Step Up or Sit Down: Grow Your Business the State of Search Way

The Search Doctors delivered a booster shot to SMBs and freelancers

Duane Forrester, Wil Reynolds and Zeph Snapp on stage at Gilley's Texas for the Let's Get Real session at State of Search 2016
Duane Forrester, Wil Reynolds and Zeph Snapp took on the “Let’s Get Real” challenge issued by State of Search, and the result was an epic session with advice and insights for SMBs and Freelancers. Sean Dolan served it up to the panel as moderator, inviting some epic insights from the hugely successful session.

State of Search 2016 was bigger and better than we ever could have hoped for, but one of the stand-out presentations was a Q/A session with Duane Forrester (Bruce Clay International), Wil Reynolds (SEER Interactive, whose keynote we covered earlier), and Zeph Snapp (Altura Interactive), moderated by Sean Dolan (Pushfire). Things got up close and personal as the panelists each shared their journeys toward building their brands and businesses, while delivering candid, meaningful advice as to how the audience could do the same.

But back to the beginnings – did you know Duane started out as the guy who crawled behind ATMs to fix them back when banks first started rolling them out? He remembered one time a lady put her card in the machine and it fell through, and he silently picked it up and pushed it back through without her ever knowing. Zeph used to be a Dippin’ Dots salesman – you heard that right, he used to see the ice cream of the future. And Wil started out as a paperboy, which taught him how to “get out of bed and get the hard work done.” After that, he went to school to be a high school economics teacher!

Everyone screws something up at some point

Beyond their starting points, the panel was asked what their biggest screw ups were. Duane drove a car through a storeroom wall – “This is why you have insurance for your business!” – and that (on a smaller scale) he has fallen prey to sending embarrassing emails due to misinterpretation. For Zeph, his biggest misstep was over-hiring and not being smarter in the early days of starting his business. “Don’t take on projects you don’t feel great about just for the money,” he warned. “It’s not all about the money.”

Echoing Zeph’s advice, Wil said his biggest mistake was working with small businesses and then not adequately preparing for working with huge clients. “You don’t need to be afraid of growth for your business,” said Wil, “but you also need to be prepared.” More than that, though, Wil gave a brilliant piece of advice with which the rest of the panel agreed: no matter how big or small, don’t care what the rest of the industry thinks about you. They’re not the ones signing your paychecks. You need to care about your team, care about your clients, and care about your family. “I don’t go to bed and sleep next to the industry. I have to make sure my wife is proud of me.”

To thine own self be true

On a similar note, Duane loves interacting with the industry and coming to events like State of Search (there’s a reason he’s been coming back for the last seven years), but client interactions fulfill the “real him.” That being said, he has an agitation clause built into his contracts. “At any given time, there are 10-20% of my client list who I’m considering firing,” he said. He also strives to have a positive impact within Bruce Clay International (where he oversees more than half the company) and push them into new ways of doing things. He doesn’t care about how things were done “historically.” It’s all about the now and the future.

But the moment that really drove the panel home was when our own Sha Menz asked each panelist what was the thing that they pushed through or didn’t let stop them that other people couldn’t? For Duane, what helped him was remembering the moment he left home and started living on his own. “That teaches you everything you need to be successful.” For Wil Reynolds, it was a matter of not leveling up his lifestyle. “Don’t get caught up with the illusion of success in this industry.” Retweets don’t equal success, and they certainly don’t pay the bills.

Zeph agreed, and he said you should be prepared to do everything you can with nothing, to go without things you want until your business is profitable enough to actually be able to afford those things.

Don’t bite off more than you can afford to chew

To dig deeper into Zeph’s point, Wil said he bought a house and lived in the “worst room” while he rented out the best rooms, and he drove a janky car that was already paid off, so he could fund his business without falling into insurmountable debt (a common secret of long-term success). And he wasn’t afraid to be honest and tell potential clients that he didn’t have an office and that he worked in his house. “People can feel your lack of confidence” he said. “Own your situation. Own your work.” When you do this, your shortcomings give you the strength to rise up and get it done.

In the end, it was an exceptional Q/A session that left the entire room feeling reenergized and ready to get back to work. In one of his final points, Duane took a moment to thank the State of Search crowd for their love and support after he and Microsoft parted ways. Practically the moment after he wrote his blog post about no longer having a job, he had more than a dozen viable job offers (and he ultimately ended up at Bruce Clay, which was a story we broke last year). “I fear nothing, because I have you,” he said. “I know I’m not alone.”

With that said, Duane closed it out with a final piece of advice for anyone trying to start a business or achieve new goals: “Know what you want. Make a list. Stay true to your passions and desires.”

Speaking of desires, we heard how much our State of Search audience loved this session, and we also heard you say you wanted it to be longer. So the good news is, the Let’s Get Real panel session will be back for State of Search 2017. Want to be there? Of course you do. Use discount code GETREAL to get $50 off the cost of your 2017 ticket.

Writer, blogger, SEO guy. Timothy volunteers his writing skillz for DFWSEM / State of Search. He also writes about movies and shows and nerdy stuff. To read this wicked-fresh content, and learn more about all things SEO / nerd-culture, you can follow him on Twitter – @timothuney