea that came across my inbox. I was spreading myself too thin and not contributing to really moving the needle on my commitments.

So I had to do what no one ever wants to do, and respectfully bow out of some of my initial obligations. Over time I came to realize that these really weren't great projects for me to be focusing my time and talents on anyway; either they were lackluster products being kept alive by a great leader, or they were stellar products with the wrong person at the helm. IME either scenario is never going to lead to that golden ticket opportunity.

My big change was to shift away from pure startups and start to focus on projects that were in or fast-approaching a growth phase; so there was already money coming in the door, even if only a little bit. The projects that already had paying customers had already found, even if only minimally, PMF (product-market fit), and it was much easier to iterate and crank traffic to these to see what was going to work versus what was going to fail.

Failing is absolutely OK, and a *big* part of JFDI, you just have to be careful to fail fast, don't let your ego get in the way, and move on to the next one.

Welcome back Benni!

I do have a question :smile:

- Since focusing in the last 18 months on strategic partnerships for revenue stream diversification, how much of an impact has that had on your business? Both revenue wise and process wise. Are there any sage pieces of advice you have for someone who is at the very start of going down that road?
Thrilled to be here after my short hiatus island hopping for the holidays (needed to clear my head and prep for a big 2015).

I have founding partners at my main gigs (I was not the founder of any of the 3 main Ecommerce businesses I have a hand in running and growing) so they have seen less of me over the past 18 months BUT the time we've spent together has been on big picture items far more than the nitty gritty of the day to day; which I'm not a fan of. My personality is such that I create much better results when focusing on macro strategy and management opposed to operations. So it has allowed me to stay motivated and excited to lend ideas and manage campaigns, without getting bogged down in the minutia of the business.

The net impact is revenue for all business grew in 2014, but for my flagship company we went from 1 warehouse and 11 employees to 2 warehouses and 22 employees. With a 3 west coast warehouse opening Q1 this year. Overall revenue for this company is up ~30% and we've found ways to leverage the software we've built to run the business to create additional profits for the company. All of which is a testament to focusing on the most important pieces of the business - and not being scared to try new things to find profits.

If I could go back and do it over again from the very start there's 3 things I would have paid a LOT more attention to:

1) Surround yourself with people whose interests (and goals) align with your own. Many times I would meet smart folks and try to find ways to work together. This came mostly out of the Ben Franklin school of thought "hire smart people, figure out what they'll do later." Which I still love in general, but when it comes to building valuable assets - this doesn't work so well. Several times I have ended up in engagements where things began to pause or falter because someone lacked the same drive, motivation, or vision I had for the project, and began to slack.

2) Put people you trust in critical roles. Whether you need to bring on from other company's, or you need to completely re-position a person's career (which can sometimes strain relationships and cost a lot of money) - make sure you fully trust every one of your key point guards. I've taken guys away from their family restaurant business and put them in charge of content teams and seen huge results. Look for people with the characteristics you need, not necessarily experience doing what you need. Smart folks will learn quickly and tend to be more auto-didactic when given these opportunities, which leads right into my last point:

3) Only partner with those who have true *GRIT*

This is the greatest challenge of all, because you are not going to discover this until these people are tested. Grit, to me, is being willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the time. It's the ability to understand that Rome wasn't built in a day and that you cannot be short-sighted when building big assets. You need to take the long road, invest in the best people, services, and solutions - and don't look for quick wins when waiting 30/60/90 days more could have doubled your profits.

I'm struggling with a scenario right now where one of my founding partners (at a lead gen company we started together) isn't pulling their weight. Not because he doesn't want to, because I don't think he has it in him. He's *not* the self-starter I thought he was. He doesn't go and create luck and create fortune. He is too satisfied with where we're at, the money we're making, and at the passive nature of the lead gen sites we run.. this is like a poison to me and to the business. I'm not insatiable, but we're so far from where we could be that this eats at me - and has taught (and re-enforced) a mistake I will never make again.

You posted this in the bragging thread:

http://screencast.com/t/IUPFEFoN7ZfF

My question would be .. how did you change your sites to arrive at this improved conversion rate?
Or just Xmas?

