1x$50k: Running a Content Marketing Agency

Yesterday, I posted an update explaining my plans to both double my income in 2021—and diversify to at least 5 separate income source.

This is the first post explaining the goals and vision that will go into accomplishing this.

To get things started, I want to focus on my work with Optimist, the content marketing agency that I started in 2016.

Making Less

I want to take a pay cut.

That’s probably not the thing you’re expecting to read in an article about doubling my income.

But, for the last 4 years, the majority of my income has come from one place.

Our content marketing agency has grown from zero to a service business generating about $1.5 million in revenue each year.

And, as it’s grown, so has my income.

As I shared in the first post in this series, my income went from $50k to about $130k in the last 4 years.

This has, of course, been great for me personally.

It’s allowed me to pay off debts, buy and renovate (and re-sell) a home, build up my savings, and live a comfortable life.

But it’s also meant focusing nearly all my time and energy on running Optimist day in and day out.

As the company has grown, I’ve had to wear more hats—and keep more plates spinning.

So, as I plan out the upcoming year, I also need to think hard about what my role at Optimist should look like now and into the future. And the message is pretty clear.

In order to focus my time and energy on other revenue streams, I’ll need to reduce my involvement and time commitment with Optimist.

Now this shouldn’t come as a huge shocker to other entrepreneurs.

It’s a pretty natural progression that comes with growing a business.

I’ve spent the first few years growing the company by pouring myself into the work. As we’ve taken on more new clients, I’ve gone from spending 5 or 10 hours per week on Optimist to 40, 50, or 60 hours per week.

It’s been stressful but rewarding work.

Now, we’ve outgrown a size where I can continue to hold on tightly to every client engagement.

I need to find ways to slowly take my hand off the wheel. I need other people in the company to take on jobs that I’ve done for too long and could be done better by someone with more time and attention to focus on the details.

Cutting My Work in Half

My goal for Optimist in 2021 is to cut my work by 50%.

Although the amount of time that I put in now varies dramatically based on the time and needs of specific clients, my ideal scenario is to get down to just 15-20 hours per week spent on Optimist, including both running the business and client-facing work.

Of course, this won’t be done in one fell swoop.

My main emphasis is on:

  • Replacing myself as the primary client contact
  • Letting others own the strategy
  • Automating repetitive work.

As it pertains to my income, I’ll need to pay someone to do the work that was I used to do. And, given our structure (a collective vs a traditional agency), I think it’s only fair that I reduce my income as my role and involvement shrinks.

Setting Goals for 2021

I’m not moving on from Optimist entirely.

In fact, I’m still planning to focus on running the business itself, hiring, marketing, and client strategy.

And, truth be told, I probably won’t take a pay cut that leaves me earning just $50k from my work on Optimist. (At least not this year.) Nevertheless, I know that I need to take these steps in order to create space for the other projects I’m pursuing. I also want to create space for the other talented people on our team.

But, that’s still my goal.

And in order to achieve these two goals—cutting my workload in half and reducing my income accordingly—I’ll need to accomplish at least 3 other key goals.

1. Build a system of SOPs for client strategy

Over the last 4 years, I have been extremely lazy about a key part of our business.

For too long, I’ve held information—processes, strategies, workflows—in my head and guarded the work as if I was the only one capable of performing these tasks.

This is, of course, monumentally stupid.

Not only has it created bottlenecks in our process and led to my own personal overwork. But it’s also handicapped my ability to onboard new talent or offload work that I was too busy to handle.

In 2021, this is changing.

My #1 priority for Optimist in the first quarter of the year to build and document a clear standard operating procedure for all of the research, strategy, and planning tasks that I have previously held inside my own brain.

To do this, I’ll need to spend time documenting and systematizing the work that I do:

  • Onboarding clients
  • Documenting goals
  • Defining strategy
  • Creating calendars

This will become a training and onboarding tool that allows me to easily grow our team and upskill folks into a strategy role.

2. Hire 3-4 content marketing strategists to replace me

The bulk of my work time is spent on developing and managing client strategy.

My #2 goal for Optimist in 2021: I don’t want to be the best content marketing strategist on our team.

As I already shared, I’ve held onto the reins here and acted as though my own knowledge and experience was uniquely qualified to construct our clients’ content marketing and SEO strategies.

This is wrong for many reasons.

But, the point is that it’s now time for me to let others take the lead and take ownership over our work for clients. In some cases, this will require training and development. In other cases, I’ll bring in qualified and experienced strategists who can step right into the role.

