To some of you, this might seem like a big accomplishment. At the end of the day though, what I'm most proud of is not the money.
I make decent money working for myself, but what I'm making now could not support a more inflated lifestyle, and things would be stretched much tighter if I wasn't single.
This isn't a "look at me I rule the world" post. Orthopatients' revenue is pretty low in the grand scheme of things. Many things about my business need fine tuning.
However, the lessons I've learned as I've started and maintained this company over the last 16 months have built an incredibly rock solid mindset foundation required to have continued success over a lifetime.
Mental fortitude and a true, grounded in reality understanding that I can influence my destiny is worth more to me than all the money in the world.
Entrepreneurship (or working on any sort of dream that relies on you taking uncommon action) is the best way to cultivate both of those in my opinion.
In addition to mental fortitude, as mentioned in this blog post by Ryan Holiday, The definition of success is autonomy.
What good would it do me to be rich and famous (I'm not either of those things, but hypothetically) if I couldn't leave on a dime to pursue a dream of living in London?
Why build a business that doesn't allow you happiness and freedom?
In the words of Henry David Thoreau:
“I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters”
Here's the thing: I do want to make a lot of money, but I want to make it on my own terms, on my own time. I want to make it without sacrificing my integrity, my health, or my autonomy.
Just as the majority of the work for my business was put in up front, my goal is to consistently make my life more and more aligned with how I actually want to spend my days. I see the value in the education I'm gaining through entrepreneurship, so I'll be here for as long as my paycheck is worth the things I'm learning.
Anyways, let's dive into the nitty gritty: how did I do it?
Step 1: Take Action, Fail Early
While I usually say I reached 6 figures in under a year, the process really started my senior year of high school (here's a secret: every "overnight success" started years before you saw the result).
In high school I tried to start a business - I wanted to make money blogging.
I wrote lots of articles, followed thousands of people from my blog's instagram account, worked really hard on a mission statement and a long term plan for the business, and... gave up 3 months in.
I gave up because I hadn't made any money up to that point. I told others it was because I felt like my content wasn't "essential" enough, but money was the real reason.
Nobody starts a business purely out of passion. That's why Step 4 is "Make Money as fast as Possible" - it's based more on psychology than business. People don't stick to things they're not getting a reward for.
So I "lost" maybe $600 (my brother just calls this the tuition of life) trying to start this blog in high school. Three months later I close up shop, I'm leaving on a full-time mission for my church for two years anyway.
The biggest lesson I learned from this failure is the difference between vanity metrics and real metrics.
Vanity metrics are things like your followers on Instagram, or number of subscribers on YouTube.
Real metrics are how much money your business is making. I had mistaken the trappings of success (followers and social clout) for success (defined here as money). And when I just kept losing money...I quit.
Step 2: Start Gaining a Skill
So I had my first failure under my belt. Fast forward ~2.25 years and I'm given an interesting offer by my brother, whose role at the time was CEO of my family business, a swim school for kids in Utah.
He was in charge of marketing, but didn't have the bandwidth to actually run ads himself or deal with the vicissitudes of partnerships etc., so he told me he would pay me to execute his instructions.
In his mind there were 3 ways to successfully market the new location opening that fall (This was August of 2018):
- Local Events
- Partnerships with other companies who service the same demographic
- Online Ads
For the next 8 months, I literally tried everything under the sun to market this new location: Digital billboards, a local coupon magazine, dropping off flyers at snow-cone shacks and pre-schools, running facebook ads, events, influencer marketing, I even knocked doors to sell swimming lessons.
Through this process, the thing I noticed that produced the most tangible results were the online ads. They were the only thing we could actually truly track, and they were incredibly asymmetric.
On top of all that, I enjoyed the process of creating an ad, launching it for real world testing, and seeing the results (or lack thereof) and trying to figure out why it worked or didn't work.
So I doubled down on Facebook ads. I was constantly testing things and failing about 95% of the time, but I was trying. That was the important part.
