Building a Million Dollar Agency from Zero – An Interview with Mash Bonigala

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In 2012 when Google changed its algorithm, the company Logo Design Works went from having hundreds of enquiries a day, to almost zero. The founder Mash Bonigala hit rock bottom, and ultimately needed to let his team go. He made the decision to start again under the parent name of Spellbrand, which he built up to become a million dollar agency with offices in 5 countries around the world.

In this episode Ian interviews Mash to learn how he built the business up from scratch, what the agencies sales funnels look like and how they use Facebook and Google Ads to pull in ongoing clients.

 

Building a million dollar agency from zero - An interview with Mash Bonigala

Books & Resources Mentioned

 

 

Mash Bonigala Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: SpellBrand has been around for years. There’s an incredible amount of work and a huge amount of content on the website too, so it feels really established. I’d love to hear your story. Can you share with us how you went about building SpellBrand?

 

Mash Bonigala: Now, SpellBrand is actually the third avatar, so to speak. I started as a graphic designer, of course. Freelancer. And then I started a small graphic design firm, a logo firm called Logo Design Works. This is going back years and years and years. It was with a partner back in Sarasota, Florida, and really it was one of the first, I would say, logo design online websites. There were very few at that time and initially we had a lot of success as Logo Design Works, and although we were doing a number of other things, it was primarily driven by logo designing. There were a few competitors, but it was sort of quite an open field at that time.

Fast-forward a few years, we were doing really well. We were of course that time charging comparable prices, 199 to 499 or something like that, and we were doing 75, 100, maybe sometimes even 150 projects a month. It was all volume-based and that went on for quite a while. That was a second avatar.

And then of course Google sort of intervened in our lives and in about 2000 I think 12 or something like that, we were hit with Panda, Penguin, and our site was penalised terribly. So overnight we lost our traffic. Our traffic went from, I don’t know, something like 10,000, 12,000 visitors a day down to 500 or 700 or something like that.

So we were building up Logo Design Works, we had a huge team. We actually moved from Sarasota to Cleveland, Ohio, and Columba, so we had an office in Cleveland. Well, not an office, a small studio, and then we had another studio in Columbus in Ohio, and we had quite a sizeable team, and so overnight the traffic went down like a brick and of course that means sales went down. So from about let’s just say an average of 100 projects a month, we went down to, you would not believe this, but five, five projects a month. Sometimes even less.

Anyway, one dark day, I don’t want to be dramatic, but I remember clearly, and Ohio, Cleveland, Columbus, they have terrible weather. Anyway, this particular day was literally dark. It was dark, it was raining outside and I had to fire everyone. It’s not even downsizing, it was just, well, just to back up a step, I kept on for a few months keeping the team, paying the salaries, paying the bills, so we ran out of the buffer, we ran out of the bank account, Then I went into my credit cards, I started running out of my credit cards and it looked like I was looking at bankruptcy in the face.

This team, we’d been working together for a few years. We were like family members. If there was a baby somewhere we would all go to the hospital. If there was a death in the family for someone we would all go and support them. We had family picnics, we had pizza nights, beer nights, you name it, right? And it was really terrible and event though, and I remember this very clearly. Even though I had this meeting and I was like …

Of course they knew it because in fact some of them were saying, “How long are you going to pay us from your credit cards, from your wife’s credit cards? How long are you going to do this?” So they knew it was coming and that day I was in tears. I broke down, I was literally crying and they were like, “It’s okay. We get it.”

But anyway, so it was a bad day. I let them all go and I personally went into depression for I would say three to four months, maybe more. I went into a cocoon, I was really depressed, as you can imagine. You know, I lost my business. More importantly I lost my team members and I had nothing in the bank, I had no credit. It was the darkest day of my life. But anyway, that was the second avatar.

Fast-forward after the depression with the help of my wife, I went into some kind of spirituality. I was doing Zen meditation and it really helped me. It pulled me out of that and I started sort of rethinking, okay, what have I done, where am I and where do I need to go? Obviously I need to do something and graphic design brands, you know, I was passionate about these.

I had an option to get a job. In a previous life I was a coder. I was doing coding on visual basic and things like that, so I could get a job in the software development, but no, I didn’t want that. It did not want to get a job. I was an entrepreneur, I’d built a company and I loved it. I loved it too much to go back to being an employee somewhere and all that.

But anyway, slowly but surely I started thinking about what went wrong and I identified a few things that I made a mistake in terms of building the business. Putting all my eggs in Google’s basket was one big thing. Not building a brand but rather building a business was another, and, of course, the third one was not building a personal brand because at that moment I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have a brand, I didn’t have a personal brand. All I had was this website which was penalised by Google, and I spent, of course, a few months trying to get out of that, like everybody else, clean up the website, clean up the links and sent a disavow request, but nothing. Maybe there was a small bump in traffic. Maybe from 500 it probably went up to 800 a day, but that was nothing.

So, there began my journey of sort of really reinventing myself, so I made a vow to myself, to my previous team members that never again in my life would I depend on Google, or for that matter any single platform that would drive my sales, my revenue, my livelihood, all this.