::emp::
Hey man - great to see you in here. The conversions in that specific screenshot are actually diluted. We had just put out a new piece of content that started picking up traffic (as you can see toward the end of that period) and this actually proved to be not the most qualified traffic, skewing the conversion rate for the time period down from it's usual 1.5%.

1.) How do you identify a company which has hit a 'ceiling' (or do they come to you for assistance)

2.) What steps do you go through to verify there is, indeed, more room for growth

3.) What do you look for in an actual partner (as in the person) which makes/breaks a deal

Thanks for the AMA, looking forward to this one.

These are great questions:

1) I have set up a number of channels to allow me to always be on the lookout for these kinds of opportunities. I get introduced to a lot of operating businesses through Clarity.FM, my blog, and one of my SEO specific lead-gen sites. These 3 channels, outside of personal introductions, allow me to find and analyze new search-based businesses each week.

2) I like to think of this as the Warren Buffet question; when Warren Buffet buys a new company for BH, he almost always gets asked the same thing by the selling CEO: "Do you really believe you can grow this business?" and his answer is always the same "Of course! Why else would I be buying it?"

Each vertical market has it's own nuances, but generally I look for specific areas of underperformance if I'm going to buy or invest:
  • Lack of penetration in verticals with high volume or high value search traffic
  • Lack of marketing automation or software to support key tasks and lead generation
  • Lack of conversions due to; poor design, poor positioning (call to actions), poor paid ad spend, or poor pricing strategy
3) Please refer to points in https://www.buildersociety.com/thre...s-making-over-25m-annually-ama.486/#post-4625

You look just like Andrew Garfield.

698291597521044002.jpg

So there's that.

But moving on, when you focus on customer acquisition, what is the main platform or system you use to reach potential customers -- SEO aside?

I'd also be interested in how you got your start, what partnerships you feel comfortable forming, ect. Basically just seconding what the others have asked. Thanks brah.
Ha I don't know about all that.

It's really specific for each product / vertical but I'll give you some examples:

1) For our software platform I use events and Clarity.fm; this let's me listen for problems that our software solves, and keeps the barrier for selling low. I'm never promoting our solution or asking for the sale - instead I talk through the person's problem, and I explain how we solve the same issues. One of the biggest selling points for other Ecommerce owners is that I'm an ecommerce owner NOT just some software guys toting a piece of software. The best case study in the world is being able to point to your own growing business, connect on pain point *because you've actually experienced them* and explain how you solve the problem.

2) For a sports related infoproduct I own we use Facebook and Twitter to test messaging, free trial offers, and pricing. Facebook has actually been working *really* well for customer acquisition at an average CPA of under $4 with average LTV at over $200. We also leak traffic from other forums using a combination of controversial blog posts and commentbait.

3) For my safety company where search is far and away our most valuable channel (including remarketing), this is going to come as a shocker - bur snail mail. We include catalogs in every offer that ships and we use them to introduce new products. This is actually how we test new products (using dropshipping from the manufacturers) before committing to the risk of bringing in inventory.

I got my start hammering the phones for a big investment house. I learned the value of selling in person and over the phone, and over the years started to bring more and more of the techniques that were effective in getting prospects psychologically invested in person, online.

My initial partnerships were almost always my time in exchange for equity (no cash), and then as my time became worth more and more these grew into me offering a discount in exchange for equity (i.e. my usual retainer for 10 hours per week is $20k/mo, but I have one deal going where I'm charging $10k/mo and the other 10k is building toward vested equity at a discounted valuation ($1.8M versus market valuation at $2M) so I'll pick up almost 5 points in 12 months.

Hope that's what you were looking for brah :smile:
 
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Hi benni,

I'm just starting out to build my site. I would like to ask what you what was your greatest motivation when you first started out in IM? before the success, before all the experience you gained to make informed decisions, before the money started rolling in.

Many times for me, the fear of failure, or the failed attempt to find a solution for a mental roadblock holds me back from working outside my comfort zone.

