The Insider Series: Q&A with Tom Telford, 98toGo

By | May 23, 2012
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This post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Tom TelfordJust one year ago, Tom Telford was realizing the benefits of inbound marketing through his online business, Cabin Creek Rentals. Seeing the power of content marketing and blogging in driving leads, Tom teamed up with his marketing agency partner and future business partner, Fred Spring (@fredspring), to launch 98toGo as a content creation partner for businesses.

98toGo is a rising HubSpot VAR partner with a unique business and pricing model that makes content accessible to small businesses and niche vertical markets. Marketing Agency Insider had the opportunity to talk with Tom about his growing agency and the opportunities associated with scaling content.

Q&A with Tom Telford

MAI: What are the origins of 98toGo?

Tom: Fred Spring was in the online "SEO" space, helping businesses with on-page SEO and earning inbound links through online articles. At the time, it was working for Fred with several of his clients, so I turned to him for help with my cabin company.

98toGoAs we began to work together, he realized that I knew the paid arena and that complemented what he was doing. We had a ton of questions about the analytics of the results, which led us to HubSpot. I'm an engineer; once I saw that software, I spent thousands of hours learning every aspect of the tool and how to best utilize it.  

Fred and I formed 98toGo after we saw that we were getting tremendous results and knew that business owners needed the same kind of help. Quickbooks on its own doesn’t help a business—you need bookkeepers. 98toGo serves in the “bookkeeper” role for HubSpot.

MAI: What drew you from the rental business to opportunities in the inbound marketing agency arena?

Tom: Knowing what it takes to run a business, and that marketing is the key to long-term success, I had peace of mind that my business was on the right track in the way of our marketing efforts. I wanted other business owners to feel that confidence and help their businesses grow.

On a larger scale, we want to impact our country by putting more people back to work. I feel that over time we will be able to do just that from the results we have seen thus far with our existing clients.

MAI: Content marketing has a lot of hype in the industry right now, but how have you seen content and blogging drive business results?

Tom: Great question, and it deserves the hype! Every single client we have is seeing results in the form of site visits. Our initial goal is to feed the Google beast with great content that people want to read. The problem is that content is only the first phase.

We are able to take businesses from virtually no traffic, and within the year, to 1,000 visits per month or more. But that’s just the beginning. After you start seeing traffic results, you have to engage or you will not be thrilled with this work. Clients that do not spend the time (or have us help) producing valuable offers will not get the leads they desire.

If you get more visits, you will are likely to get more business. However, what really puts content marketing on steroids is to provide great offers to get leads. For example, my company was up 14% in Q1 2012 as a result of generating more leads online.

We went from 8,000 leads to 23,000 leads in just more than a year. But the leads mean nothing without the offer and nurturing to help solve their problems.

MAI: There's also an ongoing debate between quality and quantity of content as part of inbound marketing strategies. How have you tackled both elements in your unique business model?

Tom: We are constantly analyzing the results. Let's face it, the Google updates change the game and the type of content absolutely matters. Quality is now number one, but you can have quality and still publish frequently. We are seeing results with our clients with more posts that are relevant to the topic.

Search optimization still plays a role in getting found. Linking to other content that is specific to the keyword is also important for the user experience. We believe that each page should be built around the keyword searched.

If you are going after 30 keywords and you blog once per week, it will take you 30 weeks to cover them all. Why not blog more times per week, keep the content fresh and get those keywords online?

MAI: Seeing agency life from the perspective of the client (Cabin Creek Rentals) and now the agency ownership side, what do you feel is the biggest challenge in the new marketing services ecosystem? What advice would you offer to agencies or business owners who are thinking about outsourcing content?

Tom: We made the mistake trying to do it all initially. It is not an option to get started and think you can do it all. Our advice is to be the best in class in your expertise area, and be able to say no to the rest.  

We decided to be best in class at producing a user-friendly, optimized business blog. If we had to do it over again, we would not have tried to work the other pieces until we were ready, but I suppose going through what we did helped us to figure it out.  

Also, find your channel partner. Even an inbound marketing agency takes a year to get traffic, leads and customers online. You must survive by finding a partner that can bring you leads on a consistent basis. That will be the number one challenge for a start-up agency.

Overall, I learned the most through hard work and spending hours writing. I thought I had it. Then one morning, I woke up and spent four hours writing one blog post. I just could not complete this one. When I finally finished, I had to add photos and optimize the post, and at that point, it was taking up the better part of my day.

I value my time as the CEO of two companies, so producing the content myself was not an option. I was fortunate to build a company to do just that, so I now outsource my cabin management content to 98toGo. They do it more cost effectively and better than I was doing it, so it really served me well. I highly recommend it.  

However, I do believe that you should write some content for your own company. You know it best!

Tom Telford is the co-founder and CEO of 98toGo. View Tom’s full bio on the 98toGo Team Page, connect on LinkedIn and check out his video.