Ep 004: How Owen Loft Manages Almost $1 million per month in ad spend

Ryan Shank wrote this on on October 19, 2018 in Podcast

Owen Loft, owner of Grade Media Group, manages close to $1 million per month in ad spend. Here’s how he does it.

And if you want to see the video:

Ryan Shank: 00:01 All right guys, welcome back, episode four of growing your agency. I’m your host Ryan Schenk. Today I have a, the founder and CEO of Grade Media Group. Oh, and loft one. Thanks for joining us today.

Owen Loft: 00:18 Happy to be here on the ground floor of this podcast.

Speaker 1: 00:21 Yeah, I mean this is, you know, in the single digit episodes right here. This is, this is good stuff. Um, so, so, so tell us a little bit about, um, tell us about the business, but I’m also curious, you know, how you got into, into the marketing game, um, and, and why I’m just interested in learning that.

Speaker 2: 00:43 Sure. So just a quick story. I graduated from college, worked in finance in New York City for about a year on the side. I was playing online poker. I figured I was good enough and make enough money there to be a pro and I quit my job. Did that for six years. Um, traveled the world, had a lot of fun, kind of live the uh, dangerous area in life. No, not like that I wish, but no, like, you know, the digital nomad kind of typical thing. Um, so that was fun, that was cool. It was ready for some more stability, wanted to get into the startup world, a tried coding for a bit, learned a little bit but wasn’t something I wanted to do every day. And so I learned to drill marketing and then I joined like a good reputable agency. Uh, I was the oldest intern in company history, but I quickly rose the ranks, uh, was there for a few years doing only paid search one to another agency where I was doing more a facebook paid social cro type work. And then, uh, just over a year ago started my own agency. So that’s the, uh, the one minute version and that’s how I ended up where I am today.

Speaker 1: 01:52 Interesting. So just diving into that a little bit. So you said you learned digital marketing before you were an intern at the agency. Um, what, how did you like, why and how? I guess,

Speaker 2: 02:04 I mean, I didn’t really know it well enough to do anything effectively. I basically went to a general assembly class which gives you a good overview. It was like a 10 week program where you kinda like learned the different channels you learn, like what a utm is, that kind of thing, uh, how to segment the different areas for growth. But I really didn’t get any hands on experience until I started this agency and you know, just started like everybody else doing negative keywords, a sqrs learning how to um, build campaigns from scratch. And uh, yeah, so it was a good training program within three months. Internship was over. I got a full time role and was like managing my own accounts within the next few months after that.

Speaker 1: 02:48 That’s awesome. And it’s, so, it’s always nice when you’re at the agency because they kind of feed you the accounts and you can really specialize and I think that’s where, you know, once you start your own agency or you go out on your own, it’s like you suddenly become, you know, got to do everything you gotta sell you gotta go and get the clients. You got to manage the accounts, you’ve got to do the reporting. How are you managing it? Um, you know, how a curious time allocation, but also to tell us about, I guess, how, you know, how do you think about going after new business for managing the clients that you currently have?

Speaker 2: 03:20 Yeah. So that’s kind of like a breakdown of working on the business versus working in the business, uh, and that kind of fluctuates depending on how much client work throws. But I think what you said earlier was kind of interesting. It’s like once you’ve kind of built yourself up at an agency and you’re managing big clients there and then you’re dealing with sophisticated accounts, a high budgets and then you go out on your own. We’re kind of starting from scratch again. So you’re taking this like good knowledge and then you’re working with these kind of small clients where you do have to do more. Like, I mean I have done some wordpress development and helping people set up email templates and when you’re first starting out in business you just have to kind of do what it takes to get your clients results. So it’s been a lot of that. It was a lot of that in the beginning and now it’s just more kind of search and social focused, uh, which is good because it’s more of like my bread and butter and what I’m good at. But in terms of answering your other question, how much time am I spending on the business versus in the business? I would say right now the last like two, three months has been almost 100 percent in the business. I’ve just been in like full sprint, just all client work, um,

Speaker 1: 04:30 existing client work because I actually think there’s a difference between on the business and in the business. Meaning I would say on the business is more strategy where you’re planning, but I was more referring to like I guess kind of what you’re saying client work, existing client work versus going out and getting new business. Because I know a lot of marketers, one of the big pain points is turnover and churn, especially with smb clients, which, you know, I’m also curious to know type of clients that you’re working with, but you know. So that’s the biggest question I think I have like, you know, going out and getting new customers versus managing existing accounts.