But, the point is that every client we service should have a content marketing strategist and each content marketing strategist can likely work with 4-5 clients at a time.

This means it will take approximately 3-4 strategists to replace me on all of our existing clients.

I’m hoping to fill these roles by the start of Q2.

3. Build a scalable sales workflow

We receive about 6 inbound sales inquiries per month.

I need to hand off the sales process to someone new on our team.

Ideally, I’d like for a strategist (either any of them or a particular one) to be the person fielding inbound inquiries and handling sales conversations.

My goal with Optimist has always been to eliminate the gap between the “account” and strategy + creative. In other words, I don’t want someone whose sole job is to sell to clients and then move on, with no obligation to deliver on the actual outcomes discussed in those conversations.

I’m committed to maintaining that structure, which means that at least one of the strategists I hire will need to be comfortable having a sales call and discussing money, agreements, and goals with the client.

Like with delegating my strategy work, I’ll also need to document this process:

  • Fielding inbound inquiries
  • Scoping work and budgets
  • Preparing proposals
  • Setting up and kicking off new client engagements

A Year of Doing Less

Probably the most challenging part of this goal will be mentally preparing myself to let go of some of the jobs that I have done since the beginning of Optimist.

I need to feel comfortable and confident that I have the right people in the right roles and that they’re prepared to take the wheel—and drive Optimist forward.

But, on the plus-side, I think that all of these changes are entirely necessary.

Not just in terms of achieving my own personal work and income goals, but for the future of Optimist.

We need a more scalable business model—and that means removing myself as a bottleneck.

While the agency has hovered around the $125k MRR mark for the last year, I think that these changes could prepare us to scale significantly beyond that level.

By doing less personally, I’m hoping to enable more great work to get done.

That’s a good feeling.


Want to see how I work through each of these goals throughout the year?

Taking bets on whether Optimist scales to $250k MRR or I fall flat on my face?

Follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the year & tweets on SEO, startups, growth, and content marketing.

5x$50k: Pursuing Purpose & Income Diversity

This is one of those posts that’s scary to share.

You know, the ones where you hover your mouse over the “publish” button for several minutes while a movie montage flashes through your brain, showing all of the ways the words you wrote might be used against you or blow up in your face.

When you finally click the button, you breathe a sigh of relief—and then resume feeling anxious.

This is a post about money.

In particular, our money (my wife and me)—specifically, how much I’ve earned, how much I want to earn, and my plans to get there.

It’s also one of those posts where there’s no way to rhetorically tip a toe in the water (except for this here extended ramble of an intro).

You just kind have to go for it.

So, here we are.

Analyzing My Income

Over the last 4 years, I’ve more than doubled my income.

When I quit my last full-time job, I was earning around $70,000 per year to lead marketing and growth for a venture-funded startup.

This salary probably seems low to most people. But, because this was an early-stage company and because I live in Des Moines—a low-COL area—for me, it was comfortable. I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, but I made enough along with my wife (then-girlfriend) to afford any expenses that came up, save a bit, travel, and generally enjoy life.

We were happy.

When I made the leap from my full-time job into freelancing and eventually starting the agency, Optimist, my income took a hit.

As I built up my client roster and Optimist became profitable enough for me to draw an income, I went from earning about $50-60k in 2016 to six figures by year 3.

Since then, my income has continued to grow pretty steadily each year.

Last year, the Optimist team decided to pin my earnings at 10% of our monthly revenue. I calculate this figure each month based on a fixed salary plus a variable draw.

I earned $128,000 in 2020.

At the age of 33, this is the most I’ve ever made in my life.

Income x Purpose

For 2021, I wanted to be intentional about my income.

To do that, I decided to set some goals and “build in public”—sharing my progress periodically throughout the year.

I want to start by saying that my priority at this point is not really to earn more money.

Truth be told, I already feel like I earn more than I need and plenty for a comfortable life. This is something I’ll need to give more consideration as I think about my longer term goals.

I don’t really have any dreams of making millions of dollars.

But, given what I’ve earned over the last few years and the new ventures that I’ve invested time and money into so far, I think it’s likely that I’ll nearly double my income in 2021.

And here’s where I get to my true objectives—and why I’m sharing any of this information in the first place.

As I reflect on what it would mean to earn this kind of income, I’ve realized that what’s more important to me than earning more is using that money to unlock a truly fulfilling life.

What does that mean, exactly?

I’d be lying if I said that I had it figured out. I’m still exploring what exactly gives me purpose and what comes after meeting my own immediate needs—ways to give back, how to help others, hopefully something that makes a difference in the world.

