This year marks Pole Position Marketing’s 20th anniversary. In digital marketing years, that’s like a millennium (give or take a few centuries).
Over these past 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of change, both in the digital marketing space and as the leader of the company. I thought it would be fun to kick off the year with a bit of a reminisce and look back over PPM’s 20-year history.
Note: This post kicks off a series of posts to celebrate our anniversary. If you see the number 20 flying around, well, now you know why.
So here we go… 20 milestones in Pole Position Marketing’s history:
1. My first idea
I fell into digital marketing almost by accident. In fact, it wasn’t even my idea, it was my dad’s. My first idea for a business was to sell music CDs online. I bought a book, learned HTML, and built a website.
My parents own a business of their own, and my dad asked me to build a website for him. I did. I can’t remember if they paid me or not, but everyone was happy with the result.
Shortly after, my dad bought me a program and paid me to optimize his site for search engines. Optimization back then was different than it is today, but that’s what moved me into digital marketing as a business. Like I said, it wasn’t really even my idea, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my first idea that got me to learn HTML.
2. My first failure
Failing sucks. I remember being hired to design a website for another business, and I had a great idea for it in my head. And that’s where the greatness of the idea stopped because it really didn’t translate well at all.
I took my designs to my customer and he hated it. I did offer to try again but he never took me up on that offer. Why is this an accomplishment? Because every failure is a learning opportunity. This is where I learned that if an idea is bad, don’t just keep going with it. Cut your losses and do something different. I should never have shown it to him to begin with.
3. My first Big Move
It didn’t take too long for the business to really take off. More on the SEO side than on the design. I like to make the joke: I started Pole Position Marketing in my bedroom and quickly expanded to the living room. But it’s really not a joke.
It was about this time that I decided to drop web design as a service and focus entirely on SEO. It was a great move for me because I love the marketing side of things much more than the tediousness of design (at least how I see it.)
Years later PPM got back into design, but only because I can hire people who have an eye for it. Being rooted in digital marketing also helps us produce better design and coding for our clients. Without this foundation, we would be just like every other designer, doing something based on looks rather than on long-term marketability.
4. My first benchmark
The internet was still relatively new, and many businesses we worked for were offline businesses first and foremost. Moving online was a big step. One of my clients traveled to peddle their wares, but they had a goal to make $100,000 a year in online sales. We got them there.
Their next benchmark was to stop traveling and sell exclusively online. It wasn’t long before we got them there too. There is something so satisfying about hitting benchmarks that improve the lives of the business owners and staff we work for!
5. Going full time
For many years, I was still running my company in the evenings and weekends after my normal job. I remember the day when I finally took the plunge to make this my full-time job. I wish I could say that the revenue exploded after that, but it was still a struggle. I could take on more clients but still had to provide for my family.
Even with the stress of never quite knowing if you’ll make enough money this month, I never looked back after that day.
6. Hiring my first employees
I went from zero to three employees virtually overnight. Business was booming and I needed the extra hands, mostly for link building. I hired three link builders who worked out of my dining room-turned-office.
I always found the hiring process funny. When I would ask people why they wanted to work for me way too many of them answered: “because I want to work with computers.” I don’t think I ever hired those people.
What I looked for more than anything is someone that shows the determination to learn and do the job. Skills can be taught, but attitude can’t. I’ll teach anybody anything they need, but the moment they think they are done learning, I’m done with them.
7. My first office
Moving out of my free home office to a 12-month lease in an office building was a big move. But I was running out of room at home, and we got tired of people working out of my house.
Ultimately, having the office was a great step as it gave us room to spread out and grow, which we continued to do.
8. My first significant price increase
Even though this was probably fifteen years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Man, was this ever a big deal! We already had a good stack of clients and a handful of employees. But the numbers were not adding up.
Search engines were growing more complex, making ranking more and more difficult. We had a flat rate pricing structure that didn’t adapt to all the new services required to perform well in search. I knew something had to change.
Over the course of a few months, we sent out notifications to our clients that we would be increasing prices. We ended up losing half of them, but ultimately, it worked out well for us. We kept our income at about the same level while also giving us more room to grow without losing our shirt.
Raising prices is hard for everyone. Clients don’t like it, and no business likes to lose clients. But sometimes, losing in the short term means more winning for everyone in the long term.
9. My first writing gig
I owe a big thank you to Robert Clough and Jennifer Cario of Search Engine Guide for giving me my first opportunity to publish content outside of my own blog. And continuing to accept my articles for a full decade! This led to opportunities to write for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and Search Engine Journal. And those opportunities led to many more!
My first guest contribution
I grew up with NASCAR on the TV. It was always a good opportunity for a nap! Between that and the Pole Position video game, I understood what the term “Pole Position” meant and felt like Pole Position Web was a perfect name for a digital marketing company.
Several years later, as I learned more about marketing and branding, it became clear that the word “web” was too nondescript. I still loved Pole Position, but I needed something that better described what we do.
So that’s when we swapped out “Web” for “Marketing.” Even if you don’t know what “Pole Position” means, everyone knows what marketing is.
Even then, rebranding was a big deal, but it helped that we were only changing a small part of our name. Most people who already recognized us still would, and would also receive the new name for the added value it brought.