Speaker 2: 05:06 Right. So I’ve been lucky to have some good referrals coming in, but basically when this three month sprint started, it was kind of a big pitch for my small agency, for a client, which I ended up getting, um, right after that, uh, they’re, they’re a luxury hotel chain. They have like 15 properties, uh, right after that I ended up.

Speaker 1: 05:28 And how did you get them referral?

Speaker 2: 05:30 Believe it or not, they were, they posted on upwork. And so I think upwork for getting clients is usually a giant waste of time. And I don’t know what made me go and look on there that day must have been been a slow day in the office. But uh, yeah, I just, I, I had my old agency, I actually used to manage a luxury hotel booking site and so I really liked the world of that. I liked the industry and so it seemed like a good fit. Hopped on the phone with them, did my pitch, ended up getting the contract and then right after that, like the week after, two weeks after, I ended up getting a client who’s a huge seriously ecommerce startup and that’s been, uh, you know, we’re talking 500 K in monthly spend. Um, and so that’s been a big kind of ramp up.

Speaker 2: 06:23 And then right after that, 10, 20 percent of that, just $5,100 a month management and no big deal. Um, no, but, uh, and then right after that it was a, I got a referral and so that just started to. And with paid search especially, I think it was that for me. Or was that another one? That was you? That was the shank referral. So yeah, I think it’s um, with, with new accounts especially like there’s so much work that goes into setting them up, getting them where they need to be a, it always helps if there’s existing data. But one of the things that, like, one of the reasons why I’m in business pretty much is because almost every single time that I look at an account and an audit or whatever, I just see like tremendous amounts of adspend being wasted or ms dot allocated or things aren’t being segmented properly. So, uh, there’s always a ton of upfront work. That’s why I’ve been in this kind of three month sprint and now I’m hoping to shifts like working on the business kind of going forward strategy and longterm planning, trying to get that into like the, the 20 percent range. Yep. My first hire and then really kind of create a financial model and roadmap for growth next year.

Speaker 1: 07:35 So you’re mainly managing paid spin, right? Because I think that there’s a lot of agencies out there and some are, you know, branding only, some are creatives and there’s some performance based agencies that are doing a lot of like just paid search. Right. Whether that’s, you know, add Google ads and, and being. And then maybe some facebook. So what’s, what’s the bread and butter? Are you mainly ad-words? Mainly

Speaker 2: 07:59 all performance. Mostly Edwards and a much smaller percent facebook. I would say that like my core, my best skill is totally paid search. I would say that like I’m not total total expert level at facebook. I think I’m probably top five percent but not like top one percent sure. So, and honestly I prefer working in Edwards more. Um, I like the interface more and more familiar with, uh, um, I don’t like building things in facebook. I don’t, I actually don’t really like using facebook as much. So that’ll probably be like higher number two is getting somebody who’s just like a total facebook stuff.

Speaker 1: 08:41 I think it also depends, you know, curious to hear your thoughts. So this, but I think it does depend on the actual business. Like a few episodes ago we had on will in the heat. He manages the spend a for A. I’m an art comedy pricing on instagram called iconic. They just raised a bunch of Gary Vee and scooter and everything. And that’s, that’s not something you’re necessarily searching for, right? Like motivational wall art, like four apartment, like I don’t know, maybe there is search volume, maybe there’s not, but it’s something where you’re kind of like shopping and you see it versus like seeking it out and I think like, you know, they’re, they’re a bunch of verticals and a bunch of products that I think are going to be better on facebook versus in paid search. Like Edwards.

Speaker 2: 09:29 I totally agree with you. I mean ultimately like what channel works really depends on what kind of business it is with something like that. I listened to the podcast with will. I think that makes total sense. He’s probably crushing it there. Uh, and if I was managing that client, if I got that referral, I would recommend, you know, all almost all facebook, um, maybe some cool shopping. But yeah, it’s much more of a visual thing. I think just with the way it’s worked out with my current clients, there’s just not as much facebook activity happening. Um, I am only really managing facebook for one ecommerce client and then I’m doing kind of like dynamic remarketing or um, just regular remarketing for several other clients as well. Uh, but yeah, ultimately it comes down to the business. I think mostly ecommerce is better for facebook, whereas like B to b Sas, it’s like tends to be a lot more difficult.