But, what I have figured out so far is that moving in this direction requires more than money.

It requires time and energy.

What that means, first and foremost, is that I need to secure other sources of income outside of Optimist. As a service business, the income generated from Optimist is closely linked to the amount of time that I’m able to put into the company.

So, if my goal is to free up time and resources to invest in things outside of work, then the first step is to de-couple the majority of my income from my work hours.

5x$50k: Diversifying my income

I’m in a fortunate position where I can shape this future for myself. By taking some of the money that I’ve made running Optimist and investing it in new ventures, I’m hoping to build a solid foundation of income that’s not tied directly to my time.

A big part of my goal is to diversify the types of income that I’m generating.

In 2021, I’ve laid out 3 types of income that I want to earn:

  1. Service income (daily work that gives me purpose)
  2. Product income (build once, sell multiple times—accumulate wealth)
  3. Passive income (long-term investments that I can fully outsource)

Across all 3 types of income, I want to further diversify my income into 5 separate streams, each generating at least $50,000 in the near year. That’s a total income of $250,000.

I’m calling this 5x$50k.

Here’s a little preview of my 5 income streams:

  1. Optimist
  2. Micro courses
  3. “Signature” course
  4. Optimist Labs
  5. Affiliate sites

Over the next week, I’m going to share a breakdown of each revenue stream, what my goals are, and how I plan to grow each source of income over the coming year.

Then, throughout the year, I’ll share periodic updates on my progress.

I’ll also share periodic updates on Twitter.

Follow me there to see how I do.

How to Make a WordPress Plugin Extensible

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Edgar D. Wang

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6 Easy Steps to Better Icon Design

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John G. Koss

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Creative and Innovative Navigation Designs

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John T. Talley

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Why I Switched to Sketch For UI Design

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Jeffery K. Perkins

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An Overview of E-Commerce Platforms

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Craig W. Grant

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Donec sit amet dolor ante. Vivamus vel massa accumsan, faucibus quam quis, convallis velit. Aliquam erat volutpat. Integer imperdiet diam quis arcu venenatis, quis sagittis nibh rhoncus. Donec non nisi scelerisque, sodales metus quis, accumsan mauris. Curabitur volutpat risus rutrum erat condimentum tristique. Nullam at felis diam. Quisque dictum felis non ante pretium mollis. Aliquam turpis neque, varius nec diam a, aliquam pulvinar diam. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Sed ipsum libero, aliquet sed bibendum faucibus, semper a dui.

Designing the Perfect Feature Comparison Table

In non arcu turpis. Pellentesque ornare tortor at condimentum pulvinar. Vivamus ultrices nisi sed est scelerisque, vel suscipit libero luctus. Cras magna nulla, suscipit in vulputate a, consequat egestas sem. Ut commodo eget velit nec egestas. Donec porta lorem vel neque varius aliquet. Nam convallis lacus ac lectus posuere bibendum. Sed sollicitudin nulla vel urna efficitur tempus. In et vehicula velit. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Duis feugiat, urna in ultricies vulputate, massa odio finibus justo, non luctus leo ligula at sem. Etiam lobortis leo eu efficitur ultrices. In sollicitudin nisi non ante consequat porttitor. Phasellus ornare dignissim nisi sed consectetur.

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Integer semper leo velit, ac accumsan diam sollicitudin in. Etiam feugiat faucibus rhoncus. Vivamus mollis vitae purus in malesuada. Donec at nibh metus.

Chester J. Albin

Pellentesque iaculis eget justo semper posuere. Duis vitae felis sed odio faucibus pulvinar vel eu est. Fusce pretium eu mauris eu ultricies. Curabitur hendrerit, risus sit amet ullamcorper sollicitudin, ex urna auctor quam, in tincidunt sapien justo sit amet ante. Donec enim lacus, pulvinar eu nulla rhoncus, porttitor volutpat nunc. Morbi ac dignissim orci, nec iaculis magna. Ut commodo nisi tellus, quis lacinia metus viverra vel. Vivamus ut neque elementum diam tempor mattis.

