47 Insights / Pay Per Click Advertising  / Ep. 21: Paid Campaigns with Duane Brown of Take Some Risk
Duane Brown, Take Some Risk

Ep. 21: Paid Campaigns with Duane Brown of Take Some Risk

SaaS Marketing Insights Episode 21: Duane Brown, Take Some Risk

With experience running search and paid social campaigns for SaaS companies in Europe, Australia and North America, Duane Brown of Take Some Risk chats about what he has learned about marketing SaaS, and how it differs from e-commerce marketing.

Editor: breandanmcghee@gmail.com


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Episode 21 Transcript

Paul: On today’s show, I have an interview with Duane Brown, founder of Take Some Risk. Hope you enjoy it. Duane Brown, welcome to SaaS Marketing Insights.

Duane: Cool. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it, Paul.

Paul: So you’re right over there, over the sea miles and miles away, in Vancouver.

Duane: Yeah, not that far. I tell people it’s like a four hour trip and they always think I’m crazy but i’m Like, an hour, then a 2 hour ferry, it’s far. It’s far for Canada.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. But you’ve not always worked in in Canada. Are you Canadian. I guess you’re Canadian?

Duane: Yeah, I am Canadian. I get the question a lot. Yeah. I mean, there was a couple years in the UK, lived in London. Then in Australia for about seven months working for one of the telecoms down there.

Paul: So yeah. So tell me about how you got started in marketing and specifically SaaS marketing, because you’ve worked a lot… I know you do a range of stuff now. But you’ve worked a lot with SaaS in the past.

Duane: Yeah, I mean, it’s mostly because I went to live in the UK. And there’s just more opportunity to work on like, tonnes of things. Because they have bigger budgets. And, you know, London is the gateway to Europe, much like, you know, New York. So you could say it’s the gateway to the rest of North America in terms of advertising and where clients spend tonnes of money. So worked on like, a lot of SaaS related brands, more of a consumer focus standpoint, got to work a lot of e-commerce as well. Just getting a lot more international experience and like managing a team, and working on things in multiple countries in multiple languages.

So we worked on Asos, we were in like 15 different countries, we had three different languages. And I was managing a team of three, plus me, and just trying to like make sure everything from like what we say in America versus what we say in Canada, or the UK, or in Australia, or in Germany, or Amsterdam. Any of those places, were all correct, and keeping it all in flow. And so when I was done with London, because I couldn’t renew my visa, and I went travelling to Asia for a bit, I got a job offer just to work on Unbounce for a couple years. And then I quit that was to start the company. Namely they took me because they needed someone with international experience. There’s not tonnes of that in Vancouver. And they’d be looking for probably a year and change. And so they were, I wouldn’t say desperate, but they really, really wanted to find someone.

Paul: So your role on Unbounce was like purely paid, purely pay per click or were you doing a mix of stuff?

Duane: A mix of stuff. So I mean, most of our spending was on AdWords, but we had Bing, Facebook with Comcast, we had display anything marketing related. As you can imagine, I probably had every vendor, try to email me and just like let’s just chat… I’m like No, I’m good, Excel, AdWords editor, old school, you know, a way of thinking in some ways, but like tools are not going to solve your basic problems if your numbers aren’t profitable.

Paul: What you mean there’s not an AI solution to all of this, come on.

Duane: Yeah no, there’s not an AI solution. I sometimes tell clients, like we need less technology, if you want to be successful, not more technology, like more people, more technology just makes everything more complicated.

So yeah, we just we focused on that we did a bit of Facebook in my last like eight months, and just doing a lot more on video marketing on Facebook and trying to figure out how to grow that channel. So yeah a good experience.

Paul: Cool, and so when did you set up? Take some risk?

Duane: I quit my job in January last year? If you asked the government they would probably say like Janurary 10th or something like that, emotionaly for me, it was like January 1st. I had emotionally decided this was the way I was going to go. And I just started like, focusing all my free time on the company and like what we’re going to call it, register and all that sort of admin business stuff that people don’t always think about when you start a company.

Paul: And so, you know, with your business being so new, and I say that because my business is pretty new as well.

I guess we’re in a similar situation in some respects to to sort of like finding new clients and finding out which clients you want to work with and which ones you really don’t want to work with. Are you still working with a mixer clients? Do you still work with SaaS clients, or, you know, you’re doing more ecommerce?