So I then slowly started doing what everyone else does, I suppose, in terms of building a personal brand, content generation, so content, you know, all that. So SpellBrand actually was already a website that I had, and it was actually the registered company, a registered brand, but it was just used for the register purposes for paying taxes and things like that. It had a landing page and that’s about it.

So I made this decision to shut down Logo Design Works and start SpellBrand fresh, and that was quite scary because there was always … You always have this hope that miraculously I would wake up one morning and Google had forgiven me, forgiven Logo Design Works and I had the previous traffic, and I used to fantasise and daydream about how I would call up all the team members, because I knew they were looking for jobs elsewhere, and call them up and say, “Guys, forget about looking for another gig. Just come back because Google almighty has forgiven us and blah blah blah.” So I had these fantasies and these daydreams about this. But anyway, that’s what they were. They were just fantasies, right?

So, I launched SpellBrand and I think this was 2013, something around that, yeah. 2013. I quickly put together a website, I took some of the content. I’d written a lot of content for Logo Design Works, but primarily for SEO purposes not for really this new mindset that I had which was let’s build a personal brand. Let’s do some real content out there. Let’s help some small business owners. I didn’t have all that with Logo Design Works. It was more about keywords. You know how it was back in the day, right?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah.

 

Mash Bonigala: Everybody was doing it. In fact, Google encouraged us to do it, to be honest, by counting the number of H1 tags and rewarding people for it.

But anyway, to cut the long story short, I took some of the content that I felt had some merit and was not really, you know, just thin content that had no real soul, I then ported that over to SpellBrand.

Back in those days when we were doing like 100 projects a month, I had tons and tons and tons and tons and tons of logos that I could display. Now, with SpellBrand I thought no. This was not the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to really build a brand and not a business, and that might seem funny, or maybe not, but I did not want a business, I wanted a brand.

Now, of course, I could not see that so clearly back in 2013, but that was the rudimentary kind of thought process that went into SpellBrand and I thought, okay, let’s take a few of the projects that I was proud of, not in terms of design aesthetics but more about how I was feeling when I was working with that client, and the kind of manifesto that I wrote for myself for SpellBrand and for myself was to really do work that mattered.

Now, of course, this is all cliché. Everyone says that, but at that time for me to come from a logo design sweatshop, I was doing 100 projects a month, it’s got to be a sweatshop, and then transitioning to something where I wanted to build brands was quite a shift.

Of course for the sake of this podcast, I’m really cutting short, but that took many months of soul searching, Zen meditation, and with the little money that I had … In fact I even went for a silent retreat. I remember, I did a week-long silent retreat, a Zen silent retreat where all we did was meditate for five, six hours a day and the rest of the time was probably cleaning stuff and helping with stuff. And yeah, it was quite a journey and SpellBrand began.

With SpellBrand, of course, all I wanted to do was create logos because that’s what we were doing and that’s what I love. But I started building the content base quite a lot, so fast forward, yes, of course, I went through more struggle because no traffic, no recognisable brand, and a new website, no links, zero traffic, yeah, it was quite a battle. But with the help of my wife, support, a few friends, I was able to make the transition and that was the birth of SpellBrand.

Now I know it’s a simple question but I rambled on for about an hour.

 

Ian Paget: No, no, that’s exactly what everyone wanted to hear and I have to say that was quite an incredible story with so many ups and downs. You’ve really demonstrated the amount of work it takes to building a successful business and also where things can go horribly wrong if you do put all of your eggs in one basket like you did.

There’s a lot to dissect here, so there’s a number of things that I’d like to talk to you about in more detail. I think to start off with, you mentioned about putting all your eggs in one basket and being very reliant on Google. What are you doing differently now so that in the event that Google does change all the rules again and you was to lose all of the traffic, which I hope doesn’t happen, but what are you doing differently now to avoid losing everything like you did?

 

Mash Bonigala: Okay. Now, I will split this answer into three parts, and I will approach it from counterclockwise in the sense that I want to talk about what I’m doing now and then I’ll go back to what I did when I started SpellBrand, because what I’m doing now, of course, has been fine-tuned over the years, so going from depending on Google on day zero with SpellBrand and then what do I do next is a different story. So let me start what I’m doing now.

Now, Google is, yes, we do get a lot of organic traffic because of the content we put out on our blog, and most of the content you see on our blog relatively 98%, maybe 99% has nothing to do with logo design or graphic design or design in general. And that is intentional. That is quite intentional because initially when I started SpellBrand and I was generating content, all of it was logos. It was about the best things about your logo, why you should have a logo, blah blah blah. You know, the usual stuff. But now it’s a lot more diverse. It’s more about small businesses, about strategy, it’s about building brands, marketing. Okay.

