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All right, let’s get on with the show.
Joe: John Vuong knows SEO, but he knows relationships even better. At a time where connecting with people face to face has become harder, John offers some fantastic advice for forging better relationships through communication, both with your current clients, and the ones that will soon be clients. We’ll get into that conversation next. But first, a word from our sponsors.
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Now back to the Show.
Joe: Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, how did you build that? Today I am talking to John Vuong, he is the founder and owner of Local SEO Search. We’re going to be talking about the importance of communication and relationship building, especially during this time when as we record this, there is a global pandemic, a lot of us are staying at home. So it’s even more important to have to think about these things. John, how are you today?
John: I’m doing great. Thank you for having me, Joe. I’m excited to be here and share some insights with your audience members.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for coming on the show. You reached out and I thought that this would be a very timely conversation considering everything that’s happening. Why don’t we get right into it and why don’t you tell the listeners who you are and what you do?
John: Perfect. I started an agency, in 2013, called Local SEO Search. My primary goal is really to help small, medium-sized businesses with their digital footprint, making them become more visible online, transitioning from more of the bricks and mortar traditional retail outlets to more of a visible online presence. I primarily just focus on search engine optimization, which is the natural listings for business owners to be found on Google.
Joe: Got you. Got you. I suspect you might be seeing an uptick in at least interested parties right now. Is that a fair assumption?
John: Yeah, we have seen quite a few increase. The problem is there’s a lot of unknowns. And because SEO is more of a long term play, as opposed to paid ads where people can see immediate returns, a lot of the more established business owners are looking for more of a relationship play that is more of a partner. And that’s why I feel SEO is a great segue for relationship building in general.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s probably a little bit more trustworthy too, right? Because I know at least when I do on Google search. I’ll see the top two ads, and then I’ll think, “Well, I know, they’re paying for that spot. Let me see what the first few organic results are. Because those are the people who are actually putting in the work and making sure they’re listed at the top.” I’m a more technical guy, so I don’t know the ads must work, but I just feel like doing it the more natural organic way instills a little bit more trust. Would you agree with that?
John: Yeah. Say you’re the average consumer. Users tend to agree and tend to know that people are paying for those paid ads at the top because it’s really pushing stuff at people. What people like doing is being in control. They like searching out and navigating themselves and doing their own due diligence. They don’t like ads being pushed at them, like Facebook ads or Instagram ads, or whatever ads it is. From flyers, traditional to radio ads, they want to be in control. And Google gives them that platform where they can actually navigate at their own will. If they don’t like what they find, they revisit different terms, longer tail, whatever it may be, and really emphasize on what they’re looking for.
And yes, the challenge is, how do you get there? So you have to really position yourself as that expert, and you have to fulfill what Google is looking for, which is being the best resource or website for that given user who’s seeking you up. So positioning yourself as that authoritative leader in your domain.
Joe: Got you. That makes a lot of sense. I think that that very act can help with good communication and relationship building. Because SEO a lot…and correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not an SEO expert, I just play one on TV. The act of showing up is really an incredibly important part of that, right? If you just set up a website, and just leave it there as a brochure site, it’s not going to do too well. But if you have a blog where you continually help people and answer questions that they’re looking for, that’s something that’s going to help.
John: Totally. You got some of the major aspects. I always bring it back to traditional media. Say, 20 years ago, internet was not even around. Google didn’t exist. How did those business owners survive for hundreds of years prior to the advent of internet? So, if you think about it, it all boiled down to running a really good business, offering a great product service, and allowing people to either market yourself like you got flyers, newspapers, directories or whatever it may be. But ultimately, it is, do good work, build strong community relationships, and add really good strong values so that people continue coming back to you. Loyalty, brand, awareness, community, all these things. And if you do it, well, you’re going to be around for many, many years if not generational businesses would exist. Because it’s building that brand trust, loyalty.
Now the advent of the Internet has come along, and there’s so many new avenues to really promote yourself. The challenge is, which medium should you focus on? There’s a lot out there from social media to video to audio to, you know, even infographics. There’s a lot of different forms of content. Blog writing…So where should you devote most of your time?