Step 3: Create belief
I had been trying (and failing) for about 2 months when we ended up hiring a friend of a friend to run some ads for the family business.
The new facility was about to open, and we needed results fast.
As I watched this 17 year old we hired systematically test campaign after campaign and eventually produce HUNDREDS of leads for about $6 per lead, the belief switch in my head turned on: I saw what was possible.
I saw a 17 year old kid from another state get on the internet, click some buttons, write some words, collect a $1500 invoice from my family business, and overwhelm the office staff with leads.
It blew my mind. Not just that we had paid a 17 year old $1500, but that he had created a functional direct response marketing campaign from scratch.
As I watched him work, and saw the process he went through, I understood the difference between a failing campaign and campaign that produces a good return on investment.
The difference was in the marketing copy (words) he used, the way he set up the landing page, the targeting in ads manager, and the text message automations set up for when a lead came through. All of these things together formed a cohesive marketing campaign that actually helped grow a business.
This experience taught me 3 important lessons:
- Starting a marketing agency is a viable online business model
- Marketing can actually work
- The elements of a successful marketing campaign
Notice how lessons 1 and 2 are tied directly to belief. I could have googled the answer to #3, but there is absolutely no way I could have faked belief.
If you're going to start a business, you've got to have a rock solid belief it can actually work.
When people hire me for consulting, the conversation is never truly about tactics. We might mention some specific tactics, we might go over some things in that realm.
The real question I am always being asked, however it is phrased, is "Can I actually make this work?" everything I show, everything I say to these students is just a way of checking off the doubt boxes they have formed around the viability of the opportunity.
So here's my advice: Fail quickly, start gaining a skill, and then do whatever you need to in order to create belief.
If it's investing in a $2000 course, do it.
If it's reading affirmations to yourself every day, do it.
If it's hiring a mentor to keep you accountable, do it.
If it's paying someone $200 for an hour long zoom session to take a look at how they run their campaigns, do it. (more on this later)
Just know that none of these things is a silver bullet. They are just there to help you believe that your dream is possible long enough to make it a reality.
Step 4: Make Money as Fast as Possible
So the belief had crystallized for me. I was running ads for my family business, and binge watching YouTube videos trying to get my belief and knowledge up a little bit every day.
Then on a quiet Friday night I watched a webinar by that 17 year old marketer we had hired. It was all about how he got started online.
It clicked that night (see Russell Brunson's book on story selling to see why). I decided I was going to start my own agency - if the 17 year old could do it, why couldn't I?
A couple weeks later, I posted something on Facebook about how I was starting a marketing agency.
I wish I had a screenshot of this post, but I deleted it. It was pretty simple: just a semi-professional picture and a couple paragraphs saying "I'm finally following my dream of starting a business, it's a marketing agency, reach out if you need any marketing help!"
I had a contact message me asking for details, and my sister referred one of her friends to me as well. The issue was, neither of these people had businesses yet. They had business ideas. Not knowing any better, I basically offered to be slave labor and do all their tech work for them.
So, I spent the next ~2 months helping these clients do things including but not limited to:
- Register for an EIN (a social security number for your business)
- Create a shopify account
- Buy a domain
- Brand and upload inventory to a Shopify store
- Create instagram accounts
- Collaborate with influencers
- Oh, and I did all of this for free.
After about 6 weeks of this, I realized I had no clue what I was doing. Once the stores were set up... then I would have to run ads to them.
I would have to spend other people's money to do something I wasn't sure would produce the result I wanted.
I had spent my family's money before, to try to generate leads for a business I had worked in since I was 14, but this was different. I didn't know anything about e-commerce.
I ended up firing myself from both clients because I had no clue what to do. One still wasn't ready for people to buy from her, and the other had some serious inventory problems (only one or two of each clothing item in the store, in one size).
