Building brand authority is tough. You must build processes, systems, and a team, and of course, satisfy your customers every time.
For entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, developing the processes that drive a brand can be tough. So we decided to find answers—how do you create profitable brand authority?
In this interview with Brad Smith, founder of Codeless, uSERP, and Wordable, we’ll explore how Brad went from writing for top industry and media blogs to running a $2 million business.
Your site visitors judge your performance based on what they see on arriving at your site and they leave a review based on what they experience from using your service or product.
It takes about 50 milliseconds for a visitor to form an opinion about your website. And a PwC study showed that 73% of buyers based their buying decisions on customer experience.
Brad’s companies have done a fine job of making an impressive first impression and delivering excellent customer experiences that have kept their customers coming back.
What is Brad doing right and how is he doing it?
Read on to discover how to build your brand authority so that you can boost your revenue and grow your business sustainably.
Key Takeaways from the Interview
This interview sheds light on Brad Smith’s brand-building processes and how they’ve acquired customers sustainably over the years. Here are key points to note:
- Figure out specific services you are good at and build your processes around them
- Having a lot of experienced hands to work with and a big network is great leverage for business growth
- Testing and experimenting with your processes help you build a better structure
- Let your brand message be consistent with your business values
- Use case studies skillfully and effectively to boost your brand authority
- If you haven’t done so, strive to give structure to your service delivery processes
- You need to build trust to acquire customers long-term
- Content is an effective marketing tactic if applied correctly
- Set milestones and celebrate them
- Be intentional about making your work fun
My Conversation with Brad Smith
1. Hello, please introduce yourself. Tell us about yourself and your business?
My name is Brad Smith. I’ve been doing Content Marketing and SEO for about a decade now.
I started off by working at a few different companies in-house. A little tech startup, travel company, and I kind of bounced around a little bit.
Then I went out on my own and I started doing consulting, which then evolved into me starting Codeless. Although it was a different company when I first started it in around 2014. From there it has continued to evolve a lot.
So, I’d worked in-house before starting my own agency.
I’ve also been a freelance writer, so I have a varied background. I hope that makes sense.
2. You founded Codeless in 2014, co-founded uSERP in 2019, and acquired Wordable in 2020. Can you tell us what led you to all of these decisions? How did you go from working in-house to Codeless, uSERP, and now Wordable?
Back in 2013 or 2014, I was working on my own. Working on your own can be kind of isolating and not enjoyable at times. And you have to do everything yourself and that’s not always fun either.
So, at a certain point, I decided to start Codeless with a good friend of mine. He was a developer.
Our original idea was to do a kind of ongoing marketing retainer model where we won’t just create your website, but go on to optimize it over time and improve things.
So, it wasn’t just like we would create a website and hand it off and that would be done. We would continue to work on it because they do improve pages based on conversions and rankings and all other important characteristics.
There was a big gap between starting Codeless in 2014 and then starting uSERP in 2019. Because the first few years of Codeless were more like wandering in circles.
Basically, we just screwed up all the basics.
We didn’t know how to hire and we didn’t know how to position ourselves. We didn’t know how to do anything extremely well.
We each had areas that we were really good at, but together it was like a muddled message where we didn’t really know how to frame some things in a way that made sense to a lot of people. And there was a huge market for it.
The big transition for Codeless came when we actually split the company up basically.
I took it in this new direction of content creation because I was seeing a lot of success with my freelance writing at the time. And things started to take off when we made this shift and adopted the specialization of our service offerings.
I also got really committed to the idea of building processes and systems in our business. That way, we could scale it without personally having to jump on every client call or do everything all the time.
That was the huge shift that took a while to figure out. But it paid off. And since then uSERP has grown a ton, which is great.
And part of the reason it’s grown so fast and quickly is because I made all those mistakes already. So I knew what to avoid basically.
3. That’s interesting. Can you talk a little bit about how you developed this process? Because I know it’s almost impossible to talk about growth without putting processes in place. So how did you build this process that you depended on to grow?
Part of it started with just figuring out what services lend themselves better to building processes if that makes sense.