Duane: I mean, we have like half our clients are in e commerce, a third are in sort of like technology, B2B, SaaS that sort of space, then the rest are like sort of Legion or other sort of odd things that not listed categories. And it’s a some mix of like… my network will send me stuff or we have a few partners in Toronto that send us stuff if they can’t do the work, they’ll send us the client directly. And we just decide if we want to take it or not. Most clients who email us, we take on board because we usually weed them out by pricing. Like, you know, people think we’re too expensive and so don’t stick with us. And that’s okay. And then other people will say, Yeah, you’re expensive, but we get what we’re paying for. And so we work with them.

Paul: Yeah, so we won’t name names, but you and I had a conversation I I referred someone to you, based on the fact that, you know, I think you guys got much more ecommerce experience than I have. I’m just working really… only with SaaS clients now. And, you know, I knew about your Asos experience, and I just thought, yeah, you know, that a much better fit. And I’d much rather the client work with somebody who’s got that kind of experience. And, you know, you can get results quicker, you got much more experience. So, you know, it’s a better fit. And I think that’s, that’s always important to try and be a bit of a matchmaker with finding clients to work with the right people.

Duane: Yeah, no, I agree with that. It’s true. I mean, we generally say we want clients who are nice, they have an interesting problem to solve, you know, like, with the client, you’re talking about, they, they don’t do tonnes of digital stuff. The problem is like, how do you how do you kind of start from square one more or less, other clients, they have things going, but it’s not going the direction they want, they have leads, they don’t convert, or they’ve hired three people and all those people brought in, you know, leads of people sign up for an account, but they didn’t convert into like paying customers, which I see a lot.

I sometimes joke… our best customers are those who’ve been through two or three other agencies and have been disappointed, they would be abit tougher than they would normally be, because they want to make sure they find a really good fit. So yeah, we work with like all kinds of clients, which is cool. And also like we work with people that pay the invoices. You know, we want people to pay the invoice.

Paul: Old school, imagine getting paid for what you do, Haha.

Duane: I know we have one client that fired us the other day, because we were too honest, we told him this wasn’t a good idea, and we weren’t going to do it. Then they fired us. And now they’re trying to not pay their final invoice, which makes me a little bit frustrated. But I told him, I’m going to keep at it, I’m going to be really annoying about it because like we did the work. We know you’re right. Like we don’t think you should spend money to run this test that you’re not going to have results in a week for, then ask me how it performed and I’m not be able to give you an answer. And then we would have wasted your time and money and my time because this wasn’t a worthwhile test. I suggested this to the client, like we could have run tests on ad copy, or targeted or other things that were just more worthwhile than trying to test the landing page when you don’t have enough conversions to test that. So it’s unfortunate that we lost a client, but I’m glad I lost a client because because I stuck to my values and things that are really important to us as a company and organisation.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. I mean… I think the classic thing there is you don’t have a dog and bark yourself, if you you hire an expert to do something for you. And then they give you their advice or recommendation and you don’t take it and you want to sort of like control them like a puppet on a string. You know, that’s frustrating for everybody. And you know, they’re not going to get the best service from an expert in that situation.

Duane: No they won’t. What I said in my one of my emails like… you hired us for a reason. Please listen to me this is this will be a waste of money and time. With any client, we say we don’t think this is a good idea, we always give two or three other recommendations of things they can do, because we want to like test things and try things out when it makes sense. And they’ll see the outcome they want to see or the words and they want to see, in this case running a test for a week is like you don’t have enough traffic, and you don’t have enough money. And they just didn’t really seem to believe they they didn’t have enough money. I’m like you’re not going to spend 40K in the next week. Because like you just you just not going to, noone I know is going to do that. Asos wouldn’t even do that if I told them I need to spend 40K next week to run a test, they would be like, you’re crazy Duane.

Paul: So given the diversity of the clients that you’re working with, interested in hearing, you know, your view on whether you see any trends that are kind of across different industries right now, in terms of platforms, in terms of campaign types, in terms of things that aren’t working so well, or what you see happening in terms of, you know, trends or developments. So for example, I don’t know if you do stuff in in Europe, but…

Duane: We have a couple clients. Yeah.

Paul: Yeah, yeah, whether you’re seeing the effect that the privacy law changes over there having with campaigns or anything like that.

Duane: Yeah, I mean, with GDPR, we definitely see a drop in traffic for our clients that do stuff in Europe, and get a good chunk of their the business from Europe. So that’s challenging, like how do we run campaigns and how do we do remarketing and even just from like, an SEO perspective, you know, what can and can’t you capture about this person’s identity or traits. So it’s definitely a challenge there across our clients that we do stuff in Europe for and across schema in general. I don’t think GDPR is a is a bad thing. You know, I tell those people, it’s actually a good thing to give control to customers maybe, it wasn’t promoted in the best way. So people didn’t know about it as fast as they should have.