I always tell people, focus on building a really good business ultimately. Conveying that message across in all different platforms, but really understanding what are you bringing to the table, what differentiates yourself, really refine your art of taking care of your existing clients, bringing on new clients that are your target focused type of clients, and harvesting more of those type of customers. And what you’re really looking for is that long term relationship so that they can spread the word. They will send you more referrals in word of mouth.
But don’t get too focused on being everywhere because you really need to focus on really doing one thing at a time really well, which is first off, write a really good business, take care of your clients, make sure you have some sort of a business model revenue in place before you start amplifying that message across different platforms.
Joe: I think that’s a really great thought to keep in mind. And it’s pretty timely actually. Because I just read the Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. He basically reinforces this idea. You know, focus on the important aspects of your business: take care of your clients, make a list of your best clients, and find more clients like that. With the current condition we’re in here… You’re based in Canada? Is that right?
John: Yeah, Toronto, Canada.
Joe: Okay. So I suspect it’s very similar for you as it is with me here on the East Coast of the United. A lot of people are sheltering in place. Traditional brick and mortar businesses are having a hard time, if they are even allowed to open. I know here in Pennsylvania we’re doing a pretty slow open, you know, for public safety. But what can businesses do now to help cultivate that relationship? And how can they focus on their business when their business really is in a very physical world business?
John: I’ve actually been doing a couple of webinars on this as well, which is, times of crisis, how do you form a strong relationship if you have it already with your existing base? So with your existing clients, paying customers have been coming to you for multiple years, if it’s a bricks and mortar one-time product offering or service type of business where you see them coming a couple of times a year. The key is owning your list. Making sure you have a community, making sure you own some sort of information and contact list so that you can keep a consistent messaging platform in place. Like, is it email, social media?
How you get people information to your ideal customers, like your existing customer base and inform them of what’s going on in your situation? So email is great. Own your list. Social media, communities, forums, webinars. Whatever it may be, just let people know who you have contact with on what is going on with you, and how you’re adapting to the new changes. Keep them informed.
So multiple touch points, which is now it’s more important than ever to let them know what’s going on. And yes, telephone is one medium, email is another medium. You should actually have multi-channel touch points as opposed to just one channel touch point, which is email. Because not everyone opens email. People get bombarded with email, and there’s solicitation on really offers and products and all that stuff. So really focus on adding value. So what are you doing differently? And how can you inform and impact your tribe of your existing base so that they become even more sticky?
Even personalize your message. So if you haven’t already, let people in on your current state, what you have done in your business, what your family has done. How are you navigating this new norm? Let people know like, today instead of focusing so much on running a business like my nine to five bricks and mortar, I’m going on webinars, reading blogs, going on YouTube to find different ways and avenues to really add more value to what I’m offering you guys.”
Or look at different scenarios in different countries. Because podcasts, videos are available from Sweden to Taiwan. And these borders never closed. These countries still operate business as usual. So what have they done differently, and how can you use that information and insight to your world? That’s what I’m all talking about. Just using your time, the best fit so that you can actually add value to your existing base.
Joe: I think that’s great. I love what you said about owning your list, having a community. This is something I feel I learned way too late. Like I’ve been freelancing since high school and I thought, like, “My clients don’t need to be on my mailing list?” Like when I launched a new client site and then I’m like, “Yeah, they probably would have liked to know if I launched a new client site because maybe they would have been like, “oh, that feature is cool. Add it to my site.'” So I’ve been working on really building my email list and my multiple communication channels, my YouTube channel and stuff like that.
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Now back to the show.
Joe: Now you did say—I think you probably, maybe I heard the emphasis myself, but I feel like you emphasized owning your list. I know a lot of businesses are probably relying on Facebook groups or Facebook pages. Do you think that that’s a valuable touch point for a lot of people or do you think, you know, one day Facebook can just decide “Ah, we don’t want to prioritize restaurants today”? I think I probably am leading the witness a little bit, but I just thought it was interesting that you really mentioned owning the platform.