I decided I was going to stick with local businesses and started reaching out to a few every single day. Including but not limited to:
- A sushi restaurant
- A reptile birthday party company
- Food trucks
- House Cleaning Companies
- Landscaping Companies
- Yoga Studios
- A kids play place
- Rodizio grill (lol)
No luck. A few responses, but largely I just got ignored.
I was going to figure this out though. I was going to do it.
Everything changed on a fateful night when I met up with my best friend from high school whose dad is a dentist. I was talking to him about starting this agency and how all the gurus online were telling me to pick a niche.
"You should do orthodontists." he said, "I was talking to my dad the other night and they charge a lot per customer and they have higher patient volumes than a dentist."
That was good enough for me.
The next week, I sent this message to the first Orthodontist that came up when I searched "Orthodontist" in Facebook.
We got on the phone, I provided a lot of value to her, and a week and a half after that call, I got paid $600 from a complete stranger.
I'm not a big fan of Iman Gadzhi, but he had an ad at one point that said "They say there's nothing like your first love. But in reality, I think that can't compare to the feeling you get after you close your first client."
That, ladies and gentlemen is SO true.
I looked at my bank account today (at the time of writing this article) and saw I received a 5 figure bank deposit yesterday. That's a good feeling, a REALLY good feeling. But it's nothing compared to that first $600.
I hope by this point it's clear that the reason that first $600 was exciting wasn't about the money. That $600 represented the first tangible evidence of a dream becoming a reality. It was the proof that everything I had been doing wasn't a waste of time.
Forget that it took me 4.5 months after "starting an agency" to get there, or 3.4 years after starting my first "business". Forget that all the unpaid time I had spent up to that point probably meant that my hourly rate was less than $5/hr, or that the time I would spend would bring that down even farther.
Forget all of that.
I had created my own reality. That's priceless.
This is why you need to make money as quickly as possible.
Step 5: Find or Build Proven Campaigns
Once you get a client, the next step is to get them results.
This is by far the hardest part of building an agency. If you want to be more than a flash in the pan, you have to focus on this.
In the first month of working with my brand new client, I was able to bring them one Invisalign patient by running a simple $500 off Invisalign Facebook ad to a few different audiences.
The next month, I started testing other things frantically. This was the cycle:
- Use https://facebook.com/ads/library to look at what practices with good facebook ads were doing to advertise
- Try my own version of what they were doing
- Wait for success or failure and then iterate
Additionally, I was doing a lot of research via YouTube and Google searches for things like "How to Market an Orthodontic Practice".
In this search, I came across an Orthodontist named Dr. Tyler Coles. I joined his membership group for $1 (first month discount...lol). I remember binge-watching his content from my college dorm at 7:30pm like it was yesterday.
A couple days later this email from Dr. Coles:
I saw that you just recently signed up for Ortho Marketing University.
I'm not sure how you found the sign up page for OMU, but I'm no longer adding new content to this platform.
You can have full access to the site for your $1 trial, and I shut off your subscription so you won't be billed anymore than the $1.
The two lectures that are on the OMU site are absolutely worth checking out and for a $1 they are bargain. Enjoy!"
Does anyone find this as funny as I find it?
Anyways, we started talking, and following a tip I gleaned from this YouTube interview I ended up asking Dr. Coles how much he would charge for an hour of his time. He said he would charge $200 and I said, "Done!"
Remember how that first $600 was the most important money I ever made?
This $200 was arguably the best I ever spent.
Dr. Coles had previously run a marketing agency for Orthodontists. He had made all the mistakes already, and in the hour we spent together, he told me exactly what he would do if he was starting the company all over again.
The most important thing that happened on that call was him teaching me to run proven evergreen campaigns.
This is the key to what has allowed my agency to scale.
A proven evergreen campaign is a campaign that is proven to work 80-90% of the time, and that doesn't require you to change the whole campaign each month.
An example of a non-evergreen campaign is something like $500 off Invisalign during May. Once May is over, you shut the campaign off and start from scratch for June.
Not ideal for you or the client.