11. My first branded car
I’m not much of a car guy, but I know a classic when I see one. So when I inherited a 1966 Dodge Charger from a family member I was exceptionally happy.
At nine gallons to the mile, though, I didn’t want to drive it much. But figured I might as well make it worthwhile when I do:
Someone told me this was like putting ketchup on a steak. They were probably right. Like I said, I’m not much of a car guy.
But more than the company branding, I loved the license plate. I still have this plate hanging on my office wall!
12. My first conference
I have somewhere around twenty speaking engagements each year, give or take, but I will always remember my first one: Pubcon. I remember Brett Tabke’s response when I asked him to include me. He said something along the lines of, “we owe it to you to give you the chance.” He really didn’t owe me anything, but was grateful then and now. Pubcon is still one of the few events that I do regularly.
Note: SEMpdx may have actually been my first speaking gig, but they happened very close together as I recall. Regardless, I owe Todd Mintz a thank you for having me there and asking me to return for a few years.
I still have my very first presentation. It was a bullet-point mess, but I remember the excitement of looking out into the audience and seeing people furiously scribbling notes. Such a great feeling!
13. My first award
Half a dozen search engine marketing awards have sprung up in recent years, but I still remember the original SEMMY. My good friend, Matt McGee, started the Search Engine Marketing awards as a way to recognize the industry’s best industry for the year.
I won a SEMMY for my article, The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! If that title sounds familiar it’s because it was later turned into a book (more on that below.)
The SEMMY’s didn’t give out trophies, but a friend of mine got one for me. I still have it on my desk to this day!
We have since received other recognition for our work in SEO and PPC, but nothing is as dear to me as that one above!
14. My first on-site training
I had been a regular speaker at industry conferences, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I was invited to come and train at a particular company: L’Oreal. The day was mostly a blur, but I remember walking through the halls of the L’Oreal building in downtown New York. That, and using a picture of Charlize Theron from Monster in my presentation.
15. My big move
I started PPM in the bay area of northern California. Shortly after I made a move to Sacramento, and then to Reno, NV, a few years later. That’s where PPM really started to grow and where we built our reputation.
But that wasn’t our last stop. We eventually moved all the way across the country to Ohio, where we are today.
Best. Move. Ever.
I made Ohio my home and rebuilt the company from the ground up. I have never had a better team than I do here and now. People often ask me why I moved to Ohio. I always say because of the weather.
16. My first building
A couple years after my move to Ohio, Pole Position Marketing bought its first building.
This was an old machine shop with an apartment on the top floor. We completely renovated it, turning the upstairs into offices and conference rooms, and the downstairs is the bullpen. And, as you can see, we replaced the garage doors with walls that look like… garage doors. Because what would a pit crew do without a garage to work in?
17. Our longest client
Not long ago, I was reading another SEO agency’s website, and they talked about how they expect to lose clients. It’s all part of the circle of life, I guess.
We know that nobody stays forever, but we hate to see any client leave–whatever the reason. But I’m happy to be able to boast several clients that have been with us for well over a decade.
Several years ago, my dad sold his company, and the new owners continue to work with us to this day. In fact, that’s not the only company we continue to work for that has gone through an ownership change. In a world where business change SEOs regularly, it’s strange to be with the same company through multiple owners. I think that is a testament to the value we create!
18. My first time getting a client banned
Rather than chasing algorithms, PPM has always looked ahead at what was coming. And even more simply, what made good sense. We’ve never seen a client banned or otherwise suffer from an algorithm change due to the implementation of spammy digital marketing tactics. This is a success we are proud of.
19. My first book
As I mentioned above, my SEMMY winning article was later expanded and turned into a book. What started out at around 13 pages, turned into 200 pages of pure web marketing value.
The book is available on Amazon and is now in its second edition. Its a superb resource for marketers at every level. Check out The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! 2.0, available in both print and digital versions.
20. My first hobby
This is by far my most exciting accomplishment. Why? Because after twenty years I am finally able to give myself time to do something… different. That’s the beauty of having such a magnificent team working for you.
Several times in the past 20 years, I tried to write a novel. I never got very far. I always wrote one or two chapters and then gave up. Then one weekend my wife an I went to Miami Beach. I took a long a series of books that I had downloaded on my iPad.
After reading through those books I realized that I don’t have to be John Grisham to write a novel.
I had an idea in my head for over a decade, but I never quite figured out how to make it work. After that weekend, I sat down, plotted it out, and started writing.
As of right now, I’m halfway through the second draft. I’m not sure how great it is, but it’s fun for me to be able to do this in my spare nights and weekends. I fully expect this to take half a decade or more to complete, but I’m just happy to get the story I envisioned so long ago down on paper.
Here’s to 20 more years!
Twenty years ago, when I started Pole Position Marketing in my bedroom, I could not have envisioned where I would be today. The journey has been tough, and digital marketing has changed a lot, but it has all been worthwhile.
There is no greater feeling than helping other businesses succeed. We don’t just do this for money, but to build jobs and opportunities. Every business we help can employ more people and provide better income which in turn is used to buy more products and services that help other businesses beyond that.
It’s the circle of life and I’m proud to be a part of it. And I thank every one of you who helped make this happen!