In terms of sales, what we do now is we’ve fine-tuned a very simple sales funnel. Now, at the core of it is one sales funnel, but then I dress it up differently for different markets and different strategies. Now at the core of this sales funnel is paid advertising and it is Facebook. Of course a lot of people listening to this might not like the word paid advertising, but you’ll be surprised, and I’ll tell you more about it and how this paid advertising is not the kind of monster that people think it is. It’s actually quite beautiful. It’s very simple. You don’t need a lot of money to do that, at least initially, and then you use the momentum to build up.

But anyway. So we have this sales funnel where Facebook ads is what drives most of our sales. But it’s not sales funnel in the sense. It’s more a lead-gen funnel. So there is no selling online. We don’t sell online anywhere in our advertising or on social media, and there’s a very interesting story where I turned my back on social media, and I’ll tell you about it later on if you’re interested. But right now people come in through the Facebook ads, then we have a lead gen. Our primary focus is really getting people on a short discovery call, and that is for the high ticket projects.

So our company righty now, our sales, our projects are split into three segments. One is high ticket, and these are anywhere from, I would say, $3,000 up until 50,000, maybe even more. We had a couple projects which are more than $50,000, but on an average you’re looking at high 3 to 7, $10,000. And then you have the mid-range where you’re looking at 800 to about $3,000, and then you have the bottom third, which is about 500 to 800, 1,000.

For the high ticket projects, this works beautifully where people come in through the top of the funnel and our only intention is to get them on a 20-minute discovery call with one of our strategists.

Now, we’re relatively small now, still, and we’d like to keep it that way. So the high ticket projects, we would like to get them on a discovery call and that discovery call leads to the high ticket value, so even though the client might be coming in thinking they want to get a brand identity designed for $3,000 or $2,000, $2,500, maybe that’s what, even though they might have a big budget, well, they usually do have a big budget because clients generally don’t realise the kind of budget they have. It’s because of the limiting belief that design should only be just 10% of whatever budget they have.

So we lead them down the path and we have a high conversion ratio on that precisely because we don’t use, well, we used to use a gunshot approach before but now it’s more like a laser-like approach, so whoever comes into the funnel, there’s a sometimes even 70 to 80% conversion rate. It’s because it’s very laser-like. Anyway, that’s the top of it.

Then the middle section is where the usual small business brand identities are 800 to 3,000, which is still for a lot of graphic design companies out there might be considered as high ticket. And yes, we do still consider those as high ticket. Let’s call those medium ticket. And those are usually, there’s no discovery call but there’s a lot of nurturing them through email. Not email newsletters, I don’t mean that, but rather sales email.

So they send in an inquiry. Again, yes, there is a funnel, so we dress the same core funnel in a different way, again, Facebook ads coming in, but this time there’s a mix of Facebook and Google ads, so we use Google ads also for the medium tier projects, our clients, our projects, and they come in and they submit an inquiry. They reach out and then there’s a back and forth, so there’s no … we don’t talk about the price right off the bat, we don’t simply send them a price list. We don’t do that for the medium tier.

And then the third, the last bottom half is where these are small business owners who don’t have big budgets, there’s no point in trying to make them spend any money because they’re at a stage where they need all the help they can get in terms of getting off the ground, and having a good logo is one of those.

Therefore we have created a value-based service offering which is around the 500 to the $1,000 range but keeps it really tight and still adds a lot more value to it. And those are actually, we don’t use any paid advertising for that, so we don’t try and attract that kind of customers through paid advertising. They come in through Google organic, but also social media, so Instagram. Again, our Facebook page, it’s got about, I think, I don’t know, 23,000 likes or something like that and other kind of, you know, like YouTube or whatever.

So, right now, this is the way we are getting our sales and our customers. And the bottom half, one-third, in terms of, you might say, if you ask me, okay, in terms of revenue, how would you split these three? And I would say, well, the bottom one-third accounts for, I would say, 10 to 15% of our revenue. The medium projects account, I would say, another 30 to %40 of our revenue, so together they make up 50% of the revenue, and the top third, the high ticket make up 50% of our revenue. That’s how it’s split and that’s how we market it at the moment.

When we were beginning SpellBrand, when I started the new company, that time, again, it was all about organic traffic because I didn’t have any money to spend on paid advertising, but what I did though is from the lessons I learned with Logo Design Works, thankfully what I did was whatever money I made, every single project that came in I used the Babylon Strategy. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

 

Ian Paget: I haven’t, no. Would you mind explaining what that is?

 

Mash Bonigala: So there is a book, The Merchant of Babylon. It’s a PDF. It’s a free PDF. It’s an old story. It’s a very simple concept, but then when you read it it’s very interesting and it sticks to your mind.

But the premise of the story is that there was this merchant in Babylon who went from zero to owning Babylon just because of one simple principle. In every single, well, at that time I think it was called dinar, so whatever it was, let’s just call it a dollar, comes in, 10% he would put aside for business development, let’s call it for lack of a better word.

I use that and luckily I read that story because, like I said, I was going through a lot of self-discovery at that time and I was reading books because I had nothing else to do. I had no projects, I had no work. I was depending on my wife and there was nothing. So I spent 18 to 20 hours a day literally reading, and this little PDF, which is a free PDF, although when I said yeah, putting 10% aside is like, der. But for someone like me or a lot of business owners who hardly spend any money on marketing, that should be an epiphany.