John: Owning your list is so critical. Because if Facebook suddenly decides to get rid of groups or LinkedIn associations, all these different platforms, you’re relying on these companies to allow for this free offering that still exists today. What happens if they want to start monetizing, and then you got to start paying a subscription? How many people will start paying for that? You’re going to lose a lot of members that way.
My point is really own that email list, own that address, own that telephone number. Obviously, it’s opt in, so you make sure that you have consent from those users, that you are able to mail them stuff. Email, call them, text message, whatever platform it is. It’s so critical because today more than ever newsletters can be used to update people, social media, multi-channel. Just every platform. You don’t know what people are consuming in terms of content, right? So, yes, it’s a lot of work.
If you don’t enjoy doing this, have someone either in your team or staff or hire someone to do it. Because you could be doing something that you love because you’ve been in school for the last 15, 20 years doing what you love, become trained, and that expert professional. So why not let other people who enjoy the stuff do it way better at a lower cost and you can just focus on what you do really well?
Joe: What an important point that you made there! Hire somebody to do it if you don’t want to do it. I like that you said “at a lower cost.” It might be money out of your pocket, but you think of the opportunity cost. A great example is I am very capable of editing my own videos for my courses from my YouTube channel. And I do it when I want something quick. But for my courses, especially, which are two hours of content, I send that out to an editor who charges me way less than I would charge myself. And he can do it better and more efficiently, and I know it’s going to be great work. So really thinking about that stuff. Like you might have the ability to do it, but think about how you really want to spend your time.
John: Time cost your value like you mentioned. Like how much would you build a customer? Why don’t you focus on just getting more of those type of customers and build them so that you can do what you love and let other people do what they love, but you’re paying someone else a lot less so you can make more? It’s scaling. It allows you to become more profitable, and do what you enjoy. Stress is such a big factor in business because every business owner takes on way too much trying to do everything.
What I learned—and it took me some time—I was like every other business. I wore every single hat early on. I was working 16, 18 hours. And I did everything thinking no one could do it. But then slowly I gave away some of my tasks, duties, responsibilities, and let them make mistakes, let other people make mistakes. That’s how you grow as a person and as a company.
Joe: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I read something a while back that said, “business owners are more likely to drown than to die of starvation.” Like die from drowning than die of starvation because they take on too much and they eventually can handle it all. Die metaphorically, not literally die. But the main takeaway is that the worry shouldn’t be that you’re not going to have enough work. The worry should be that you’re going to do too much and burn out. So I think that is all fantastic advice.
John: It’s all stress, right? If you spend too much time trying to do everything and things that you don’t like and you’re not good at, that’s what causes stress, right?
Joe: Absolutely. And then that takes away from you being able to do the things we’ve been talking about. Like cultivate a community. Maybe you don’t do the direct communications, maybe you hate sending email letters, or you don’t like doing the social media stuff so you hire somebody, but it’s still you at the helm. It’s still your voice as the business owner guiding the ship and letting your customers and your clients know what’s going on.
As we enter like the back part of this interview, I would love to get some concrete tips for our listeners. We talked about a lot of stuff like focusing on your business and looking for long term relationships, owning your list. I had a great interview with Angel Marie from ConvertKit, that I’ll link to in the show notes for this page over at How I Built.It, about building a list that you actually own. But if somebody’s listening, and they’re like, “I don’t feel like I have a good plan for communication,” or “I need some tips on relationship building,” what would you say to them? What are a few takeaways that they could start doing today?
John: So, depending on where you’re at in terms of your business, if you’re starting off and you don’t have clients, like you have a very few clients and you’re struggling to even know who your ideal customer is you’re pretty much taking anyone on to really pay the bills. So the goal is to try to uncover who your ideal customer is. And that takes years, maybe even some months but years for sure, to really know who you want to be known as, what you really want to focus your efforts as.
If you’re just starting off, my focus would be, get a good product or service, start promoting yourself, and understanding what differentiates yourself. Figure that out and really offer something out so that people will continue buying from you. So, personalize, storytell, let people know about your journey. Because you’re no different than anyone else selling the same product or service. So what makes you unique is your journey, your stories along the way. And hopefully, it resonates with some of the audience members.