So I guess my real question is: What motivated you to work outside of your comfort zone when you were starting out?
 
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I use a mix of PM tools including Basecamp, Trello, and Jira.

I have trello boards for almost all of my projects where I'm in charge of managing timelines of overall implementation of new functionality / views / etc. Trello has worked very well for content, but I've found for development priority management it's not great and prefer Jira which has way more infrastructure to support the nuances included in building software.

For anything client facing, i.e. when you need to depend on an external party to make decisions or move a project along, I use basecamp. I'm far from a BC fan-boy, but the simple interface and notification system tied to it does make it an easy tool for this particular aspect.

*My Most Important Tool*
Is the simplest of all. Email. Starting out on one of my big software projects that was angel funded I was introduced to "the status email" which is one of the most powerful and scalable aspects of project management I've ever used.

It was introduced to me when my software team was only me and 3 people, with the biggest focus being on the format; 3 sections, bullets points in each, sent during the last 5 minutes of your day to your immediate superior.

The angel investor asked me to send one of these emails to him at the end of my day (whenever that was) every day I was working. The emails were to include a first section called "Accomplishments" where I was to list out the specific items I had completed or made progress on that day. A second section call "Roadblocks" where I listed anything that was upstream and holding up progress on specific parts of the project. And lastly "Questions" - which is pretty self-explanatory, but was a place for me to ask any important or pressing questions and have the chance to have them answered before the next work day.

This is Huge.

It scales. As my software company grew to 8, 15, 20, 30, and eventually 42 people, each subordinate in a department would be required to write one of these for their department head (again, they are only supposed to take 5 minutes) at the very end of their day. The department heads were required to write one of these for the PM's of those departments, and then my PM's would each write one for me. I would have 5 emails at the end of the day that would be representative of progress and roadblocks company-wide.

A wealth of information, thanks for being part of the community and sharing so much.
In relation to the email, this is simple and is based on the same principal. Works wonders in a team https://www.teamsnippets.com/
 

Benni

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Hi benni,

I'm just starting out to build my site. I would like to ask what you what was your greatest motivation when you first started out in IM? before the success, before all the experience you gained to make informed decisions, before the money started rolling in.

Many times for me, the fear of failure, or the failed attempt to find a solution for a mental roadblock holds me back from working outside my comfort zone.

So I guess my real question is: What motivated you to work outside of your comfort zone when you were starting out?
Whats up builder - My start came from a mix of curiosity and a need to do my job (well, keep my job). At the time I was a year out of college and was a MarCom manager for a software startup. Before that I was buying buildings for a private REIT and my idea of marketing was taking people out to fancy dinners and places with lots of girls...

I was introduced to a .NET CMS and had to learn how to manage a website fast (again, as my job now depended on it). I dove into html/css and starting breaking shit. I broke all kinds of pages and functionality and quickly learned the importance of 1) backing up, i.e. compulsively hitting the save button, and 2) copying and pasting my raw mark-up into a blank email (which I still do as part of a bad habit that was developed, mostly out of fear).

I immersed myself in tech publications, again mostly out of a fear that it would be discovered I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and started finding new things. After a few months I had built a few more sites (a handful more on the CMS I was getting used, cmScribe), a forum on vBulletin, a site on BBpress, and setup a personal site for myself on wordpress.com.

I was still wet behind the ears but I was at least starting to feel a bit more comfortable. It was around this time I met Mike. Mike was younger than me, better looking than me, and making way more money than me. Mike was barely a tech guy, and at best a copy and paste developer (which to this day is what I consider myself), but he managed to carve out a niche for himself; generating leads for commercial real estate leases.

He had a shitty brand, a shitty website, and was making money hand over fist. This was frustrating. His lead-gen model was simple; use AdWords to bid for commercial addresses on a specific set of high-intent keywords, position yourself as a rep for the building, get contact info, sell to property management company's. I was pissed. What the fuck didn't I think of that?

Nothing motivates me like seeing something I know I can do better. I realized that I had just enough capability to build sites of my own, and I could afford to spend a bit of money to get going. I bought some decent domains (some to this day I've still never used but I'm sure a lot of people here have 3am domains) and some really shitty hosting, and built my first site.

