Influencers & Profiles

Lost and found: How trial and error led to Search Factory’s success

Melinda Oliver /

When Nic Blair and Michael Bell finished university they delved into launching their own business straight away. In fact, they had a couple of “failed start-ups” throughout 2008 and 2009 which the pair admit they learnt a great deal from.

Realising they hadn’t quite nailed the right concept, they went their separate ways and immersed themselves in the marketing world, either working for agencies or in-house for clients, before re-grouping in 2012 on their current venture, Search Factory.

The Brisbane-based business creates search engine optimisation strategies, content marketing and social media strategies for major and small businesses.

This time, they have clearly got it right. The pair have built up a team of over 20 people and have grown turnover from around $560,000 in their first year of operation to $1.3 million in their second year. This financial year, they say turnover is already on target to double that again.

They tell SmartCompany those early years of trial, error and working for other people proved to be just the trick for success.

Michael: Nic actually launched the company himself, and I joined six months later.

Nic: In May 2011 I started Search Factory. I had worked on the client side, and as someone trying to engage agencies and search services, I found it quite frustrating to get the quality of service and work that I was looking for from an Australian agency.

We got some big clients on board…and we got to about January 2012 when I started talking to Michael again.

Michael has a very strong background in networking and business development, so we saw an opportunity to take this further into the market, so Michael joined the company and became a partner.

A thing that kick-started the business was our existing contacts, as one of our previous businesses was a digital marketing agency and we did web development.

It helped us to get our foot in the door at quite a few big companies.

Michael: Our mantra is to never to lock people into contracts, and to develop a custom strategy for all the people we brought into the business. We have key performance indicator targets and we review those on a quarterly basis, even though we are working on month-to-month contracts with our clients.

We look at those KPI targets to make sure that the web search is not our sole service, but that it is part of an overall marketing strategy.

This informs the company and relays back to the staff as well, which is really good, as they all know that the clients are all on a month-to-month agreement and they have to be on the ball 24/7 or they lose clients.

Nic: One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is resourcing. From the outset one of the biggest issues with other search agencies was that a lot of them outsource most activity overseas to keep costs down. We want to manage it in-house with an Australian team and manage all the content and do proper content marketing.

Having an in-house team is one of the key components to help us grow, but it is a higher cost to get high quality people in the business.

We initially hired people that we already knew, so we called on them to join up and know their work ethic was a huge benefit.

Michael: We have quite a few interns come through here, we have people come to us who are doing marketing degrees…most of the interns have been trained up and ended up with a full-time job.

Nic: I am pretty proud of the brands we have worked with including Flight Centre, Escape Travel, Rugs a Million and 99 Bikes. These brands have helped us show we can grow across the most competitive verticals being travel and finance.

Our three-to-five-year plan is to be the largest search agency in the Australian market. We want to educate the market as to what people should be looking for in a search provider – information that people can take into their business.

We want to get search into the forefront of people’s minds.

Michael: We also want to look into optimising social services to make sure people’s websites are set up to convert. Look at travel for example…we can drive traffic to a website but then it is the website’s ability to convert them to a lead, an enquiry or a sale.

In November we appointed a general manager to the company.

Nic: It means we can step aside from the day-to-day management, and focus on the bigger picture things.

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