For example, if you just take SEO in general, it’s such a huge thing now. And it’s so difficult and complex and you could really break it down into a few different areas.
You could have technical SEO, on-page SEO, or content like what we do.
You could have off-page SEO, PR and link-building which we also do now under uSERP.
So it’s really about figuring out how to take a step back and actually focus on the services that
- We’re really good at or I think we can be the best at, and
- Lend themselves well to building systems and processes.
For example, it’s really difficult to scale technical SEO in my mind. Because you’d need a lot of developers, a lot of technical SEO people, those are hard to get. Those people are harder to find, they are harder to train and they’re also expensive.
And so that means you need to invest more and it’s going to be more difficult to find high paying clients for that kind of service.
So basically going through that little thought process starts to help you figure that out. And then once you get better at it, you can go after the more difficult spaces.
For example, even like PR and link-building, it’s harder to scale doing it correctly. Scaling crappy link building is not hard, but scaling really good link building it’s hard.
The trick is having a lot of experience doing it and then also having a really big network.
So, I think that one of the benefits of what we’ve been able to do is starting companies in a similar space. They’re all complementary to each other and serve the same audience basically.
4. Now, what were some of the mistakes you made in the beginning? You talked about your mistakes a lot. What are these mistakes? And what did you learn from them?
We tried to offer too many services right off the bat. And that makes it hard to talk about or to specialize and actually be an expert in any one of them.
That’s important because being an expert and specializing in a certain field or a certain audience makes it a lot easier to get other clients in that same space.
But, it also hurts growth or future growth at the same time. It makes it more difficult to hire. Because one month you might need an extra developer, whereas the next month you might need someone completely different.
There were no overlapping skill sets. You might need a new writer. And if you focus on one service to start with or a very specific service, there’s a lot more overlap in the types of people that you need to hire.
And so you can move them around and manage your own internal resources more effectively.
We didn’t really build processes or systems. A lot of times, I or my old partner at the time would have to jump in and either deal with client issues or even do status updates with clients. And this included even the most basic things.
It’ll all come back to us at the end of the day because we were the ones who had everything in our heads. The other people in the company were good, but we didn’t train them properly.
They didn’t really know how to answer difficult questions, or they didn’t really know the broader goals and objectives of what we’re trying to do.
So those were some of the key mistakes I think we made.
And like I said, I think when you make them all at the same time, it has a rippling effect on everything else.
So it hurts future growth and it hurts sales.
Your closing rates are lower because you don’t have a refined process for how you’re going to talk to new prospects. One or two big issues affect all the other issues.
5. Did you build any side projects to help you develop your processes? How did you come about creating these processes without having to experiment with your clients’ work? How did you test things out?
We tested some things out on clients.
If you know who the clients are or what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with, you can often test things on new clients and they’re okay with it. But we would also do side projects, so we can also test things that way too.
I also had other things going on too at the time. For example, I used to just try to write for free on a lot of big sites.
And then eventually I found out that a lot of these sites would pay me on top of that. Whereas the reason I was writing for free was to draw attention to the services that we did offer.
Then I realized that a lot of businesses, especially in the tech space at the time were starting to pay more money and were looking for this type of thing. And it started to snowball in a good way. So that was a kind of big clue too.
Hey! There might be something in this new area that we should do more in and cut our losses in the things that aren’t working as much.
So, it was a lot of testing and experimenting and it’s fun but it’s also chaotic. Because you don’t really know what’s going to work until you actually just do it and see what the results are.
6. Codeless says: “We create content that performs.” When you say “perform,” I want to believe that’s different for each client. So, how do you determine performance and what’s your process for creating this kind of content?
Yeah, definitely. For most of our clients, we tend to align more with growth and SEO teams. And so most people are coming to us for acquisition, top of the funnel, traffic, like opt-ins or leads to important pages.
That’s usually who we’re working with and why we’re doing this content. So, for example, as opposed to that we don’t do a lot of copywriting for sales.
Generally, we do email follow-ups. So it’s a very particular style of content that we do. And again, that makes all of our processes and systems a lot easier because we don’t have to do a ton of different styles of writing.
