First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
John Locke: The extended family is doing great. All four generations are limiting visits to busy places, like the store, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. I had a really bad bronchial condition in January and February, I’m still not sure if it was COVID, but no one else in the family had any issues.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Lockedown Design & SEO.
John Locke: I founded the company in 2012 after taking web design and development classes. I was working in a commercial bread plant at the time and had been working as a baker for about eighteen years. The union pension had been underfunded for a few years, and the company I was working at was headed towards bankruptcy, and most employees knew it. Many thought they would get bailed out again, but it ended up not happening. There was one other employee in the entire plant going to school and looking ahead.
I started by building websites for small businesses, then white-labelling websites for larger branding agencies. After several years of that, we branched out into SEO, and now our client roster is healthy, and our manufacturing and contractor clients are all having very successful years.
How does Lockedown Design & SEO innovate?
John Locke: Our SEO process is more granular than many companies who have a cookie-cutter approach. We have seen search engines, notably Google, getting more sophisticated in how they evaluate websites and web pages, so our approach must be different from that of other companies. We look at SEO on a page-by-page basis, editing and creating content, creating assets, building links, improving user experience, and continually re-evaluating to see where each page can be improved.
We’re not looking to pad our bottom line. We’re trying to see how to separate our clients from their entire field of competitors.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
John Locke: Many of our clients go to trade shows during the year to get targeted leads. Almost every event got cancelled in 2020, so without SEO, our clients would be hurting from a lead generation perspective. From conversations I’ve had with clients, their contemporaries that have not invested in SEO and online lead generation are in money flow situations.
COVID hasn’t affected our business terribly much, as we all worked remotely before the pandemic. The one thing that everyone is dealing with is missing hanging out with friends in social gatherings. From a mental and emotional standpoint, most people are dealing with at least some sense of isolation. We use Zoom meetings to get some interaction and feel like we’re still connected with colleagues.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
John Locke: There have been several turning points in the company, and each felt like a big risk. Just starting the company felt like a huge leap of faith, and it took some time to build momentum. Quitting doing white-label development for larger agencies was a calculated risk because our cash flow took a hit in the short-term. In the long-term, it was absolutely the right choice. Pivoting into SEO was an even larger risk. What if we couldn’t get results for clients? What about dismissing our rankings for web design search terms? In the end, that decision turned out to be the correct move. We’ve had our best year to date because of that decision.
Everything in digital marketing is constantly evolving, and you must know when it is time to make changes. Listen to your gut instincts, even when it seems risky; that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Lockedown Design & SEO in the future?
John Locke: My life now is much less stressful than it was fifteen or twenty years ago. Though stress and anxiety are things, you can never escape 100%. Saving money for a rainy day is one way to avoid stress. No one makes good decisions when money is a concern. Always get enough sleep at night. If you’re exhausted, stress is so much worse.
In the future, I can see our company being an established force and having a solid place in the SEO world. I don’t want to grow an agency to hundreds of people. I like working with a couple of dozen clients every month and focusing on making their companies into empires.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
John Locke: I used to focus a lot on what other agencies were doing, and doing a mental comparison. I’ve grown to realize that your agency should serve your needs, and the needs of your clients, and the needs of your staff. What other people are doing is irrelevant, and I would rather have friends and collaborators than enemies or competitors. The biggest competitor, any creative or marketing agency faces, is INACTION. Clients can choose to do nothing, and that’s always the largest force you are fighting.
Staying in the game is easy. I work closely with clients on a daily basis, and I see what’s working in their search marketing and what isn’t. I never want to be too far removed from the SEO process because that’s when you stop seeing what’s working.
Your final thoughts?
John Locke: Digital marketing, SEO, and ubiquitous internet use isn’t going away after the COVID pandemic. Mobile smartphones have been around for over ten years, though you can’t imagine life without them now. There will always be a place for the old ways of marketing with print catalogs and trade shows, but the primary way people consume information is online. Companies that don’t fully embrace the digital age and internet marketing will be eclipsed by companies that have a robust SEO, social media, and digital marketing strategy. The COVID pandemic is only going to reinforce habits of digital research and consumption that were already entrenched. The question isn’t “Can you afford a SEO campaign?” The question should be, “Can you afford to ignore SEO and how many people use Google daily?”