So what I did, I took it a step further and any projects from that day onwards, let’s call it ground zero, day zero, onwards, any project that came in I would not take a profit. I would just pay the bear minimum bills and everything went back into building a part for advertising, for marketing. Because I realized, okay, so when I was reflecting I thought, okay, what is the alternative to Google? What was it? So what is Google? It was traffic that came in. Free traffic. And I know it’s a podcast, you can’t see me, but I’m doing this air finger thing, right? Quotes. It’s free traffic.

No, it wasn’t free traffic. Of course we worked. We used to write content, we used to build links to bring the traffic in. So I thought, if it was not Google, what is the alternative? Obviously it was, at that time, social media/paid advertising.

Now, social media, again, very quickly I learned, even though I didn’t know at that time, and I’ll tell you why. It was to do with Google Plus. Till Google Plus, I thought social media was the right way to get sales, and I was gravely mistaken and I’ll tell you about that in a little while.

But social media/paid advertising was what I thought was the alternatives, and so I started putting aside money for social media. I needed a lot of discipline and I was able to do that because I saw bankruptcy in the face and because I cried in front of my team when I was letting them go and I was crying for the next couple of weeks in my bed.

I think that really gave me the strength and the discipline to put aside, and believe it or not, I do it to this day every project, it’s an automated system so that we cannot tamper with it, so that we cannot touch it, goes automatically into a pot. And that pot, even if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and we needed money for whatever, the hospital bills or whatever, I’m just saying. You know, it’s just a dramatic way of saying it. You cannot touch that pot. You cannot take money out of that to pay for those bills. Not me, not any of the team members, not anybody.

That’s because that pot is tied to advertising and it’s automated and our Facebook account, and we do a few other paid advertising, YouTube and Instagram and all those. There’s a card that is attached to that account and that card is saved to all these accounts and we don’t have a physical card. That card is cut up. I cut it up. Every time that bank sends me a new renewal card or when it expires or whatever, they send it to the company, we cut it up, we throw away the pieces.

Anyway, that’s the Babylon Strategy that we use, and that helped me really snowball. It started with about 40 to 50% of every project I put aside, and do you know what, before I knew it, I had a sizeable amount. I think it was the first time I started advertising was when I had I think it was $1,000 or $1,200 in that account.

Now, 1,000 to $1,200 for some might seem like not a lot of money for paid advertising, but today, well, what is it, 2109? So we crossed a million dollars in 2016. So from January 2014 to 2016, that’s two years, we went from zero, actually debt on the books because I had all these credit cards I had used for paying my employees. It went from that to we crossed our million dollars in revenue, just because of that 1,000, or let’s just keep it clean and let’s call it $1,000. So we went from that $1,000 took us to a million dollars. We crossed a million dollars in 2016.

And I’m not saying this to brag, okay? It’s not about that but to show that you can go from a graphic designer to starting a company, then getting destroyed by the likes of Google, or in this case let’s say even Facebook, yeah. And I’ll talk about it too and the plans I have in place to mitigate in case Facebook advertising closes down, what am I going to do, right? Because that is what I did mistake with Google.

Anyway, so from that to a million dollars can be done with discipline, with some strategies, with the right kind of approach. Yeah, I was able to do it.

 

Ian Paget: It’s such an incredible story. I’m really loving this and as you’ve been speaking I’ve been taking down notes of questions I want to ask, but I have quite a few, so let’s see how many we can do.

I think to start I want to ask you about paid ads and how that’s been working for you. I know you said about $1,200, and that really doesn’t seem like an awful lot when you consider that you was able to bring in over a million dollars’ worth of sales, which is incredible. Do you have any advice for listeners for using ads in the way that you have?

 

Mash Bonigala: Yeah, sure. Just to give a context to what I’m about to say, just so that there’s continuity in this story and all the pieces are connected, when I started with $1,000, I was doing Google Ads at that time because Facebook advertising was not really a thing, or at least I didn’t know about it. But Google Ads, and I used it on Google Ads begrudgingly because I knew Google had this startup business but I was getting more money back, but then of course I separated my mind from that and said, no, this is the way I’m going to make Google help me get back on my feet and take me to the next level. Anyway, I started with Google Ads.

Now, as a graphic designer at that time, so what did I have? I had SpellBrand website. I had, yeah, a good body of work. I had a lot of experience working with small clients who probably, not probably, who were I would say 99% of the time, borrowing money to pay for their logo. They were probably using their credit card. Some of them didn’t even have a credit card, they would use their wife’s credit card, maybe their brother’s credit card.

So the biggest shift as a graphic designer that I made and, again, this may not be an epiphany for a lot of people, but for me it was and it still is the core pillar of our company, is shifting the mindset in terms of the target audience.

So, target audience, shifting my mindset in terms of the target audience I would say was the biggest game changer for me. So I decided to stop looking at our targeting customers who could pay. As simple as that. That was my biggest.