Speaker 1: 10:19 Got It. So you’re, you’re managing hundreds, you know, greater than $500 for the one client, plus all your other clients, you probably managing what, almost three quarters of a million dollars a month in ad spend. I’m ballpark. That’s uh, that’s pretty good for one year in um, and in branch out on your own. So. So tell me about, she said upwork, you said some referrals, what other channels have worked for you? Because I know by the way, just so everyone listers or I met you at an event in New York where you went to like a tech stars Demo Day event. Right? So I’m assuming he went there for, for networking. Um, potentially. I don’t know, you know, so I’m curious to know channels where you’re acquiring customers.

Speaker 2: 11:00 Honestly, like I am, I am not good at acquiring customers. I met you through that. Depends. I’ve gone to other conferences, events. Um, I ended up meeting you actually because I started using phone wagon as a service for one of my clients,

Speaker 1: 11:13 but it didn’t start because you saw us there.

Speaker 2: 11:18 Uh, yeah. So you do your pitch on stage. Were you, did you created a dynamic phone number and somebody called you while you’re on stage showing how easy it was? It was, it was like magic. Now I’m just kidding. Um, yeah, I dunno, I’ve been really lucky to get referrals. Uh, we’re talking about churn before a lot of my clients, I’ve only been in business like I incorporated October third, 2017. I’m in my one year anniversary with several clients. Yes.

Speaker 1: 11:47 That’s actually really impressive. And I think barrier to entry is so low that why people see churn because people are. People are getting into the space that aren’t at the top five, top one percent like you and then you know, they’re not delivering results and then you know, they’re seeing high churn. I think also I’m curious to know what you do with this, it’s educating the client, you know, about the results to how do you report back to them? Are you reporting on clicks, leads, calls, like what are you doing? Sales

Speaker 2: 12:19 kpis are different but it’s always performance based so it’s you know, for lead Gen business, this number of leads and then if they’re turning into customers, ecommerce is much more straightforward and then sometimes there’s like an additional email capture. But yeah, I think there is a lot of education involved. Like I would say that most of my clients would know what Rlsa is and a dynamic search ads are like they wouldn’t know how to go into ad words and do it themselves, but they

Speaker 1: 12:44 probably. I hate when people talk in acronyms. Okay. No, no, no, not like hate like that, but it’s like I feel like people almost tried to over. I hate it, the dynamic of when you do it as a marketer to a business owner, like don’t expect them to know it. Like is and stuff like talk to them like a human being and it’s like don’t try like I get it either you either are trying to sound smart or like maybe you just really talk to your, your friends like that, but it like people you have to dumb it down in my opinion.

Speaker 2: 13:15 There’s tons of education involved. Um, and it, it’s also if you’re in a room with several different people and one of them might be the marketing manager, one of them might be the Cmo who used to know add roads, but it has been since from you. So like when I’ll say something that our quality score improved, I’ll say, and as a reminder or quality scores have googled judges, you know, how relevant our key words are to our ad copy into our landing pages. And the higher the quality score, the lower we’re going to pay for clicks. So I’ll say the acronyms or whatever and then I’ll usually do a little explainer. And then judging by how many times I’ve said it’s the person I can drop the explainer after awhile. So yeah, there’s.

Speaker 1: 13:51 Yeah, that’s self awareness is important of like, Hey, I’m, I, I say it, I’ll, you know, this is what I do. And then explaining to them and just having the context for them, I think that’s great.

Speaker 2: 14:01 Yeah. Like I said, you know, most people can’t navigate their way around Edwards too well, but I think that most of my clients know the tactics and that, you know, sometimes come to me with different ideas based on things that they’ve learned along the way. So now the education components big. Um, and then also in terms of of turn, I don’t sign any long term contracts. Uh, I did without oil company, but that was their request, which what’s a longterm contract a year and then. But usually I’ll do like two months if it’s a brand new account and then after that it’s like if you want to fire me, that’s fine. And you have like a one day out clause, like I’ll transfer all the assets, get out of it in Sun. Thankfully that hasn’t happened. Um, but yeah, no, so I sales was something I really have to figure out. Um, I know you’re the sales master, you’re the grinder over there, so you’re going to have to give me some tips. Uh, and that time comes.

Speaker 1: 15:03 Yeah. So what, talk to me about pricing. How are you pricing? Are you doing percentage of ad spend? Are you doing just flat retainers? Is there like tiers based on scope? What do you, how do you think about pricing?

