The Unseen Strategies of Small Business
Today on fjorgecast Tim talks to Ajay Prasad of GMR web team. Ajay started GMR web team after leaving corporate America and wanting to have control over his own destiny and decisions in the business world. Ajay discusses tips for maximizing growth when a company is just starting up such as choosing the right clients, and narrowing focus for your own personal work. GMR web team currently works with a variety of clients from landscaping to luggage to an asian grocery chain! However, they are shifting their focus towards healthcare. Tim and Ajay also discuss this transition.
Announcer: [background music] Enter the creative world with fjorgecast. Explore a variety of transmic creative landscape, getting insider knowledge and advice from the industry’s best. fjorge is proud to present fjorgecast. With host, Tim Barsness.
Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on fjorgecast. I’m Tim Barsness, founder of Web and mobile development team fjord. Today on our show, we will be talking with Ajay Prasad about his digital marketing agency GMR Web Team. Welcome to the show, Ajay.
Ajay Prasad: I’m happy to be here, Tim.
Tim: We’re happy to have you. Can you tell us a little bit about your company?
Ajay: Sure. GMR Web Team was formed actually in 2003 to address the digital marketing needs of small businesses. I have previously worked for big companies so I knew that the smaller companies were using essentially the same trick as the big companies which is totally irrelevant. We formed this in 2003 with a focus on helping small businesses with their digital marketing needs.
Tim: When you say we, did you have co-founders?
Ajay: No, but I had employees [laughs] that I started with.
Tim: Got it. What prompted you to start a business in 2003?
Ajay: Actually, it was very interesting. I was fired from my job at that time as head of marketing and product development for a consumer electronic product. Before that, I had worked for large companies really for 17-18 years, so I just figured that I paid my dues to large company. I wanted to start my own business-
Tim: Good for you.
Ajay: – and have more control of my life.
Tim: Why did you get fired?
Ajay: I got fired because there was a disagreement in terms of the direction of the company. I understand totally the CEO. If today I had the same conflict with one of my employees, probably the employee will go. That was my biggest frustration; not that I was fired, but I knew that I was right and then still I could not convince her. So I’m like, “You know what [chuckles] I want to do something where I control. If I feel like this is the right way to go I can do it and I either get the benefit or get the blame.”
This was a very unique situation; when you work for corporations, you always get the blame if something goes wrong. This was, in particular case, I was 100% sure that they were going on the wrong track. Still, I could not convince the group. When I was fired, even though I was offered a job very quickly by a competitor, I just had enough, I just wanted really more control over my life.
Tim: What was it like going from Corporate America to owning a smaller business or a startup?
Ajay: Really scary in the beginning, to be very honest with you, because I was one of those, I think, blessed one, lucky ones. I had a really good corporate career which means part of that is also means that you are always making a very good living. I’ve been getting used to decent bi-weekly paychecks to starting something on my own. First, it was really scary. It took me a couple of months just to figure out what I wanted to do. All I wanted was to really do something on my own but I was not sure what I was going to do.
I looked at bunch of businesses and when I decided that I’m going to have my digital marketing agency, again, getting to a new business with a business that is entirely different target audience which was small businesses — Remember I came from a corporation. If I just wanted to be a consultant and get some projects with big companies, it was easy for me. It was kind of scary walking into the whole new area that I was not really had any experience with. In the beginning, it was tough, a lot of failures, but it worked out I guess in the long run.
Tim: When transitioning from a large company as you described: a healthy consistent paycheck — to a smaller company and no guarantee of where your paychecks would come from. I’m curious how long it took to get back to the point where you felt like you had a healthy consistent paycheck.
Ajay: I can tell you that I started to make enough money that was same as my paycheck — It took me almost five years to get there. Yes, in the beginning — for a while, I was also doing some consulting with large companies to pay my bills so it was okay, but the business was not generating that kind of money. Of course, first six months is all investment as you can imagine, and I had no investor. It was on my own savings. It took me five years into the business — I had reached the level where I was making working for corporations. Now, of course, I’m way past that, so it turned out to be a good thing for me, financially also.
Tim: Sure, probably. Did you hire employees right away?
Ajay: Yes, because I’m a marketing guy. I knew I understood the marketing strategy. I understood what needed to be done, but all my life, in the corporate world, I had people who would execute it. When we started digital — you’re talking 2003, many small businesses did not even have a website. Getting our website done — I had no clue and I was not going to learn how to create a website, so I hired someone on my payroll to do the website.
As we started to offer more and more services like marketing — I’m very good at strategy. On the big picture, I am really bad when it comes to really getting your hands dirty and micromanaging. As a result, I just stuck with my strength and I covered my weakness by hiring the right people to do those work.
Tim: How big is the team the team today?
Ajay: Today, my total team is slightly over 100.