I see a lot of graphic designers now working in that kind of mindset and there’s nothing wrong with that mindset. There’s nothing wrong with the mindset itself, but it’s about having clarity in terms of what you want to do, and target audience matters when you’re growing. If you want growth, you have to look at target audience.

Over the years, the biggest investment I made is figuring out, understanding, educating myself and learning how to target audience through paid advertising. I did this because the $1,000 that I had in my account that I thought I could spend towards advertising was precious to me. It was so precious, at that time I had one daughter. Actually, no, I had two daughters, to be honest. Yeah, she was born. Yeah, she was.

Okay. So I had two young daughters and, well, one older and one very young daughter, and that $1,000 could have given us a vacation, a much needed vacation. It was so precious to me I didn’t want to simply throw it at Google Ads and pray in the wind, so that’s where my education began and I spent three months learning Google Ads.

That’s why I say 1,000 and not 1,200 because I think I spent $200 out of that. I paid for a course. I don’t remember what it was. This is years ago, but I think it was Neil Patel. Yeah, do you know Neil Patel?

 

Ian Paget: Oh, yeah. I do. Neil’s done some incredible content. He’s done loads of free stuff, so if you want to learn more about online marketing, he’s a great person to be following.

 

Mash Bonigala: And do you know, funny thing is, actually Neil Patel was a great source during our SEO days and then when we were wiped out, he ended up being the great source for my education into Google AdWords. I don’t know if it was a course or it was Aaron somebody.

Anyway, so I spent that and I advise this to any graphic designer right now. Even if they don’t have plans on spending on advertising, even if they don’t have plans on starting an agency, and starting an agency’s never a plan, I know that, but educating yourself on how paid advertising works. And I don’t mean Google Ads, I don’t mean Facebook, I don’t mean Instagram, I mean to say paid advertising.

The concept of paid advertising, all the big companies out there, all the big brands, all the big successes, all the big agencies, at the core of their success lies paid advertising. And I hate to say this and I hate to break the news, and maybe I’m wrong, correct me, but social media, being an influencer, no. None of those. Being an influencer is the surface. And if you can note it down so that you can ask me this question, this goes back to what I said about turning my back on social media and I’ll tell you why I did it and how that helped me.

But just to get back, social media marketing, as it’s called, is actually very superficial. Yes it has its place to build you up as an authority and as an expert and, of course, don’t get me wrong, that is, yeah, I’ve done that. But don’t ever mistake that to be the only … If you look at any influencer out there, any brand personality on any agency, it’s all paid advertising.

So I spent three months really educating myself, doing nothing else. Literally nothing else. Except for yeah, I was meditating, taking my daughters out to the park, and the rest of the time was this, because I didn’t have any plans, so anyway. I was writing maybe a few articles.

So, at that time, $1,000, and even till today, right now, targeting, yes, to get back to what I was saying. Targeting your audience. And I know I keep harping on about it. A lot of the audience listen to this podcast must say, “Yeah, we know that. We know. Of course, it’s quite obvious.” No, it is not that obvious. People think they know their audience. Believe me, every single day I wake up thinking I know my audience and every single day I’m proved wrong. Sometime or the other, something proves me and I say, “Oh, really!” And then re-tweak the audience.

We spend about 70 to 80% of our time on Facebook advertising tweaking the audience. Really, not even writing copy, because copy doesn’t really matter. Well, it does but it matters only when you have fine-tuned your target audience. Because look, you could pay the best copywriter on this planet to write something, and then you throw it at an audience that doesn’t really care. It doesn’t matter.

So you could spend 20,000, and we did this once, $20,000 to get a sales letter written and we did this when we were hitting verticals, and that’s another marketing strategy that we use. We still use. It’s very effective. So we paid someone $20,000, and don’t get me wrong, it was not his fault. Fantastic sales letter. But at that time we were not as attuned to the concept of target audience as we are now,

That is going back, I think, about a year, year and a half. I think it was 2017, something like that. And we spent $20,000. Guess what? We probably made about $400 out of that campaign.

But that shows you that target audience is very important. We have a specific pipe within our Facebook advertising sets, or not only Facebook but other advertising set, where we filter out anyone that on Facebook, for example, that has graphic design not only in their bio, in their about, even in their messages. We just filter out. Why?

Graphic designers are not our audience. You cannot sell a logo to another graphic designer, right? You cannot sell strategy to another brand builder, brand identity designer.

But do you know what? You would not believe this. A lot of graphic designers who might already be using paid advertising, I don’t think they have a filter to filter out other graphic designer. They might have it at a surface level where they just say, oh, anyone who’s job says graphic design. But that’s nothing. A lot of people don’t say … I don’t say graphic designer in my bio anywhere. Well, now I do because I’m now on a mission to sort of get into the education side of things and build a community like you and give back, but till two weeks ago, three weeks ago, nowhere does it say graphic designer.

So, this long-winded answer to your question was to say that is how I took $1,000 and that is how it’s helped me. I did not lose the 1,000 in advertising because I used it after understanding.