We do, like pretty much, just one main style of writing for the most part. And that’s a longer form of technical content where a lot of times there’s some specific brand focus.
For instance, if we’re writing for monday.com, a lot of that content tends to be heavily around their own product. And that means we are writers, and our team actually has to learn a lot about their company, about their product, how they talk about things and how they don’t talk about things.
So, we work really closely with those clients to try to figure out how to make this content really interesting, in-depth, and insightful.
Again, we don’t want our content to come across as what a random generic freelance writer wrote. They often sound like they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
So, we tend to specialize more in a particular type of content. And then also, it’s more technical and harder to do more closely related content to the client-side of the spectrum.
7. Interesting. What’s one thing that you’ve heard from your clients or you’ve heard from people who have used your product and you would say it’s like the best thing, or maybe one of the best things you’ve heard?
Yeah. That’s a good question. I think there are two.
One of them is that it’s always good to hear about the results. And this is because we do this due to our enjoyment for it.
We can all go make money selling insurance for instance. And it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because no one really cares about selling insurance.
You just care about making money when you sell insurance. Whereas we actually want to help people and we enjoy this kind of work.
So it’s always good to hear about the end result that people are talking about.
Picking back on that monday.com example, if we’re talking to them and they said, yeah, a lot of your new content is ranking on the first page or the second page within days of going live, that’s kind of unheard of. That’s a really key thing that we want to hear and see. That’s really good to hear because it means that what we’re doing is working and that’s a huge benefit.
And then the other thing too is that we’re able to do difficult things well. So, for instance, when we first started working with Monday.com, I think we just jumped straight into about 70 articles in a month or less.
And that’s really hard to do as you could imagine because there are maybe five to 10 people on our team that have to get up to speed quickly.
Hearing that our team was able to do that really effectively made it a lot easier. That’s also good to hear because it means we have the right people and that they’re doing what they’re really good at.
They’re enjoying it and the client’s also enjoying it. So, I think those are usually the most affirming things to me.
Because again, the reason we’re doing this is that we liked it and we want to help people. We want to actually make a difference and making money is an important part of that, of course.
But it’s not like it’s the only reason. If it was I would be in a different business for sure. If that was the only focus.
8. Okay! This is probably one question about the topic of this interview. It says—as simple as you can—how do you boost your brand? How do you help a brand become something that people trust and do business with?
Yeah, that’s a good question because I think the challenge is that I don’t control the brand.
It’s the people on the other end of the internet, that CX in their mind. Our brand is whatever it is in their minds and that’s difficult.
And, although we try to boost the brand, I can’t control it directly.
This isn’t like the 1950s where I can run a bunch of ads and then kind of brainwash people into thinking or believing what I want them to believe.
I think we do try to do a couple of things. Number one is, and this is often overlooked, consistency over the long term.
It’s like constantly hammering the same message over the years. Not days or weeks as is often the case.
I know I did in the early days and a lot of others. Like small companies who have trouble breaking through as they might shift their messaging or focus too much.
And even after a couple of years that things have been going on, we just still do the same thing. We do some other services too, but we still have the same messaging overall. We’ve tried really hard not to go against that.
I think another aspect of it is we try to take more of a confident approach to things. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.
For example, one of our taglines that I came up with years ago on our website is, ‘writers, suck at marketing and marketers suck at writing and we get both.’
The idea with that was like this what we do. I think that our sweet spot is that cross-section of writing and content with the actual marketing chops behind it.
And the reason we say things like that is because we use a lot of informal languages. We use informal words.
The reason isn’t to offend people, it’s just to get the message across that we are confident. But we also don’t take ourselves that seriously at the end of the day. This isn’t SpaceX, we’re not trying to save civilization or anything.
We’re not building rockets. We’re just building content and trying to have a good time doing it. And I think having a more transparent approach is helpful.
I think clients like that because they know we actually care. When I talk to a client I’m not trying to impress them. If that makes any sense.
I’m trying to gain their trust for sure. I’m also not trying to lie to them.