No the transition was definitely not great. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bad idea.

Paul: The transition was not great, Haha. No, long term it’s good.

Duane: Yeah, yeah. So I think there’s that. We also see a lot more clients, you know, start out on Shopify, in terms of like, you know, an e commerce platform, whether it’s they want to test if their idea works, or it’s just what they hear about. So you know, Shopify, from the outside, I feel like their technique to market is brute force, we’re just going to hire a crap tonne of people and just brute force the way to the top. And it seems like it’s working, because the more people we talk to, the more people are on Shopify versus like, a WooCommerce and Magento, which are kind of the other options I think a lot of people go with in this space.

I think among our e commerce clients, I think more and more find it a bit more expensive to be on Facebook and a bit more challenging. There’s definitely a bit more competition there. But that’s, that’s okay. Because more competition means we know people who are not really good at Facebook, they will just read out really bad agencies, we all talked to enough clients who worked with that, you know, Guru special agency that just didn’t deliver or even past clients who’ve had agencies where the only way they could drive a sale was with a sales ad of some sort of discount. Some clients have no discounts, no giveaway. If isn’t willing to pay full price. They’re probably not a great customer.

Paul: Yeah. So that’s e commerce. Do you see anything that’s in the kind of SaaS world changing in terms of paid advertising?

Duane: I don’t think anything’s changing majorly I think it’s business as usual. In the sense that, you know, well obviously Google and Facebook, they gear a lot of their stuff towards e commerce. So it’s like, figure out how you’re going to convert customers on you know, AdWords and Bing, figure out if you’re going to do video as part of your mix on YouTube or Facebook, and just really nail down the basics there. For one client, we did some work with in Q1, he wanted help with organising their accounts and stuff like that. And just making sure that the person internally was doing a really good job, we found some really good success on Yahoo. We had three search engines, then we lost it to two search engines. And now we’re back to three. Yeah, it was kind of a nice surprise for the client and they’ve kept it running, and they’re happy. And it’s just… even though it’s not a lot of growth compared to what you would get on Bing. It’s incremental growth. I think that’s what we realise, you can’t just be on one platform.

Paul: No you don’t want all your eggs in one basket.

Duane: Yeah. Which a lot of clients do. ‘We’ve got Google, so we’re good’. Well, people don’t spend all their time on google, all their time on Facebook, you need to be in a few places, and help them quite figure that out is the big thing right now, because they don’t have a big enough budget, they need to figure out how much do I spend on each platform to like, get the maximum amount of people?

Paul: Yeah, yeah, it’s how you divide the budget up and, you know, is a Facebook conversion, say the same value as a Google one, or, I don’t know, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or whatever. I mean, it’s… and with SaaS in particular, I mean, people come in and trial at a certain price. But you know, until the trial converts to paid, you don’t really know what the value of that account or customer is going to be. So it’s always tricky.

Duane: It is definitely always tricky. We took on a client in Australia back in April. And I signed the contract quick, just before I boarded a flight to go to Italy to a conference. So I think for that client, because they’re based in Australia, and in their SaaS, obviously, there’s a talent shortage. But for them, it really is figuring out what what’s the difference between someone signs up for an account. And when they convert, like, what’s that lead time? Is there a difference from what they see across other channels, which right now, it seems like there’s about a week difference, like it takes a little bit longer from someone on Google to confer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We just need to keep it in mind when we run experiments and stuff like that. And also, they’re smaller. So how do we compete with like, the bigger brands in the space that have more money and more budget and stuff like that?

Paul: Yeah. How to spend that money wisely.

Duane: Yeah, yeah. So you know, it’s like, there’s brand campaigns, there’s competitor campaigns, we have some new marketing going, you know, for them… because of the content on the blog, like dynamic search, ads didn’t really work. But it was a good test run to see if that would be worthwhile for them. So we just hone in on the basics of getting it right, because they’ve hired a couple people in the past year and a half. And they kept on saying ‘we want someone internally. I get the logic behind that, you know, there’s… paying them full time could make sense. But I think now they’ll glad they hired me even it was a year. They realised while we consistently have conversions, the last three months, the other people got, like, a couple conversions in one month and two months of nothing. So it’s very night and day difference in terms of performance.