Once I started using the proven evergreen campaign Dr. Coles taught me (see this youtube video) I was able to create a scalable business. When I pitched clients, I had something to pitch them on besides "facebook ads." When I set up a new client, I was using a duplicatable system which allowed for a faster turnaround, and better results.
Step 6: Hustle and Build a Brand at the Same Time
When I was first starting out, I spent about an hour reaching out every day to Orthodontists through various channels - email, Facebook messenger business inboxes, cold calling, cold loom videos etc.
I saw some results (my first client!) but quickly realized there had to be a more effective way to market myself.
It was around this time I signed up for the free version of the One Funnel Away challenge by Russell Brunson
The One Funnel Away challenge (OFA) is a compilation of a bunch of Internet Millionaires talking about what they would do if they lost their whole business and reputation tomorrow.
They write these super long articles outlining every day from day 1 to day 30 of their plan to bounce back.
I read/skimmed about 10 of the 30, and the thing that kept coming up in each article was Facebook groups.
People would say that on day one or two, they would join a few niche facebook groups and start interacting with the people in the groups. I had given this a chance before, but hadn't found any healthy facebook groups related to orthodontics that would let me in. I decided to search for "ortho" instead of "orthodontics" just to check again.
There was a facebook group with nearly 1000 orthodontists.
I joined the group and put up a simple post:
Notice how this was pure value. I didn't ask for anything!
It also positioned me as an expert in this group. I ended up getting a sales call from this post, he closed about 3 months later.
After this initial post, I continued to engage in the group almost every day.
About one month later, I decided to post again - a post that would absolutely change my business.
After reading about the power of free value in Russell Brunson's book Dotcom Secrets, I decided to create a free guide for Orthodontists called "6 Steps to Dominating Online as An Orthodontist"
See the (absolutely beautiful) cover below:
I posted this in that facebook group and said something like:
"Hey everyone, I've been working on an an amazing guide for marketing online as an orthodontist! I've taken everything all my knowledge of digital marketing and specialized it to orthodontics in this guide. Facebook won't let me post the link here, just message me or comment below if you'd like to see it!"
Because of all the people commenting on that post, it was the number one post in that group for about two months! It was so popular, everything the admins were posting was getting buried beneath my post. It eventually got deleted (because it was too popular), or I would post the original one here.
Take a minute and think about that: I was getting in front of my target customers every day, without doing additional work.
That's called leverage my friends.
Yes, it wasn't the nicest way to go about it, and my PDF guide absolutely sucked (I had no clue how to make something that was actually useful at that point). But even with sub-par content, I was able to close 1 client immediately off that post, and I would say my next 5-6 clients originally found me there as well.
When you’re first starting out, you should do some hustling (cold calling, cold messaging, etc.)
The problem with these methods, however, is that they are directly tied to your time. If you cold call a business, there is very little compounding or exponential effect to what you’re doing - you’re trading time for results.
This story shows why I recommend supplementing your hustling efforts with building a brand/platform. Hustling will get you quick results, building a brand will get you slow results compounded over time.
Other ways I built a brand:
- Friending orthodontists on Facebook every single day, messaging them, posting valuable content on my feed to help them
- Creating YouTube videos to send to contacts I made on Facebook. This helped them trust I knew what I was talking about.
- Running paid facebook ads (once I had a little more cash)
- Creating a website
- Writing blog articles that (will hopefully someday) rank in search
All of these things eventually help you create a machine that churns out clients for you, even when you're not working.
Step 7: Outsource Fulfillment
Once I had about 3 clients (about 3 months in), I was working so many hours on their accounts that I had no time to prospect.
This is where I turned to my favorite freelancing site to find a talented contractor to do the client management for me: Upwork.
Using some guidance I got from my mentor Trey, I used this as my job posting on Upwork:
Here's a pro tip: The more professional your job posting, the higher quality talent you will attract. This is one piece of writing that gets read all the way through. Take time to comb through it three or four times before you post it.