So, any graphic design advice out there, go into paid advertising. Do it. It’s not a monster. It’s not going to eat up your money if you do your homework first. Put the paid advertising as a goalpost down the line. Two miles done the line and remember, two miles down the line and this path, you’re not running on it, you’re not jogging on it. You’re not even walking on it. You are crawling on it. So that’s why it’s two miles. It’s going to take a long time to get to that two miles.

Now, within this two miles, learn the fundamentals of paid advertising but more importantly learn how to target audience. Not everyone out there is your potential customer. A lot of people say, you know, I’ve done a lot of workshops and, again, you won’t find this on our website or anywhere because this is something that I’ve been doing privately, actually even secretly, because I wanted to do it for my own satisfaction and because I’m very passionate about it.

When I ask the question, anybody, even regular customers, forget about graphic designers, when I say, “So who’s your target audience?” A lot of graphic designers say, “Oh, yeah, any small business.”

I would say if there was one word you remove from your brain in terms of targeting people is the word small businesses or entrepreneurs or people starting a business. Which might sound counterintuitive, but think about it. Now, they are now small business owners. That’s not how you look at it. You’ve got to look at, I don’t know, Ben who’s working nine to five, hates his job, has been itching to start a new business. We’re looking at Ben, now some small business owner. Even if Ben has started a business, he would be your customer if he has a crappy logo, and you need to educate Ben that by improving his logo and his image, he’s going to get better sales.

So that is the level of target audience thinking you should be doing and not just generic kind of small business owners and things like that.

 

Ian Paget: I love that you said this. It is funny because I get do see a lot of ads that target small business owners and entrepreneurs because I fall under the category of a small business owner and there’s sometimes ads that actually say, like, “Are you a small business owner?” along with, say, like a picture of man in a suit, and it’s so far away from how I see myself that I don’t even relate with it and I don’t even see myself as a small business owner.

So for me it just shows a total lack of understanding because I just don’t identify myself in that way, and if those people understood more about the people that they were really targeting, they would probably use completely different language and approach in a totally different way.

So I’m really glad that you said that and I hope it will open listeners’ eyes as to how they should be going about creating content and ads and start to picture who their target audience is a lot better.

Anyway, there was something you said earlier about turning your back on social media and I like to share some thoughts on my own then I like to hear your take on it too. But I’m someone who’s put a lot of time and energy and effort into social media. I’ve been working on it for years now and I would say I’m a real advocate of it.

Twitter, for example, I’ve been active on that daily, but it’s opened up the doors to so many exciting opportunities. For example, being a judge on LogoLounge, being invited to write for a really authoritative site like Creative Blog. I’ve been interviewed on podcast interviews, I’ve been interviewed by Chris Do, I’ve been sent free books to write reviews on, I’ve also been able to build a passive income from that too. I mean, there’s so many great things that have happened because of my use on social media.

But I do agree that people probably look at all of that work and see those numbers, see all the work that I put into it and assume that that’s what you need to do to be getting clients. But that’s not how you get clients at all. I personally put a lot of time and energy into my website so that people can find me on Google. I spend time creating content, I spend time building backlinks. It’s from Google that I get all of my leads so I know that even if I didn’t have a presence on social media at all, I still be bringing in sales and making an income.

So I do agree with you that social media isn’t necessarily important in that way. For me, I maybe only really spend about half an hour a day on social media and that’s normally in what I describe as dead time, you know, time when I’m eating my breakfast or when I’m waiting for a train, but it’s those small daily actions that have allowed me to build a large following on social and because of that, doing that over a number of years, that’s allowed me to do things like get sponsors to create a podcast like this one.

But all the big stuff that’s really making an income for me, bringing in clients, that’s stuff that people don’t see because it’s not public, you know, all the behind the scenes stuff, the work on SEO, the work on marketing. So that’s pretty much my thoughts, but I’d love to hear what your thinking is.

 

Mash Bonigala: Sure. Ian, you’ve actually hit the nail on the head. It’s exactly what I’m about to say.

Now, yes, I don’t know, a couple of days back I was watching a YouTube video. GaryVee, he was saying something about building a brand online and all that. He had calls coming in and one of the callers was asking him, “Gary, do you know, I want to build a show like Joe Rogan did. I have about 1,000 followers, but I’m not really going anywhere and I want to reach that level that Joe Rogan did.” And he said, “What do I do?”

Gary, and I’m just paraphrasing this, and this is to just give context to what I went through. And Gary said, “You know what? You will never be Joe Rogan, so don’t try. And secondly, it took over 10 years for Joe Rogan doing other things before he has this show on YouTube now which is wildly successful.”

The same is the case. You, the logo geek has been around forever. You’ve been commenting and posting inspiring …

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been working on it for years now, but the podcast I’ve only been doing for a couple of years, but I’d never have been able to do that the way I have without putting in years of effort to build an engaged audience. But like I said, it’s been small actions every day.

