We talked to Jarik Oosting of SmartRanking, a specialized SEO agency and here is what he said about it
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jarik Oosting: Personally, I’m doing fine despite all current restrictions in the Netherlands. The same applies to my family, we’re doing all fine, and everyone is still healthy, which is, of course, the most important thing. The only challenge is staying in touch with all family members and friends because it’s hard to meet them due to the restrictions.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SmartRanking.
Jarik Oosting: Since my 14th (I’m currently 25), I’ve been busy with entrepreneurship. First, I started breading and importing tropical fishes, and I sold them to both consumers and other companies. I needed a website for this business, so I developed a website on my own (which was made using good old Microsoft FrontPage). After I’d developed the website, people needed to find it. That was the start of my journey in the field of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I worked while still attending school, also at 2 other companies. On my 18th, I moved to another city to study at the university and provided SEO services as a (student) freelancer. At the end of 2015, I wanted to professionalize and founded SmartRanking. We began as a broad marketing agency with services like SEO, PPC, and social media marketing. In March 2019, I decided to only focus on SEO. That meant stopping with all other services (and a 40% revenue loss), but I wanted to create the best SEO agency, and you can only create that with a full focus on SEO.
How does SmartRanking innovate?
Jarik Oosting: SEO is a rapidly evolving field within online marketing. Google rolls out multiple significant updates constantly, and new technologies like voice search are growing rapidly. As an SEO agency, we need to act on that and experiment with it. By anticipating the future, we innovate our services. Besides that, we are constantly streamlining our processes (increasing efficiency, resulting, and reducing errors), using the best available tooling, and automating our workflow where possible.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jarik Oosting: We are blessed with growth in our business. At the beginning of Covid-19 and the related lockdown in the Netherlands, we saw a decline of around 25% in our monthly recurring revenue in April. Luckily, our MRR already got up again in June. We noticed that companies were anticipating fast on the shift from offline to online. That meant an increase in quote requests and customers starting again. We are lucky that SEO is a long-term marketing strategy, and due to our focus, our customers are completely aware of that. Thus, businesses wanted to act on the future (and future recovery), which means investing in SEO. Fast-forward, we’re growing now each month.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jarik Oosting: At the beginning of Covid-19, we could decide to lay off a couple of employees because our revenue decrease. We decided from the moment that it was known that there would be a lockdown that we wouldn’t lay off any employee, no matter what. We are a healthy company, which enabled us to create a financial buffer in the past. We could use that to survive the decrease in revenue. Although it would cost money, our people are the most important asset of the company, and we needed them anyway because there be a moment in the future that the revenue would go up again.
It sounds a bit odd, but the most difficult choice is turning down a big part of quote requests. The demand for SEO has increased significantly, and without turning down most of the quote requests, we wouldn’t be able to grow sustainably. Turning down quotes gives a mixed feeling because you’re, in the end, turning down money. But we know that this is important to grow our business in the best way, with setting priority to our existing customers.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jarik Oosting: Our biggest challenge is keeping everyone involved in the same way we did when we worked (most of the time) at our office. We’re now using Whereby to have our daily stand-up, meet internally, and have online drinks with each other. We’re also a loyal user of Slack, to communicate with each other throughout the day. Furthermore, we’re also using OfficeVibe to measure the satisfaction of our colleagues. Besides that, we’re using ClickUp and Google Drive to manage all our projects and work together smoothly and efficiently.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jarik Oosting: In the Netherlands and worldwide, there are a relatively small amount of marketing agencies that purely focus on SEO (without providing any other service like PPC). We’re mainly competing with other marketing agencies because most customers will request a quote there at first. We don’t have any sales executives, account managers, or any other colleague working on the sales, and it will remain like that. It means that we need to grow organically. We will be investing in our marketing by awards, creating tools, content marketing, working out customer cases, performing and publishing case studies, et cetera. We’re one of the biggest and best SEO agencies (if not the one) in the Netherlands. By remaining close to our core values, mission, and internal marketing strategy, we will grow sustainably.
Your final thoughts?
Jarik Oosting: Of course, I hope that the pandemic will be under control soon in every country in the world. I’m looking forward to going out for dinner again, meet customers, family, and friends, and have more social interaction.
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