Speaker 2: 15:15 Uh, it depends a lot based on the different clients and the different strategies and the levels of sophistication, but usually it’s based on like a flat fee on per channel. So if it’s search and facebook, you know, that would be two, two different fees,

Speaker 1: 15:34 spend the same flat fee for all clients.

Speaker 2: 15:37 Uh, no it, it does depend on spend and then sometimes there’s a percentage of spend involved, which I think is, I’m not, I don’t know, I think it can be good in bed sometimes scaling up like especially on something like facebook where you can find something to scale and just hit go and then you’re like making all this money without a whole lot of extra setup and fees or sorry, a lot of setup and work. So maybe it’s not the best there. I Dunno, I dunno if there’s like, it’s hard to predict. I think people do the percentage of spend because they expect as the spending increases there’s going to be more work but it’s usually not linear. Um, but then if you also do the

Speaker 1: 16:22 like a secure, like teared down, like, so let’s say it’s, you know, up to 10 k, 10 percent, then it’s like a greater than 10. K, like five percent or no,

Speaker 2: 16:33 I’ve had my old agency, I haven’t done it at my current agency, but I’m at the first agency I worked at. One of my accounts was this like insurance comparison site and they would spend anywhere between like three and 900 k a month and they were on a tiered system and it actually turned out that if they spent $900 a month, they were paying us less than if they were spending three to 400 k

Speaker 1: 16:56 just finished basis or less than an absolute dollar. Nevertheless, total.

Speaker 2: 17:01 I didn’t negotiate that contract. But um, yeah. And I was just, I, the tiered spend can create like a weird system where the marker could potentially be incentivized to spend less. I mean ultimately like I’m not pushing budget unless I’m getting results. I definitely wanted to do it accounts where it’s clear that they were working on a percentage of spend. I audited a one account which is now I think they’re like valued at a billion dollars and they started out as just like a hardware startup. And I looked at their account. They had spent the, the old agency, which is actually a pretty big well known agency in New York. They had spent about 90,000 in the last two months on display prospecting and they were bidding

Speaker 1: 17:47 now retargeting, just just

Speaker 2: 17:50 price, throw money in the garbage and they were doing a max cpc of $6 and fifty cents, which on the display network is absolutely crazy. And um, you know, they were probably making a percentage of that, like the customer they got no, I mean that you can call that brand awareness, but it’s just really like lighting money on fire. They got no conversions from it or anything. Um, so in those cases, yeah, like if you’re doing brand awareness or something, percentages spent is just asking for trouble, but if it’s performance space and you can’t spend, unless you’re like hitting your goals and it can make a little bit more sense there.

Speaker 1: 18:25 Yes. Yeah. I think that’s where it makes sense. If there’s some, like if there’s some kind of levers in there that is checks and balances, right. It’s like, you know, you’re only going to continue to spend if we’re continuing to get some type of conversion rate or some type of like, you know, acquisition cost, target, cost to acquire the customer, um, as the, as the checks for that. So what kind of tools are you building? You know, obviously the ecommerce has their own site. How, how, how do you think about kind of breaking out the scope of work? Like what do you do with creatives? Are you doing the copy on the site? So the lenders, if you’re doing the landers, what kind of software are you using? Are you using like an unbounce? Um, talk to me about that.

Speaker 2: 19:04 Yeah. I’m, I’m not as much of a creative type so not doing a ton of like the copy or any of like really the creative work. I’m more of like a data and numbers guy. I can give direction based on things I’ve seen in best practices, but I usually leave the implementation up to the clients or I can recommend different contractors or freelancers if they need that. But in terms of tools like unbounce, definitely, um, for, for like landing pages, ab testing, um, other tools that I just kind of like use all the time that I couldn’t really live without a super metrics which is, it’s like Api hookup to a adwords analytics, bing ads, linkedin ads, facebook ads, everything, and it hooks up to Google sheet so you can just create these automated reports really easily. It also hooks up to Google data studio. Um, so you can set up reports that way. But that’s good for client reports. It’s good for daily budget tracking. It’s good for pacing, it’s good for a lot of things. So I used that a lot. I’m good old fashion ad words editor, use it all the time for like oak editing, getting things done quickly there. I’m pretty much, I keep.

Speaker 1: 20:19 What about keyword research?