Once I put the job up, I waited about four days for candidates to apply. I probably had five applications, two of which stood out to me the most.
Following some advice I got from Sam Ovens' Consulting Accelerator, I got on a call with the top two candidates and interviewed them. Both interviews went well, so I gave them both a test project.
This is crucially important: Do NOT hire someone without a true test project.
I know this is a big jump for a lot of people, so here are some more details on this process:
Test Project for Candidate A: Audit a client account to see how to improve their results, and then execute.
Result: Did almost everything perfectly, but messed up on one set of instructions
Test Project for Candidate B: Set up a video views retargeting campaign in Facebook Ads Manager.
Result: Flawless execution, detailed screen share video outlining what he did after it was finished.
On paper, candidate A was perfect for the job...until we did the test project. The test project not only allowed me to see both candidates competency, I was also able to see their ability to follow instructions and their communication styles - both huge things for a working relationship.
At the end of the day my hiring advice in one sentence is: hire someone you get along with. Some might call this someone who fits your company "culture". If you're just starting out, your culture is you.
I ended up choosing candidate B, and we are still working together today. That is the power of doing the hiring process correctly.
Once I had chosen candidate B, it was time to start actually offloading tasks to him. This happened gradually.
First, I put him in charge of actually "clicking the buttons" (as I like to call it) for all three of my current clients. I was still their contact at the company though - they talked to me if any issues came up. I didn't tell them someone else was running their ads.
I remember paying him $1000 and going on a real vacation for the first time since I started my business. It was just a long weekend where I took Friday off, but it was an AMAZING feeling having someone else running the business while I was four wheeling and hiking in Wyoming.
I was actually able to spend the next couple weeks working for only a few hours a day. I had a family vacation and a trip with a friend planned, so I would fit in a couple hours of prospecting and client communication in the mornings, and then spend the rest of the day having fun. This was my first experience with separating work from my own time and effort - it was amazing!
After we reached six clients, I was swamped all day every day with client communication. This is when the next level of outsourcing came - I passed all client communication after the sales call to my contractor. I now had an "Account Manager".
Since then, I've outsourced the following (some to my partner, which doesn't technically count): Video editing, Posting on Social Media, Initial Prospecting Conversations, and Sales Calls. Most have had varying degrees of success, but they have been a relief to take off my plate. I've outsourced some because they take up a lot of time, others have been because they are annoying and repetitive.
Step 8 (to infinity): Never Take Your Eye off Client Results
As I was approaching my tenth client I decided to make an online course for orthodontists.
I had bought into the dream of being an online course seller. This was going to be huge!
Not so fast.
Anyone who has built an online course knows that it's not a joke - it's similar to writing a book. I was spending 4 hours a day on the course and barely making any progress.
Pretty soon, some things started to fall apart:
A client cancelled after less than 2 months - it was because they had received one lead the entire time they were with us. Another (who won a free month of marketing giveaway) got very poor results. One more signed up, paid the invoice, and then her ads were never launched because of communication issues and a banned ad account.
All of these clients had one thing in common: the second account manager I had just hired. I confronted him about the issues, and he subtly accused me of being a lazy employer, setting poor expectations with him, and having poorly documented processes.
We parted ways soon thereafter...I still have a sour taste in my mouth from this experience. I felt like I got scammed.
The moral of this story isn't about managing people though, it is about focus. I was spending most of my days trying to 1) Build my online course and 2) Get more clients.
My focus was NOT on client results.
I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even realize the client had received one lead in two months until they cancelled.
This simple change in focus would have changed everything! If I wasn't so focused on the course, I would have taken more time hiring and avoided this whole situation. Even if I had ended up hiring the same person, 30 minutes a day checking in on him and making sure everything was being implemented correctly would have been enough to save the clients and the revenue.
Since then, I have made improving client results my first priority. I'm not perfect at it, but I know a little goes a long way. This is what allows us to stay in business. This is how we retain customers. We don't have time NOT to do this.