But then once you start becoming more mature, say you’ve been doing it for three to five years, it’s all about your funnel building. So not only are you focused on your active clients, but how do you get people early on in the information stage of the buying cycle too. At least acknowledge that. “Bookmark me, read one of my blogs, or watch one of my YouTube videos.” And then hopefully they will remember you. But you have some sort of subscription or free newsletter, or some sort of lists that you’re gathering that is different from your active list. Have different channels, different platforms, different lists to really cultivate different messaging. Because those lists will have different messages versus your active list where you can personalize more.
So it all depends on what your goal is. My goal is really to make an impact, educate and let people know SEO. If you’re in a long term business, if you’ve been training and running a business for a while but frustrated to get some online exposure and you try different sort of platforms, you’ve spent a lot of money on digital media and all these things, why not look at SEO as another thing, where you can really focus on a long term, inbound lead source that is qualified leads, catered with the type of profile of a client that you’re looking for? Because your messaging on your website and all your digital media messaging will be consistent if you’re working with a really good agency.
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And now, back to the show.
Joe: If you have very few clients and you’re taking anyone on, that’s something that we kicked off this season with Jason Resnick. And it’s true, you really need to define your ideal customer because a jack of all trades is a master of none, right? If you’re building a restaurant site one day and a construction website the next day, then you’re switching domain knowledge, you’re trying to figure out what works best for each one, it’s going to be different.
Just like, to use a restaurant example again, you don’t see a restaurant really specializing in Mexican food and Chinese food. Or at least that’s not going to be a great restaurant. So you want to focus on your ideal customer. Then what you said about established businesses and funnel building, getting content out there, I know that there’s probably a concern for a lot of people that if they tell people what they know and how to do stuff, those people are just going to go off and do it themselves and not hire the content creator. Do you see that as a concern? Or would you disagree with that sentiment or some in between?
John: Depending on what you’re putting out, like is this for your own business? If it is, you’ve already cultivated a really good team behind you. That trust that you have with your existing team base and your staff and also your clients, I mean, it should already be known and very transparent that way like we’re in it together. And yes, there’s going to be people that want to start doing their own thing. Great, and all the best. I’m all about sharing that knowledge and insight and hope for the best.
But if they’re a part of the team and the ship currently, just have consistent messaging. Make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of core values and letting them know what our goals and our quarterly goals, monthly goals, annual goals are. And if we achieve this, we’re in it together. We become a stronger family, a better brand, whatever it may be. Right?
Joe: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I definitely agree with that. And I would say, if someone is just trying to read a blog post or watch a video you wrote to do it themselves for free, they’re probably not your ideal customer. Like I’ve had people say, like, “Why would I pay for your courses when I can find them on YouTube for free?” And I’m like, “Well, you’re probably not my ideal student. Because my ideal student is somebody who wants to be part of that community, who wants to have access to me in case they have specific questions that can’t be answered in the YouTube video.” I think about that, too. But having consistent messaging is hard, and also important.
John: Yeah. But it’s important that you know who your ideal customers are, so then you cater all your marketing efforts, content creation images at multiple touch points to those types of people that you want to go after. Everyone else, they’ll have their own opinion. And it’s okay. You may get a lot of negative feedback from them, but that means people are reading your message. You’re getting out there. So I look at it like at least you got in front of that person. Yes, they might not be interested in your service, so what? You’re getting in front of more and more eyes.
Joe: I love that. At least you’re getting in front of people. That’s fantastic. Sometimes it feels like you’re yelling into the void, and that’s not a great feeling.
John: Yeah, there’s more haters than you can even imagine. Because everyone thinks that you were privileged starting a business. But no one understands the journey you have to endure to get there. They only see you at that peak. They don’t see what you did before you started and how you started. Yeah, absolutely.
Joe: I always think about the Olympic gold medalist. You don’t see the years of training and pain and sacrifice that they went through to win that gold medal in that 20 seconds or whatever that it takes them to win that gold medal. I love that.