 

Mash Bonigala: Absolutely, and you know what, I remember years ago you had shared this new logo that’s come out for the London Olympics, I think. Or maybe later, I don’t know, but you’ve been doing it all these …

Never during this time, I think, from what I know, from what I’ve seen of your kind of interactions and your footprint on social media, you’ve never asked for a sale or said, “Well, I’m launching this and I’m launching that. Come on. I’m going to give a 10% discount.” None of that, right?

Not everyone can be you. Not everyone can be Joe Rogan. Not everyone can be GaryVee. Okay? GaryVee started by talking about wine on YouTube when people didn’t care, especially in America. But now, yes, the culture has changed, but they’re not big wine drinkers, not like Europe, not like in France or Spain, and yet he put out video after video, day after day, day after day tasting wine, talking about wine and of course today VaynerMedia.

So, what I’m trying to say is, it will take anybody five to six years of a genderless participation on social media to enable sales to come through. And I’m not kidding, and I have tried that.

Now, going back, why did I turn my back on social media? Okay, when I say I turned my back on social media, yes, I’m still there. Even this morning I’d shared something on our Facebook page, but I turned away from it in terms of expecting sales from it.

When I started out, I was expecting sales from social media every single day. I was on social media just because of that. And in fact Google Plus was a platform that really encouraged me to do that, and I thought, okay, this is where I’m going to get sales. And you know what? One fine day I realised I was wasting time on social media instead of building my business.

Now, somebody might say, well, being on social media is building your business. Yes, if you do it like Ian. If you do it like you, or if you do it like, what’s that other guy? Logo Love. What’s that?

 

Ian Paget: Are you thinking of David Airey?

 

Mash Bonigala: David Airey. Now, David Airey, a similar arc to yours, but of course it’s much more focused, I guess. Like you said, for you it’s part-time but for him it’s full-time. I’m sure he had to pay his bills so he needed projects coming in the door.

But initially, he was very active, he still is of course, on Behance, Dribbble, you name it he was there, and he was inspiring people. And then he launched his book and I think now inspiring people brings in more money than actual projects. Maybe. I’m just saying. I’m just assuming, okay.

So, I realised that, you know what, I was spending time on useless forums, useless groups, listening to people just rambling on, like I’m doing now, but it was just chatter, noise. And this is 2012, 2013, now the crescendo, the noise is even worse. So if you’re starting out now, don’t bother unless, unless you have an agenda, you have a clear strategy. So sit down, think through the strategy and identify and decide what is it that you want? What is it that you want?

I decided because I was crying into my pillow. Again, dramatic, but true. Very true. At that time I decided. I had this fork in the road and what was it? I had a strategy. Well, not a strategy, a goal to start a company again. Actually, in fact my immediate goal was to bring back the team that I had fired because I loved them so much and I cried letting them go. Of course, later, that changed, but my initial immediate goal was that.

So sit down, think about it. What do you want do be? Do you want to be an influencer? Then that is a path that has no assurances in terms of getting projects. You’re not going to get logo projects. You’re not going to get book cover design projects, brochure projects, website projects, UI projects. No. Influencer, yeah, you get those projects after you become an influencer, but it’ll take you five to six years. But okay, now maybe not five to six years because platforms are sophisticated. Maybe two to three years. But still it will take you time.

If you can pay your bills while you do this, then choose that path. If you want to pay your bills then get a job and do a part-time building up your influencer kind of path. But if you have to pay your bills or if you want to build a company, a design company, or even if you want to be a very successful graphic designer, freelancer, you know, you don’t want to build a company, you don’t want to have a team and be responsible for them and, like me, cry if they have to be fired. If you want to be just yourself, you want to be a superstar by yourself and sit there like David Airey, for example, or someone similar who gets a big project, a $5,000 brand identity project where he might do a logo and style guide, maybe a secondary icon and that’s about it, that’s a good path.

But, again, you do that by doing another job paying your bills. If you want to build a company, if you want to build an agency, then nah, social media is not the path to take you to the agency. That’s what I’m saying. You can be there. You want to selflessly help, you can do it. But if your goal is to build an agency, then you will find very quickly that you will not have time to spend time on forums and groups and threads and chatting. You won’t.

So, for me, initially I was, I was spending time. If you go back and if you look at the history you will see that I was posting, I was spamming like everybody else, I was sharing, re-sharing, re-re-re-sharing, re-re-re-re-re-sharing, which is what everyone does and it’s just adding to the noise, nothing original.

The only original stuff that I would’ve probably shared was project work that I did, which everyone does, and do you know what, sharing project work, you should do it only if you’re looking for constructive feedback, if you’re at that stage. But once you cross a stage where … I’m not saying I believe I’m a great designer. No, I’m not saying that. But if you think that you’re fairly good designer and if you ask for feedback online, all you get is trolls talking trash, which is what happens about 80% of the time because the people who can give you really good feedback, they’re not there on social media, they’re probably fine-tuning their Facebook funnel and building an agency.