Tim: Got it. That’s pretty incredible. You keep them all busy day to today?
Ajay: They are super busy actually. We are always hiring; at any given time, we are looking for right people. Yes, knock on wood, they’re all very busy.
Tim: Got it. What is the right person? What is the right fit for your team?
Ajay: I need some sell stockers. Like I said, I don’t like micromanaging, frankly, I’m not very good at that. That’s how I build my team when I was in incorporation — was to find people who are better than me for this specific area that I’m looking for. That’s the same criteria now when I’m looking to hire people, they need to be sales starter and they need to be much better than what I can do in any given thing, whether it is, say, social media marketing.
I know the basics, but I’m not an expert. So if someone wants to come in and say I can help you apply into social media marketing; they better be expert. They should be many grades above me.
Tim: Sure. You mentioned it took about five years to get back to the compensation level you’re at before you left Corporate America. I’m curious; in hindsight, what could you have done to shorten that five-year time frame?
Ajay: Yes. One of the biggest mistake I made which, I think when you’re starting a business with all these insecurities is very hard not to do. Right now, I suggest people that they shouldn’t be doing that is I accepted any client for what — Call me or walk into the door. Of course, I had a team so my cost was there. It was a fixed cost that I had to do that. I took some clients that I should not have taken.
They were consuming lot of my time, a lot of my team’s time, and they were still not happy. It took me almost three years. Frankly, I was really is very seriously thinking that this is not going to work out for me. Even though technically, I had revenue, but I was still losing money. Then, I started and I realized that there were just few clients — like four or five clients that were occupying 80% of my time. When I did some research, I realized, at least, I could not satisfy them for whatever- reason. So I just resigned those, and I tell you, everything turned around after that, big time. [crosstalk] I think that was one thing–
Tim: How do you identify those bad clients?
Ajay: Yes. How did I identify those?
Ajay: You start trying to figure out how much money you are spending. I always had a system for my team where I know how many hours we ever spent on which client. We don’t charge by hours; we charge by a fixed price. I could see that I was spending 60%, 70% of my time trying to calm them because they were always complaining about something and my team was is spending enormous number of hours just trying to keep them happy.
I just realized that, “Okay–” These are like 4 or 5 clients and then the other 10 or 12 already who we barely spend any time and they were thrilled, they were sending us referrals. I realized that, “Okay, they are the wrong people for whatever reason.” There wasn’t anything wrong with them, I take the blame myself and say, “I was not able to satisfy them,” so I just resigned.
That was one thing. The second thing I will tell you that I did, which now I say this to everyone, is I hired a personal assistant for myself after three years. Someone who would take my phone. Before that, I was picking up all the phone calls and I was the customer service, I was sales, and I was everything. The moment I decided to hire someone who would screen my calls and all, it freed up so much of my time that I could focus on building my business.
Tim: Really. What kind of calls were they taking?
Ajay: If the customer complains, for example, let’s just start with that. The customer will have very specific complaint. I had no reason to pick up the phone call so long I had the right receptionist who picked up the phone. She would say or he would say, “I’m really sorry to know about this. Let me contact the team and we’ll fix it.” Otherwise, if I had that, I would chit chat and I would assure them and all that, so she just did that, so it free of my time.
If there was a phone call that came from a prospective client, she knew the questions to ask. I would have asked those questions. She would just ask those questions and then either she will say, “Okay, I think that you should talk to Ajay.” Or she would say, “We are the wrong people for this project. There are some other agency,” and we’ll just suggest that maybe they should try that agency. Then, of course, your typical things like bookkeeping and all that. I was doing everything. All of a sudden, I was very lucky to find the right person. It just made the biggest difference for me also.
Tim: Got it. Let’s get into GMR Web Team a little bit. What type of work you guys do?
Ajay: What we are doing right now is as we have clients where we have to think of it as we are the digital marketing agency. They come in and they have a very specific digital marketing goals from Internet goals and we do everything. Right from strategizing, fixing their Web site if needed or completely redesigning it whatever it is and we have a very strong team. We have built some of the very complex platforms for web-based businesses. Getting the website done, defining what the marketing needs are, doing whatever work is needed, and then communicating with the clients, monitoring it, making sure that they are happy.
We are literally A to Z. We are doing everything for digital marketing. Right now we have all sort of claims. We have the largest luggage company as our client. We have some local landscaping companies which would be like or four or five million dollars in sales of clients. We have a client, it’s Asian Grocery Chain which is three billion dollars as our client. We even have some dentist, for example, who have maybe a million dollars.
We have all sort of clients that currently we are doing. What we are doing is, from 2018, we are making a readjustment so that we are just going to be upgrading a new division right now, but eventually, we want to just do that. We are transitioning to an area where we will be focusing only on the healthcare industry clients. Again, I did some analysis this year, and I’m realizing that we are able to do some real magic for the healthcare clients that we have.