As we wrap up here, I do want to ask you my favorite question. You have given us such great advice already, but I do need to ask you, do you have any trade secrets for us? For you and for those who are new to the show, I’m not asking you to give away the farm. But a trade secret on How I Built It is one that is good advice that is often forgotten. So something that’s helped you over the years run your business and communicate and build relationships.
John: I feel like I’m lucky and I’m fortunate that I had an opportunity to go to school here. I always look at the bright side because I came from an immigrant family from Vietnam and I didn’t really have much growing up. So for me, I had the opportunity to go to school and learn tricks and trades on how businesses work and operate in the Western world. Then I’m able to travel as well. So for me, what I’m very fortunate about and what I would like to share is everyone has the ability to build strong relationships.
I’m going to start and end with this because relationships has been the biggest proponent to growing and scaling my business. Because without the previous relationships of working at a large company, and meeting existing clients, and getting to know them on a more personal level, and then letting them know like, “I’m starting this thing. Would you be interested in being a client?” Even though I’m losing money early on to acquire those customers, but they gave me the opportunity to run something. It’s all about getting to know people and what their pain points are and filling that gap.
So my background was in sales and marketing for the 15 years before I started this agency, but building strong foundational skill sets on sales, and building really strong relationships along the way allowed me to really focus on that skill set, but also transitioning to more of an owner status, founder status. But when you’re starting off sales and marketing, there’s a lot of videos, audios, podcasts to learn about tips and trade on, you know, connecting with the audience, personalizing your message, speaking in the same tone, wearing the same clothes.
There’s a lot of little things that you can really focus on. But as much as you’re learning, you really need to get out there and do the legwork. Start doing phone calls, start meeting people. It’s a lot of grind work, but it’s the years of experience. I always say relationship building because without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Joe: That’s truly fantastic. I don’t usually do this but I am going to add on here because I think that what you said is so important. Start doing the legwork and doing phone calls and meeting people. One of the, let’s say, the silver lining of people having to stay at home for this long period of time is it’s easier to connect with them. Most people are on Zoom now. My wife is using Zoom regularly and she’s not a tech-savvy person. She’s a nurse. She’s very smart, of course, but she’s never had to use Zoom before. Now she uses it to talk to her friends.
One of the things that I’ve been doing is offering free 15 minute consults for people who are struggling to start a podcast. And that helps me learn the struggles and the problems that people are having, and it helps me connect with them. So I would encourage everybody listening to do that as well. To take John’s advice and start building those relationships.
John: That’s awesome. I mean, times of crisis, people will focus on two things: family and relationships. Business comes secondary because it’s necessities first: shelter, food, family, and friends. And then business will come and go, because right now not a lot of bricks and mortar stores are open. So what can you really do? You focus on that foundation of building a really strong connection with people?
Joe: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I love that. Well, John, thank you so much for your time today. If people want to learn more, where can they find you?
John: You can check out my website. It’s www.localseosearch.ca. If you want to connect with me on a more personal level, you can find me on the team page. There’s a LinkedIn hyperlink, and you can connect with me.
Joe: Fantastic. I will link to that. And everything else that we talked about over on the show notes at howibuilt.it. John, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
John: Awesome. Thank you. I had a lot of fun, Joe. Thank you for having me.
Outro: Thanks so much to John for joining us today and sharing lots of fantastic information. I love that he was able to nicely sum up a lot of the lessons that we’ve learned throughout the rest of this season that started back in January. But I also loved the important aspect of communication, which is owning your list however it is you choose to communicate or wherever your customers want to communicate, and having multiple touch points. I think that’s really great. I think that his trade secret is that everybody has the ability to build strong relationships. Super important. I love that a lot, too. So thanks again to John, for joining us.
Thanks so much to our sponsors for this week. Ahrefs, CircleCI, and TextExpander. Three fantastic tools that automate some aspect of your business so you can spend that time working on relationships. If you liked this episode, please give it a rating and review in Apple podcasts. It really helps people discover the show. I think more people are clicking on it because of the fancy new artwork that we have. Thank you, Brian Richards. But this will really help people discover the show, so be sure to leave a rating and review.
For all of the links and resources, you can head on over to howibuilt.it/170. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, get out there and build something.