I also started blogging before I had any fucking clue what I was doing. I would just write about things I wanted to write about, stream of consciousness; never editing or thinking at all about who the audience is or why the hell they should care about what I'm writing. After a short while I was discouraged and moved onto something else, I think it was playing pool and disc golf?

It wasn't until a second experience similar to meeting Mike that re-enforced my need to JFDI. Little by little I start to see returns, and more so I started to notice a lot of other people giving up. Seeing other people get discouraged and give up was actually a good thing for me - it re-enforced my motivation to do better, to be better.

Sorry for the long story - and thanks for the question, I really enjoyed that one.

A wealth of information, thanks for being part of the community and sharing so much.
In relation to the email, this is simple and is based on the same principal. Works wonders in a team https://www.teamsnippets.com/
GDI! That is exactly my process.. so smart, and this would be a great way to automate this for newer team members. Pissed I didn't think of this :smile: Thank you for sharing!
 
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My pleasure :smile:

I think one of the most important and frequently glossed-over concepts is rank potential, or in other words, based on your available assets, resources, and capital, where is it realistic that you can rank for a particular keyword. This requires an understanding of competitive analysis but also some common sense; if you're gunning for an informational term and the top 5 are locked down by wikipedia and about.com, while there's some things you can try to crack the intent-signaling of that SERP - it's not going to be a profitable place to focus.

I actually cover this pretty extensively in my kw training course.
Btw by JFID, do you refer to this startup entrepreneur slack group, or only to just fucking do it? There is a lot of stuff going on there :wink:
 
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Benni

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Btw by JFID, do you refer to this startup entrepreneur slack group, or only to just fucking do it? There is a lot of stuff going on there :wink:
The latter, always the latter.
 
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Benni, a couple questions...

What do u use for marketing automation? Are you using something like Salefusion?

I am meeting with a company next week that does 100MM in annual revenue and their site is a disaster. I know I could make their site 100 times better, as it's slow, not optimized for load time or conversions, has keywords stuffed on category/product pages and is just a huge shit show. Although, most of their sales are offline, they do 100 leads or so a month online.

With a company that is that successful and of this size, I am curious how you would structure your compensation?
 

Benni

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What up @Meatplow

I use a mix of software but my favorites are definitely Mailchimp/Mandrill, Postmark, Zapier, Pardot, and ConvertKit.

With that much upside your advice is going to be worth 5-figures a month no question. Have them pay you a reasonable retainer in exchange for a commitment to a block of hours per month, make the discount smaller up front so you have time to prove your value to revenue-side of the organization. As part of your engagement include a delta-based commission starting in month 2 that would come along with a bigger discount on your hourly rate but give you at least 2.5x more cash on the backend if you hit your numbers.

They'll be happy you're taking a pig vs. chicken approach to the engagement and will have an easier time paying your more money out of the larger cash surplus hitting their bottom line.

At least that's how I would handle it :smile:
 
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Hey @Benni ,

what`s your approach to content building? When you have the right keywords, how do you determine what to write, that has the most impact?

Muchos gracias!
 

Benni

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Hey @Benni ,

what`s your approach to content building? When you have the right keywords, how do you determine what to write, that has the most impact?

Muchos gracias!
Pumpkin hacking >> http://www.garden.org/articles/articles.php?q=show&id=290
Or more simply put, shotgun style approach > pay attention to what's working > focus efforts and resources on building on top of that > cut everything else off > focus all energy or turning up the dial on what's working.
Here's a good case study on pumpkin hacking for content+traffic
 

Ryuzaki

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Hey look Benni's shilling his WSO again

Please use the report button for any instance you feel is crossing the line of one of the rules. All of us should have a goal of maintaining a high signal-to-noise ratio on the forum. That means not making posts with little substance.

In this specific case, the offending posts had been reported several times, and thus have been removed, and a final warning has been issued.
 
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The Engineer

Aegis Jaeger
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This thead is now closed by request of the OP who no longer wishes to participate on this forum.
 
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