Integer dapibus sapien massa, in mattis magna commodo id. Vivamus tempor ullamcorper auctor. Aenean non bibendum magna, quis tempor ligula. Donec viverra lobortis libero, non feugiat nulla vehicula id. Ut posuere tellus in gravida ullamcorper. Nulla ut pellentesque velit. Mauris scelerisque auctor convallis. Sed tincidunt finibus est, nec convallis sem placerat eget. Donec tempor mauris vitae libero ultrices, a porta ex commodo. Quisque quis magna elit. Proin semper tellus quis orci tempor, porttitor lobortis nisi auctor. Phasellus turpis diam, commodo vel sagittis ac, lacinia vitae ex. Integer lacinia dapibus euismod. Integer bibendum nulla nec tincidunt consequat. Sed vel gravida risus. Cras lacinia tortor purus, vel vulputate velit rhoncus sed.

Maecenas id finibus felis. Etiam vitae nibh et felis efficitur pellentesque. Mauris suscipit sapien nunc, a lacinia nibh feugiat ut. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Fusce eu finibus urna, sit amet ornare enim. Vivamus consectetur ex urna, sit amet venenatis risus tincidunt eu. In eu dapibus justo. Suspendisse pulvinar fringilla ante non vehicula. Suspendisse nec cursus orci. Donec enim augue, ultrices ornare laoreet sed, facilisis sit amet nunc. Vestibulum fringilla orci eu enim porttitor facilisis. Donec dapibus malesuada tortor, imperdiet dapibus quam tempor eu. Vivamus sed viverra augue.

Best Practices for Animated Progress Indicators

Nulla nulla nisl, sodales ac nulla ac, consequat vulputate purus. Curabitur tincidunt ipsum vel nibh rutrum accumsan. Nunc ullamcorper posuere leo, vitae aliquet risus pharetra in. Integer turpis eros, iaculis et mi non, pulvinar egestas leo. Etiam sagittis ex turpis, vitae cursus tortor interdum eu. Quisque ultrices nunc eget erat vestibulum euismod. Ut mauris nisi, facilisis at arcu nec, facilisis porttitor lorem.

Vivamus vitae neque molestie, porta libero sed, tincidunt leo. In nec posuere odio, id rhoncus lorem. Proin id erat ut dolor condimentum viverra. Praesent viverra sed dolor ac luctus. Praesent placerat id lorem quis lacinia.

Maecenas id finibus felis. Etiam vitae nibh et felis efficitur pellentesque. Mauris suscipit sapien nunc, a lacinia nibh feugiat ut. In hac habitasse platea dictumst.

Larry L. Johnson

Etiam interdum vulputate risus, vitae elementum neque consectetur sed. Donec at risus dui. Ut in suscipit neque. Vestibulum sit amet lobortis magna, commodo venenatis ante. Cras molestie, ex a auctor lacinia, risus est aliquam risus, sit amet semper purus tortor id ante. Donec lacus ipsum, porttitor et libero a, fringilla auctor quam. Sed in nisl id libero tincidunt aliquet. Aenean dui ipsum, auctor ut leo ut, semper dignissim lacus. Suspendisse faucibus viverra consequat. Maecenas efficitur massa vel eros sagittis dapibus. Nam lobortis mi in turpis hendrerit eleifend. Nulla non massa felis.

Donec sit amet dolor ante. Vivamus vel massa accumsan, faucibus quam quis, convallis velit. Aliquam erat volutpat. Integer imperdiet diam quis arcu venenatis, quis sagittis nibh rhoncus. Donec non nisi scelerisque, sodales metus quis, accumsan mauris. Curabitur volutpat risus rutrum erat condimentum tristique. Nullam at felis diam. Quisque dictum felis non ante pretium mollis. Aliquam turpis neque, varius nec diam a, aliquam pulvinar diam. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Sed ipsum libero, aliquet sed bibendum faucibus, semper a dui.

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I’m the illest of the ill, the dopest of the dope. When it comes to strategy for content, you can call me the Pope.

Hi, my name is Tyler and I’m here to say! And I’m gonna say it in a rapping way.

For nearly 10 years, I’ve been helping startups, agencies, and corporate clients craft words that feel human. As a strategist, I’ve developed and executed plans that use content as an asset to increase traffic, generate leads, create sales, and improve search rankings.

Now, I lead a fierce team of content marketing experts at Optimist. We’re a fully-service content marketing agency that works with startups, SaaS, nonprofits, and creative/technical agencies to grow through strategic content and SEO.

Learn more about us: yesoptimist.com

Awards:
2014 ADAI Best In Category – Website Design – Strategy/Copywriting – FlyingHippo.com
2014 ADAI Winner – Website Design – Strategy/Copywriting – IGOR-Tech.com
2015 American Advertising Award – Advertising Industry Self Promotion – Strategy/Copywriting – PushBranding.com