Speaker 2: 20:22 You know, I’ve flip flopped a lot. There’s not, I don’t think any of the solutions are that great. They’re all kind of directional. Uh, I liked this thing called keywords everywhere, which is a chrome plugin and as you’re just searching Google, normally it’ll tell you what the average CPC and volume is for that search and I think they connect to like sem rush or something like that. And then on the side they’ll list a whole bunch of similar keywords with volumes and CPC estimates. So I think that’s good. I think Stm Roche, they have this keyword magic tool and I think they’re actually really good if you’re building out an account from scratch that doesn’t have any history, they’re really good at finding an anticipating negatives before they even happen because you can use their tool and they’ll just give you all these searches and you’re like, wow, that would definitely show up for my phrase match or broad match keyword so you can kind of get the jump on that. But in terms of actually doing competitive rate research and seeing how much other people are spending and what they’re spending it on a, I don’t think there’s any solution that’s like really that great.

Speaker 1: 21:22 Got It. I saw Neil Patel just launched a, a keyword. I think it’s a keyword research tool similar to like sem rush or age refs haven’t checked it out. I think it’s that I actually haven’t even really looked into it that much. This is awesome. So we’re just going to wrap it up with three, three questions. First question, what is your morning routine?

Speaker 2: 21:46 Morning routine is it’s kind of a work in progress. It used to be really bad. It used to be a me waking up to my phone, alarm clocks and using a bunch of times and then picking up my phone and actually using it in bed for half an hour before getting out of bed. So now my phone charges in another room at night. I use an old fashioned alarm clock. Oh, and I get it. Yeah, it’s good. No, no ipad, no phone anywhere close to bed and then try to workout in the morning before work like once or twice a week. That’s really ideal. Like if I could have an ideal morning, you would just be wake up. Um, what time are you waking up? It depends. I try to get eight hours, so sometimes if I’m up later all wake up later, but usually it’s around like 7:30 years ago. It used to be more like nine and now I’m, I don’t like getting to the office at 10 and like working for two hours and eating lunch. It’s not like super productive so I’m trying to get to the office a lot earlier and like get a lot of stuff done in the mornings. Um, yeah. So that’s. And then I don’t eat breakfast. I have a to caffeine pills and I’m just ready to go.

Speaker 1: 22:52 No coffee. Caffeine pills,

Speaker 2: 22:54 just coffee and caffeine pills. The depends on how much sleep I get. I’m on, I’m on three hours of sleep last night. So I’ve thought about three coffees this morning. So.

Speaker 1: 23:03 Oh Wow. And you were four hours the night before? I know it’s bad week. That’s crazy. Um, second question. If you were lot of people listening, watching, following along, they want to break into the scene. If you were one piece of advice, what would you do to get started? How do you get off the ground? How do you become, how do you do what you’re doing? How do you get your first client? What, what do you do?

Speaker 2: 23:25 I would say before you quit your job to get a couple of freelance clients that you’re working on apps for work. That’s how I got started. I had one client that was paying me a thousand dollars a month and then I got a second one that was paying me something similar. Uh, I probably quit my job a little too early, but I, uh, I have some, some risk in my dna so I didn’t mind. And the first month that I actually quit I pitched one of my, my one k clients and an 20 web redesign and a package that I’ve just figured out how to do it. They accepted it and so that got me on my way, but I would say try to get some clients on the side, um, before, you know, going out on your own completely [inaudible] sales. I don’t know. I think for some people it might be more natural. For me it takes a little bit more time and I think once I get the connection, like once I get the referral I usually do pretty well and I think my close rate’s really high, but I’m just getting that initial meeting or having a big network is something that I don’t really have feeding the top of the funnel. So you’re good? Yeah. Middle Funnel. While I’m doing this podcast right now at the top of the funnel. I’m alright. Awesome.

Speaker 1: 24:38 Oh, appreciate you joining us. Where do we find you and how can people connect with you?

Speaker 2: 24:44 Um, people can just email me directly@grademediagroup.com or, um, just give me a call. Three four slash seven, six three, six, four, one seven, five. Awesome. And your website? It’s great. Media Group Dot com. Grade Media Group Dot com. Awesome.

Speaker 1: 25:03 Great Media Group. Thank you so much for, for joining us. And uh, that is the fourth episode of growing your agency. Thanks Owen.

Speaker 2: 25:12 Thanks for having me.


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Ryan Shank

About the Author

is the CEO at PhoneWagon. Ryan loves helping small businesses generate quality leads by implementing creative solutions that are proven to work.