So, that’s the path you need to choose and you need to make a clear definition. And I turned my back. From then on my chatter went down. Now and then I do it because my clients expect me to be on social media. That’s a very funny thing. It’s a funny different story, but that’s maybe not the topic of this podcast where clients, they’re multi-verse. The same client has a different personality and a different universe. You know what I’m say?

For the sake of my clients, I do that, even till to today, and I’m not ashamed to say it and my clients will listen to this podcast, that’s why yes, guys, I do it for you. I’m on social media because you look at it and you will judge me and say this guy’s going to create this strategy for us, but he himself is not.

That’s because my goals are different from yours. My business is different from yours. My thought process is different from yours. What is important for me, my family, yeah, of course, my wife, my kids, my dog, fine wine, travel and that’s it. So that’s it.

So your path might be different. Your goals are different, so therefore you will need to be. So I’m not telling you not to be on social media, I’m just saying think through it.

Just going on social media, getting on Twitter every day without an agenda, without a proper concrete marketing plan in place, a document that you can physically actually print out, if you don’t have that, going on Twitter and then responding and then thinking, “Okay, Ian has posted Mash Bonigala’s podcast, so there’s a thread and I’m just going to pass a comment there because Ian might like it and that’s got blah blah blah.”

Yeah, do it if it’s fun. Do it if you genuinely think that Ian’s podcast of Mash Bonigala sucks because this guy went on rambling and he wasted my time, then yes, post a comment there to say “Ian, be careful who you choose next time. Don’t get people who probably are clinically psychopathic or they’ve been diagnosed with some kind of insanity.”

That is fine. But then don’t think that you’re going to like the comment and you’re going to post a comment on the podcast and think that that’s going to lead to some kind of monetary reward for you in the next week or so. Forget about it. So that’s why I turned my back and even till today.

But, and I’m going to conflict myself. I’m going to shoot down everything I said. Going forward six months maybe a year, I’m going to change my strategy because my goals have changed, my path is going to be different and yes, you’re going to see me a lot, and that’s why I responded to this podcast.

I’m glad I did that, I’m doing it on Ian’s show because I don’t want to name any podcast, but I a lot had come in the past, but at that time I wasn’t interested because I didn’t want to share anything. I was busy building the agency. Do you see what I’m saying, Ian?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I really do. What your saying makes a lot of sense. I mean, what you’re getting at is that most designers, and I’m guilty of doing this too, spend way too much time in places where their clients don’t hang out and instead they really need to be spending their time working out who their audience is and then creating content and ads tailored towards those people. That’s where designers need to be spending their time, especially if they’re searching for clients.

Obviously you can do everything else if you’re listening, like I make time for that too, but if you’re really searching for clients and you need them, I agree with Mash that you definitely need to be doing that.

Anyway, Mash, I’m actually really conscious of time because we’ve been speaking for over an hour now and we could easily keep going for several hours, so I think we definitely need to get together another time to carry on the discussions because I still got so many more questions I could ask, but I think for today I’ll bring the interview to an end.

Like I said, your story is incredibly inspiring and I’m excited to see you being more active on social media, like you said, so thank you so much for your time today.

 

Mash Bonigala: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much, Ian. Yeah, I’m sorry that even simple questions probably which should have taken five to 10 minutes probably took 20, 25 minutes is because I was going into so much detail.

In fact, I wanted to talk about conversion process, how to convert your customers and how to actually go after big ticket clients and things like that, but yeah, you’re right, it’s got to be maybe for the next one. I’ll learn and I’ll try and keep it succinct and try to keep my personal stories to a minimum.

But this has been a fantastic experience for me. Like I said, this is my first ever … Yeah, I’ve done a few YouTube videos, I’ve done a few attempts at podcasts. You know, I would start one and then I would do a few, but this is the first time I’m actually talking to somebody else and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

 

Ian Paget: You’re very welcome.

 

Mash Bonigala: Just to give you a bit of my feedback, just to end this, like I said at the beginning of this call and even in the middle, I think, Ian, I respect you a lot and your arc I think is a great arc in terms of it’s a great lesson in how to use social media.

I think the graphic designers out there, and that’s what they’re doing, of course, that’s why you have such a following, that’s why your Facebook group has that level of engagement and audience, and your kind of pro-group, I think that should really take off because people can learn a lot from you. I love the way you share selflessly.

Yes, of course, the arc today is where you’re making all these efforts, that monetisation, if you will call it that, but I believe that you have shown how someone can go from just sharing stuff selflessly into becoming an influencer.

That goes against what I said, but my discussion was primarily aimed at graphic designers who want to pay the bills and who want to build their companies, not at people who want to help others like yourself. So I appreciate it. Keep doing what you’re doing.

 

Ian Paget: Thanks, Mash. Just to go back to your apology for going into more detail and sharing your story, I personally really enjoyed that and I appreciate all of your insights and advice and I’m sure that the audience will agree.

So, like I said, thanks again for coming on. It’s been really great chatting and I’m sure we’re catch up at a later date.

 

Mash Bonigala: You too. Take care and have a great weekend.

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