Paul: So here’s an interesting question or something I come across a lot. How do you deal with people who say, ‘yeah, we just want you to test some stuff, we just want you to, you know, review the account. That’s fine. Yeah. And if you can do that for nothing. And then, what we’re thinking is, we just have a rolling monthly contract’. Is that… because what I’ve seen in my experience, is it takes a long time to really understand and get to the bottom of what’s really working. And you know, it depends on volume and spend and all that stuff. But I wonder if you come across, you know, similar kind of questions?

Duane: I mean, yeah, we did it the other day, someone referred someone to us. And we talked and they were like, Oh, we were thinking like, could we do something for like a few days, a few weeks? And I was like, well, that’s not enough time, even with like, what we do on Facebook for app instal in terms of a campaign or tell them what we could do something for a month and see how it works out. I could consultant on stuff for you is another option. So we did have someone come up, it was like an interesting opportunity. I’m like, well, we’ll do a month if you want to do a month test but I wouldn’t do anything less than that. And a preferred client will do three months, and then have it just go month to month after that, just because we need to be able to like figure out like, what’s working, what’s not, we need time to dig into the data. For any client we bring on board we’ll audit all their systems, make sure things are set up correctly, because I find other agencies don’t always do that and start building things around stuf that’s broken.

Paul: Yeah, you start building your marketing on top of some really bad conversion tracking or, you know, metrics, just meaningless. It’s a nightmare.

Duane: It is a nightmare. Even just like really bad Facebook pixels, with the climate that fired us… the other agency, I don’t know what they did with the pixel, I just couldn’t get it to work. When we started with a new pixel, we started to see results within a few weeks. And it’s so… it’s like, well, taking someone else’s work sometimes isn’t always great, because agencies say they do things, but they don’t always do it to like your standards.

Paul: Yeah. So I was having a conversation yesterday with a fellow marketer. And we were talking about… that’s the bit that clients never really want to pay you for, you know, when you when you go through, and you have to fix all of this stuff. And like, make sure that the conversion tracking is working thoroughly. And you know, all the weird things that you can have happen with Tag Manager, and checking that stuff, it’s really time consuming, but like, no one ever wants to pay for it. That’s stuff that’s just part of the deal that you got to do. So that you can, you know, build your campaigns on something and solid.

Duane: Yeah, I mean, we really enjoy doing that stuff that audit and stuff, I think it’s good to kind of get an understanding of what’s going on and clients…

Paul: It’s part of the discovery as well.

Duane: Yeah, it’s part of the discovery. And it leads to a good way to ask questions. And we’ve had people who’ve hired us just to do audits and stuff like that, which we enjoy, like, audit, you know, Adwords, GA, GTM, all of those, one of those accounts, which we’ll do as well, we’ll audit something for our flat fee rate. But we’ve never started without doing an audit. If someone said we want you to start tomorrow and launch campaigns. I’m like, well no, I need to audit first to make sure things are set up correctly. And I quite frankly, rather lose a client, because they really want me to start tomorrow and can’t because if I start and those things are broken. I’m just going to fail.

Paul: Absolutely. Yeah. It also shows a lack of, like serious intent or commitment. You know, if you were just like, yeah, we’ve got this all in place to start, you know, just just just make it better and cheaper.

Duane: Yeah, I mean, we tell clients, like if everything’s done correctly, I could probably get through it all in half a day and check it really quickly. But if things aren’t broken, well, that’s going to take longer, but I’d rather spend half a day and just double check then always wonder if something’s broken.

Paul: Cool, so you’re a year in and I think you guys are hiring at the moment. Is that right?

Duane: Yeah, we’re trying to find like a technical SEO person. And then we’re trying to find like a paid manager helping out with some Google Shopping Stuff and Bing shopping stuff on a few other areas. And so much like Australia, it’s tight to find real qualified people in Vancouver, they’re got real good experience. It’s also like, beyond that, have they spent their whole life in Vancouver, have they been somewhere else, or they were once and also they moved here is ok, but there’s a lot of people who have only ever lived and done marketing in Vancouver, and it doesn’t give them enough perspective, like what’s out there. And also the budgets for campaigns and Vancouver pretty small compared to like what you get in New York, or Toronto or London. So it’s been a challenge to find some really, really good experienced who’s done more than like, you know, some basic stuff.

Paul: So have you thought about growing your own talent? Or? Or is that just too time consuming at this stage?

Duane: It’s time consuming. It takes a lot of work. And I would already be working more hours than it currently am. Which is…

Paul: That defies the whole point really?

