Statement by Jay Swaby, Equipment Service Professionals (ESP), South Dakota

Digital marketing is very difficult for small businesses. The cost is high and the results are hard to see/quantify. Marketing in today’s world has a shot gun feel too - fire the marketing budget in as wide of a spread as you can and cross your fingers for results. The marketing of today is driven by large search engines with complicated algorithms that are hard to understand and almost never represent your business in the way you would like. Local sales reps are a thing of the past, search engines take your business, its logos, its digital property and do whatever they please with no consequences. There is nobody to call, you feel helpless and many businesses just give up. I was in this position 3 years ago when phone books were on the way out, digital marketing companies were knocking down the doors of my business wanted thousands of dollars and promising me the world - I didn’t know what to do. Our business for the last 35 years has been completely marketing through phone books, name recognition and word of mouth - how do I reach the new customer of today that is instantly getting on their phone and calling the first person that comes up in their search engine. My website was out of date, I didn’t show up on any of the large search engines, our pictures, logos, mission statements and online presence were non existent. We had 15 year old pictures and were represented as a company performing work that we didn’t even do - it was a mess. I spent over a year with a large national media company spending thousands of dollars trying to update and get ahead of the online problems my company had only to find out I was working with a large call center that had no interest in my business. I was just a number in their queue. I ended my first 18 months in digital marketing worse off than when I started - I had what I refer to now as “digital depression” and it was expensive. At that time I had an IT company handling all of my servers/IT services and was having very good results, I was confident they knew computers and the way that they worked better than any group of people I had ever met so, depressed and desperate I made an inquiry to them asking for advice on how to approach the website/digital presence problem my company had.

My IT company pointed me at an SEO company called Webcluster, they were insistent that I was approaching it wrong, that they had heard this same story from many small business owners, they were adamant what I needed was not digital marketing at all I needed a tech savvy computer person that knew how the internet worked and how to “fix” my online presence rather than a marketing company to market my current “non online presence.” This was opposite of what every other person coming through the door was telling me but what the hell, give me a price… I’m digitally depressed and desperate. I received a proposal to perform SEO services and website updates etc. like I had from every other sales person walking through the door. It had fancy words and terminology I didn’t understand. I blew it off… I remember thinking I need somebody local for this not somebody a world away making me promises… I had already had a call center experience with people from out of town and it wasn’t what I was looking for. So I met with multiple local marketing/SEO agencies all of which came recommended from other business owners in town, I reviewed the information from each of them and every time got the same feeling - these are marketing people trying to sell me advertising, they don’t know the first thing about how search engines work or how to repair my online presence and that’s all I care about! They couldn’t offer me what I was looking for I needed somebody that knew the internet and computers, not somebody that knew slogans and jingles… more digital depression sat in…… I will never get this fixed! .... so back to my computer guy, they know computers they must know the internet and again I was referred to Webcluster for the services I was requesting and reluctantly again I got the proposal again and again I just couldn’t do it but this time I didn’t just blow it off - there were certain parts of this proposal that stuck out this time that sounded different, they made me think more about what I really was looking for and I was convinced I knew now what I needed from a local company and I had just been asking the wrong questions. Queue more meetings with more slick sales people and more marketing people with an obvious lack of knowledge about how search engines work or how to fix my digital image… The digital depression is at a critical level now…. at this point I’m lost, I’m at the “I don’t care I just need marketing” stage of digital depression… Queue the zantac and the marketing shotgun … time to blow the budget!

I read the proposal from my IT people at least 5 times, it was from a lady named Gergana in Bulgaria (still have no idea where Bulgaria is and have no idea if I pronounce her name right) I fenced with her over email for almost 3 months asking questions, some good, some just to blow her off…. She wants to have a meeting over skype… what the hell is that! There is no way this is going to work…. But the proposal had some very good little details that no other proposal had that I believe anybody looking for these services needs to identify from their provider.

1. There was a time line – there was a definite starting and stopping point. They didn’t just take over my digital presence, charge me every month for the rest of my life and “do SEO” as other companies had said. There was a schedule and a clear path to how SEO was done and they followed it to achieve results, most importantly it wasn’t a never ending thing it could be accomplished in an allotted amount of time like a repair on a car.

2. There was a total cost - no charges for the rest of my life I spend X amount of money and that’s that, from there I can review results and stop paying. Pay more whatever I decide.

3. There were expectations and there were clear defined “non guarantees”. This was important to me, they knew they couldn’t guarantee top placement they could only work the system the best they could. A lot of companies will fence around this, I’m not stupid I understand I can’t be on top every time so just tell me up front you know that and I understand, honesty! It’s very important in business.

So shot of jack in one hand and marketing budget shotgun in the other I downloaded skype and pulled the trigger… I must be crazy!

The process started, skype meetings…. Emails…. More emails….. tons of typing….. more emails … text content…. More skype…. It was fast and specific, I liked it! Things were getting done! I felt right away that if I provided the information she was asking for that the results would come. It was apparent right away that this wasn’t a marketing ploy, this was definitely identifying problems with my online presence and fixing my online presence into something the search engine beast would understand…. FINALLY!!! I had a very specific layout in my head of how I wanted my website… 2 months it was exactly what I wanted and posted so fast I couldn’t believe it! (1 year with the huge digital marketing company and I had zero results on the website - my representative quit… at least 6 times…. It was brutal), I knew exactly how I wanted my google results to look and the things that needed change - 3 months all fixed! Emails were answered the same day, questions answered within hours I couldn’t believe it! I had a “team” of IT/SEO professionals with the national company that were supposed to be at my beck and call and it would have taken them years to get this done in fact after working with this “team” I’m convinced they could not have accomplished anything that had just happened in 3 months with Webcluster…. I laid the digital Prozac aside, the depression lifted… I looked at my website with pride… I was no longer stuck in the phone book age! I was the first company of my kind in the world to climb out of the paper marketing age and into the light of superior online presence!

I am here today almost 3 years after starting this journey with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. I am out of digital depression, I’m spending my marketing money well, the shotgun is in the gun safe I can see the digital light. I understand it belter and can make confident decisions about how to spend my marketing money and am seeing results. Don’t give up, marketing small business in today’s digital world is possible. Put down the marketing shot gun and the digital prosaic and stay the course it will be worth it. RIP Phone books, you will be missed.