I’m not trying to just tell them what they want to hear. I’m trying to be honest and direct with them.
We have that consistent message through everything we’re doing. I hope it comes through and I hope that it gives people a general idea of how we go about things and how we go about what we do.
9. What do you do to stand out, or let me say what makes Codeless stand out? A lot of businesses probably do something similar to what you do. This is quite honestly from me, I checked out your website and I found myself spending nearly two hours. Now, this wasn’t to prepare questions.
I was reading through and thought “this is quite interesting.” That is rare because content marketing is everywhere. So, how do you stand out? How do you make your content something that engages people and people gain value when they go through your materials?
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s a good question because it’s hard. It’s really hard, and it’s only gotten harder.
I guess there are a few things that I personally will say.
The first is that I think too many companies today try to make everything sound the same.
And that ends up creating a watered-down effect where they want every writer on their site to sound exactly the same. What happens is you create this very generic watered-down tone, I believe personally.
I think what we try to do is make sure that we get quality writers. When we work with people, we try to make sure that we’re actually saying something important and saying it in an interesting way. And that sounds so basic.
But again, a lot of content you read online, the actual writing is just kind of “not amazing.”
And the best way I can describe it is if you took an article from one site and put it on a different site, you’d have no idea who wrote it. You won’t know which site has the original content.
They’ll all just sound exactly the same. It’s totally interchangeable.
What we try to do is go above and beyond that and it’s really difficult because it means that you have to go to extreme lengths.
For example, I don’t want a writer to tell me something is important. Like you see this a lot. Let’s say Facebook ads. Everyone says, Oh, you know, Facebook advertising is so important these days. Like every article on Facebook ads is that way.
And we tell our writers, no, don’t give me that. Don’t tell me what I already know. Use a stat to highlight that or use an anecdote to highlight that.
We push our writers to go beyond the obvious and that’s difficult. And it takes good writers. It takes good people. It takes good editors.
So, I think just really trying to focus on every tiny detail makes a big difference. And now I feel like I’m rambling, but I feel like that’s half the battle right there.
And then I feel like doing that consistently again over the years. So we’ve even worked with some clients for three to four years straight.
I think that’s because we just consistently deliver and yeah, there might be problems or issues from month to month. But we will work through those things and we’ll change things and we’ll try to make it better.
Ultimately, we’re just trying to stay on the course relentlessly over the long haul. And I think that also pays off if you do it and if you do it well.
10. Now your answers got me to this one last question. How did you acquire clients? How did you get people to say yes? It’s probably a lot easier now that you have a lot of people you’ve worked with and you can just show them case studies. But in the early days, when you didn’t have these case studies, how were you able to prove yourself to them?
For sure. I think it’s like putting yourself in the right places. So in other words “where?”
If you’re trying to get hired by a particular type of client,
- Where do those people get their information?
- Who do those people look up to in their space?
- How do you work with those people?
In other words, I used to write for free. I would just blindly pitch people’s sites until I was writing for like every big marketing website basically.
I was either writing and, in more cases than not, I was writing out of my own name. I will also ghostwrite for people.
But I will try to write under my own name because I wanted to associate myself with those brands.
And then when you do get people or you’re talking to people about potentially hiring you and you’re able to show them that track record, I think that’s often what people are looking for.
If they can do it for a client like monday.com and we’re in the project management space or anything like that, then they will automatically believe or assume that we can do it for them too.
Which you know, is a safe bet because we’ve already kind of proven it at a high level. So I think that’s usually the key.
How you align yourself with those places or those organizations or those peoples. And often in the very beginning, that means actually giving them something and helping them, not like selfishly asking them for something.
So I get this all the time now, and I’m sure you do too. People like to email you to ask you for a link or they send you emails with three paragraphs of questions. they don’t understand how busy you are.
It’s like, don’t come out of the gate asking me for something. If you came out of the gate, helping me with something and solving something for me, then I’ll be your best friend and I will help you as much as possible. And so I think that’s a huge part of it. Just understand where you’re coming from and who you are.
How to approach these places and actually give them something useful or valuable. I think that’s like half the battle.