Generally speaking, getting them a return on investment which is 15 times or more. We are just going to focus on that, and by focusing on one vertical, you also start to get better and better, so that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be doing exactly the same thing, except right now, it’s everyone is our business;2018 onwards, our focus is going to be on the healthcare industry.
Tim: Got it. It sounds like you once again identified who your best customers were and you started focusing on them.
Ajay: Exactly right. Exactly right.
Tim: Very cool. What is the key to doing your work effectively?
Ajay: You see, I’m a marketing guy; I came from really large corporations, and like I said, I’ve been lucky to become head of marketing at the very like fifth year of my career. I was head of marketing for a billion dollar corporation. I know that the key factors of any very successful business is, you have to have a very high level of customer satisfaction. You have to have a good online presence because a lot of the people are going there.
The third thing that is now becoming more and more important is you need to have a really stellar reputation online, even when you are in front of prospective client, no matter, even if there’s a referral. Now they go and check about you so when they go and check about you. You should be a really robust presence, but also you should have a really nice stellar online reputation.
Our basics is, we just work with the company to make sure, of course, who their customers are and what’s their unique value proposition. Those things are some of the basic stuff that is there, then we say, “Okay, let’s figure out how happy is your customers.” We even have created a process to monitor the customer’s satisfaction, or in the new case, it will be patient satisfaction on an ongoing basis.
Also doing analysis there, so that you know where you are not doing well, where you are doing well, so that where you need to improve, what part you need to emphasize in your marketing and all. Then, of course, we also create a very robust online presence, so when a prospective client or patient is looking for a business, they find them.
Tim: Are there fundamental differences between how a medical practice markets itself online versus how a local business, in general, might market themselves online?
Ajay: I want to say that the processes are the same. The big difference with medical practice is that — Is it because of the [unintelligible 00:18:36] you. Right? You are going to a doctor because if you’re not feeling well or something. What there is on the Web about you is really 10 times more important than, for example, if you are a plumber and someone has a plumbing problem, and they are contacting you.
Here, it is about their health — the patient. The emphasis on patient satisfaction and the online reputation needs to be very high. As a matter of fact, you probably know that almost 70%, if not more, of the prospective patient, find out about a physician or a medical facility like urgent care or whatever, either through the referral from other doctors or recommendation from their friends or relatives, or from the list that they get off the providers from the insurance company.
Before they choose the provider, they will go and they will check, search about you. Unless you have really good things there that they can see, you are going to lose it. As a matter of fact, BrightLocal, which is a company that is focused on local marketing, they do annual research, and the last research that they did said that 31%, I think, of the prospective patients totally rely on the online reviews, for example, when they’re selecting a provider.
About 80% of the prospective patient give the same emphasis on online as they put the emphasis on, for example, referral or recommendation. That is one big difference for the healthcare industry. Again, you need to have a satisfied customer or satisfied patient, that is your foundation. Your online reputation for the healthcare industry is way more important. I focus on small businesses so whether you’re a plumber or some of these other. I’m not discounting that you need to have a very good referral, but not as critical as it is on health care.
Tim: What percentage of your online reputation as a healthcare practice is in your control versus what percent is outside your control?
Ajay: When you say in control of us outside, tell me exactly what you mean.
Tim: This is something that you can influence, whether it be your website or–?
Ajay: We did some really extensive study because we have about 300 health care providers as our client. We did some really extensive research and what we found out — because you see, we have the patient satisfaction information of 300 physicians because we have a process that we use to monitor them on an ongoing basis. What we did is, we created a tool and we went out for the same people. We went and we got their average on the reviews.
The thing that we found was, there’s a total disconnect. You will see on Yelp, for example, maybe the Yelp rating is 2.1 which is the actual number for a physician that a client that we had. It was 2.1, and when we did that patient satisfaction, it was 9.5 on the scale of 0 to 10. You see how there’s a big disconnect. The part of the reason is that if you don’t manage proactively your reputation, then the unhappy ones tend to go and write it.
There is always 2%, 3% of your customers no matter what business you are in, are going to be unhappy, but they seem to be 10 times more likely to and write it. I tell my clients and — they don’t have a choice. Suppose if someone says, “No, no, no. Just reduce your marketing for me, I don’t care about the online interpretation or a patient satisfaction,” we just say we are the wrong company. We don’t do that.
Anyone who comes to us, we monitor their patient satisfaction and the review, that is totally part of our package. If someone doesn’t want it, then they are not our client. Everyone that we take need to believe in that.
Tim: Makes total sense. Let’s get into a couple of new stories here. We took both from the GMR blog. The first one titled 7 Ways to Get More Patient Referrals for Your Medical Practice. I’m curious you could tell us a little bit about the seven ways.