Step 9: Dream 100, Email Marketing, and Diversifying Traffic Sources
Sales, prospecting, and force of will got me to $10k/mo. To get bigger, however, I knew I would need a better marketing plan.
The first step I took was to tap into what Russell Brunson calls your "Dream 100". This is a list of people who service the same niche as you, but who provide different services or products. My Dream 100 includes consultants, other marketing agencies (more on this later), magazines, websites etc.
These people have already spent years building up an audience. I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I knew that if I could build relationships with successful entrepreneurs in the orthodontic industry, nothing bad would come of it.
I employed the same strategy I had with Dr. Coles (see Step 5), and just started asking people how much they would charge for an hour of their time. To my surprise, the first two people I reached out to talked to me for free. One became a trusted friend and did a webinar with me a few months later that turned into tens of thousands in revenue, and the other became my business partner.
This is the power of the Dream 100!
After I decided to team up with my now business partner, I gained access to a huge (9,000+) email list full of Orthodontists.
My partner had been lucky enough to carry the email list over from his previous agency, and had grown to about 20 clients exclusively through email marketing.
We used the email list to push traffic to a webinar in February 2020, which helped us scale very quickly, and have mined it over and over again to get new clients.
This illustrates the way I view marketing: there are pockets of potential customers hiding all over the place. Some prefer email, some prefer social media, some prefer magazines or more traditional styles of advertising.
Getting more customers is as simple as bringing a compelling marketing message to new platforms.
As you consistently publish on multiple channels, people can't help but do business with you (eventually).
The way I moved from 10 clients to 30 clients is through scalable marketing on multiple channels: facebook ads, facebook organic (posting + leveraging groups), YouTube videos, Email Marketing.
I'm currently working on SEO, which is a harder nut to crack, but will turn on the floodgates once we figure it out.
Step 10: Internal Systems
Our proven campaigns are the most important system we have. This allows us to set a client up and only make edits on their campaign when it's not performing well enough.
Having internal systems (or checklists) makes sure the proven campaigns are executed correctly.
Systems just get more important the bigger we grow.
My business partner brought a lot of great insight from his previous agency in this realm, so we use all of his stuff for this.
I'll share an example of one of our checklists so you can get an idea of how this works:
This is our sales checklist. We know the minute a sales call closes, these are the tasks that need to be completed.
Please don't just pay attention to the apps we use. Those are the least important part of this section.
Big businesses get big because they have repeatable processes for doing things, which makes them reliable. The system they "sell" to the public is what they offer:
- Grocery stores sell a reliable way to get food - which wouldn't be possible without a system.
- Music teachers sell a reliable way for their students to learn an instrument (aka curriculum).
- Phone companies sell a reliable way to contact your friends and family.
The systems that allow businesses to sell are ones like our sales process: Systems for communication, systems for processing payments. systems for storing data. All of these come together to allow a business to deliver the system that they sell.
As you grow, just start recording the steps you take to get a certain task done. At Orthopatients, we have checklists for sales and client campaigns. We also have operations manuals for each position in the company. This ensures that everything that needs to get done has someone in charge of it. For more resources on operations manuals, check out The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
Business is pretty simple at the end of the day. It's just showing up consistently enough, for long enough.
My business is nowhere near perfect. I haven't made a million dollars, I still make stupid mistakes all the time, and I have clients cancel my services on a regular basis.
On the other hand, my company provides an awesome service to small business owners with families and employees all over the nation. I laugh and joke with my team members each day, make my own schedule, and learn new things every day.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that business is more about happiness than it is about profit. You won't be happy without profit, but why be profitable but not happy?
I've historically been terrible at this, but my last piece of advice is to not take yourself so seriously. Just enjoy the process! As Josh Forti says, "you're one consistent set of actions away from a completely different life."
I hope this post has shown you that making a modest income online is not only possible, but plausible for normal people just like me and you.
The only thing holding you back is yourself!