Duane: Yeah, so like our goal is to find someone with five years experience, the idea is that they’ve worked a couple places, I mean, if they only worked one place, you know, we’ll chat with him definitely. And go from there, if someone had, like three or four years experience i’d probably definitely chat with them but if you only have like one or two, you’re gunna need a lot more training, we just don’t have the resources to do that. And one of our pitches to clients, as well is like, we only hire senior people, right? We only have people who’ve got a good set of experience, and we bring them in and we show them how we do things and sort of help them scale up their skills and their ability. Clients come to us with high expectations sometimes.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. Because I think we’ve had a conversation before and you’ve alluded to the fact that, you know, your cost structure or whatever, or, you know, your billing structure isn’t really, you know, straightforward. It’s not the industry norm. And so, you know, you’re effectively pitching yourself as a as a premium service, and you want premium clients. And so yeah, that’s part of your, your package isn’t it?

Duane: Yeah, I mean, like, we do definitely build differently. I mean, we do a monthly strategy with clients than we do 10% of spend of everthign we directly manage. You know, I often tell clients, we’re not expensive, but we’re not the cheapest in town either, we’re somewhere in the mushy middle, I could find a dozen people who are probably more expensive and find 1000 people that are cheaper, but you get what you pay for at the end of the day, if you want Junior people on your account, go with a cheaper agency, that’s totally cool, you want someone a little bit more experience who will give you a bit more time of day and doesn’t need to take on 20,30 clients, then you come to us because at any time, we’ll have you know, 6 to 8, maybe if I hired a six person will go up to 12 clients, you know, some are long term. Some are project based, depending on what it is, but we wouldn’t go above that. Because we don’t need to, we don’t need to right, we don’t need to scale up and hire tonnes of people. We don’t need to have a huge office. Those are what got the big guys in trouble now they have to do everything basically at their scale.

Paul: Yeah, So what you’re saying is, Take Some Risk is small, but beautiful.

Duane: Yeah. Small but Beautiful. And we’re attentive, we care.

Paul: Yeah. And just a hand full clients. So you get a better service and everybody gets to deal with you.

Duane: Yeah, everyone gets to deal with me and the team i’m trying to like build around me to be better, because I can’t, I can’t do everything. Which is why when I hire technical SEO person full time, we also have some part time right now we want to find somebody who wants to go full time. Just because we have demand and clients are like, well, you’re doing this with paid, you know, what can you do with technical SEO or SEO in general? Well, let me show you what we can do. We’ve got two clients, we’re doing it for now. And so we just want to like, get more of that and help more clients do the right things to get them to where they want to go.

Paul: Great. So what do you think? This is my final question. What do you think, Take Some Risk looks like in three years time or five years time? How big can you get and still be small?

Duane: You know, I think that’s a really hard question, I would be happy. If there was like a dozen of us, you know, maybe eight of us somewhere between those two numbers. And we had like a handful of clients. Depending on I guess if everyone was in Vancouver, maybe we’d have our own small office. And then an idea I’ve been toying with because I think there’s a need in Vancouver and even on the island is doing kind of like a general assembly, red Academy brain station type thing, but only focused on like data and analytics. And so like we’d had that sort of education, corporate space, the other half is space to like, basically bring in more revenue stream for the company in different ways. And, and we like to teach and educate in general like us going to five conferences in the last five days and about two more committed for the year. So a way to teach more clients, the local market, cuz there’s some clients here, I don’t want to work for brands that I would love to work on. But I also know they only want to hire me full time. This seems like a good way to like connect with those people get to work with them, but in a non official capacity, if you will.

Paul: Yeah. That’s great. Well, it sounds like you’re doing some fantastic work all the way over there in Vancouver.

I should pop over and we should have a face to face, a coffee chat at some point. But alas, it’s not going to be today.

Duane: Yeah, totally Come on, hang out. We can like grab food something like that. Go for lunch. I mean I don’t drink coffee, but like I do drink juice and ginger beer and stuff like that.

Paul: Okay, well, we can do that. Duane. Thank you very much for your time it was really great to… you know, you’re the first person that I’ve done on this podcast with zoom. And also you the first fellow PPC guy that I’ve spoken to. And you know, you don’t know what you don’t know until you speak to somebody else. So thank you very much. I thought it was really insightful.

Duane: Cool. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it Paul.

Paul: No worries. Take it easy.

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Duane. For more info on Take Some Risk, please visit www.takesomerisk.com for more info about this show. And to get our links to iTunes Google Play SoundCloud, Stitcher and YouTube check out www.47insights.com. And if you have any SaaS marketing insights that you’d like to share on the show, please get in touch. Until next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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Founder & CEO

Paul is Founder & CEO of 47 Insights. He has been advising both software and publishing subscription businesses on growth strategies since 1995.