Ajay: Sure. This particular article was totally focused on what you can do in terms of digital marketing. What other digital marketing methods you can say or practices that you can use for generating more leads. Now, remember, there are two ways that you would do that: One way is when people are looking for you, for your professions, so if you are a primary care physician and someone is looking in your area of a primary care physician then you need to get found. The second piece is obviously, you need to have a social media presence. That is how you get recommended by your friends. So that when you have a problem you talk to your friends or relatives that they send you.
The insurance company, we are not looking at this, because insurance company on physician referrals, you’ll get that anyway. Having said that, the seven ways to get more patients — One is, of course, there’s a paid advertising, as you know, the Google AdWords and all which we always tell people to use. There are reports that said 81% of the people click on PPC ads, you would know that nowadays,it is hard to avoid them. It used to be Google will put the paid ads on the right-hand side so people will ignore it. Now they have mixed it so much that unless you would notice that there’s AD ad, these are the ads, you won’t know. We are seeing that now, paid advertising — you cannot avoid.
Obviously, the second thing is you need to have a search engine optimization. Essentially, what it is, is you need to be organically found when someone is looking for your business in your area so you have prospect. Search engine optimization becomes very important. We have really had seen a lot of new business coming to our clients through search engine optimization.
Like I said, social media marketing is becoming really important, especially these days when you have sites like Facebook. It’s becoming a go-to places for most people looking for unbiased information. The same thing is true for Yelp and all, but essentially, these platforms that you have, you need to have a good presence there which we manage for our clients. Especially, if you have, on social media, your own group — I’m specifically talking about health care industry now — where you are interacting with the questions with the patients and everything; that’s very important, so we create those kind of platform for our client.
Email marketing is again is a big piece of it. By the way, if our client don’t believe in any of these things, we don’t do that. Anyone who is using our services are using all these. Email marketing is really for the existing patient and, of course, you have to be very careful with the with the HIPAA and all that regulation, so you need to be HIPAA compliant at the same time. We use even marketing campaign to keep the patient engaged while they are not sick, and giving them guidance or whatever is the latest thing that is happening. Okay.
We use blog for our clients to just make sure that, again, they have a presence and they can share their expertise. Now, there’re some clients for who even write the blog, but then, of course, they have to approve it because this is a health care physician. For some of my existing clients, of course, they can do whatever, but health care, you cannot have a third party record.
Basically, we write it, send it to them. They can put their own language. They have to approve it. The blog, again, helps them keep their presence. We have created tools so that it is easy for patients to book, go and ask the doctors to sign up, to look at their calendar, put their name. Also, we have created help desk where they can ask a specific question which is again, between only patients and doctors. No one else can know that, it has to be, again very HIPAA compliant.
In many instances, they may not even need to visit the physician. Again, this makes physicians stand out. The references which is very good so far that — what I mean is their testimonials. We collect — again, because we are asking people for their satisfaction level. We also ask them why they said what it is, and most of the physicians — it’s very high. We also asked them can we share your testimonial?
Then, of course, we have to internally check it to make sure that — even though it is a gray area in terms of HIPAA, but if a patient is talking about their condition, we’ll just not show that — so we have testimonials. These are the seven things that we always do for all our clients and we have found that it really helps. Like I said, our typical clients, their return is about 15 to 25 times their investment.
Tim: Sounds amazing. Let’s get into our second story here written by you, Ajay, titled 5 Online Marketing Methods for a Healthy Relationship with your Patients. I’m curious, all the methods you mentioned have a do-not section. Is it difficult threading the needle to safely and legally market health services online?
Ajay: Yes. Again, that’s the reason we are rebranding ourselves because there are things that you cannot do because of the legal issues. It can get really hairy, the legal problems. That’s the reason why we do that where we say, ”Hey, you know what? Do not do these things.” Even though, for example, you have the patient photo — which like I said, we develop for our doctors so that they have their own community, the patient can come and ask anything — but if there’s any kind of personal topic that even the patient has raised, you cannot make it on a public forum, so you just have to take it offline very quickly and remove that.
Even when they are making an appointment, because it’s only between patient and doctor, it’s fine. If you have a portal where you are actively going back and forth, it’s an educational thing also, and the collaboration, you just have to be very careful about that.
Tim: Got it. Makes sense. We’re out of time, so that’s it for the day in fjorgecast. Thanks for joining us today, Ajay.
Ajay: Wonderful, thank you very much. It was really good talking to you.
Tim: Absolutely indeed. You can reach Ajay by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s A-J-A-Y@gmrwebteam.com. Or you can reach the company at 7147319000. Thank you to our listeners for joining us in the fjorge cast. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/fjorgecast or subscribing in the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio.