How to start a successful digital marketing agency while traveling the world - Michael Gardiner
Michael Gardiner is a 20 year old serial entrepreneur, world traveler, and self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie”. Michael has 5 years of experience in the online business space and currently runs a 6-figure digital marketing agency called Nomads with Solutions.
In this interview, we chat with Michael on how he got started in his entrepreneurship journey at the young age of 15 years old, his client acquisition strategies, how to stay productive as a digital nomad and the importance of focusing on just 1-2 businesses rather than dabbling in several ventures when starting out.
So, tell us a bit about Nomad with Solutions?
Nomads with Solutions is a digital marketing agency focusing on helping clients grow their businesses by leveraging Facebook ads, Google ads, and organic social media. Essentially, people pay Nomads with Solutions to in turn make them more money, and increase their online exposure.
Why did you start Nomad with Solutions?
When I was 15, I was a sophomore in high school and primarily interested in normal kid things, including basketball, track, skateboarding, video games, hanging with friends, etc... I happened to get injured playing basketball and in my free time applied for a job at a local pharmacy store. I have a really terrible interview process where the person interviewing me took very little interest in me and I thought to myself that I wanted to make money on my own terms.
Although my family has no entrepreneurs, nor did I know any, I got an idea for my first potential income stream. I had always followed themed accounts (nice cars, luxury houses, travel) on Instagram and figured I could build a big page to make money with eventually (and show off to my friends). Short story, I ended up growing a network of Instagram accounts to over 1,000,000 followers within a year and sold the network and used that money to fund my other ventures (of which most failed).
During that time period I had the advantage of having two great loving parents who provided all I needed, so I could put all my money I wanted into business, for this I am really grateful. During that time I also worked some jobs, including working for a library, elementary school and a rehab center.
Out of all the businesses I started with that money, the one that consistently did the best was my agency, Nomads with Solutions. Since then I have started 20+ businesses, and have had most fail, some do ok and a few do good, but Nomads with Solutions has always been the leader.
How did you start it? Did you have any previous experience as an entrepreneur?
Nomads with Solutions never truly had an official launch. Actually, when I first started Nomads with Solutions did not even have a name, website, or even a business card. I was simply just doing marketing for people who needed marketing. Over time I picked up a name “MG Social Marketing” short for Michael Gardiner Social Marketing (really creative right?), but I still did not have anything except a business card for quite a while.
It was not until late June 2019 that the Name Nomads with Solutions even was officially chosen. Before then I did eventually have a website (and legally registered business), but no real branding. My website was just something I had in case someone asked. However, in June 2019 I met up with two of my company's team members, Andrew Hightower and Philip Toussaint and we spent 3 or 4 days working through all of the branding, service offerings and details needed to truly take Nomads with Solutions.
If it wasn’t for that short retreat with those two guys Nomads with Solutions would certainly not be where it is today. The decisions we made then may have seemed small and insignificant, but those decisions laid the groundwork for a great company and without that intensive “work retreat” I am not sure if Nomads with Solutions would be where it is today.
How did you validate your idea?
From my experience with digital marketing for my own businesses, I could see the potential of providing digital marketing services to clients.
Nomads with Solutions has done a large amount of work in the digital marketing space, however we have three main services that make up the majority of our revenue:
Social media marketing and management
One of the things that gave me an advantage against other marketing agencies that were also new when starting Nomads with Solutions is that I had true experience. Many people start a marketing agency, yet have never managed business social media pages or run Facebook ads.
From my experience with growing my Instagram network I was already an expert at social media marketing and management which helped build trust in potential customers. The majority of the other businesses I have started had also run at least some paid advertisements so I was able to get experience from that as well.
From learning with my own businesses, mixed with a lot of courses, books, YouTube videos, podcasts (the list goes on) I was able to be confident from the start for my clients which they appreciated and trusted. Also, from “learning how to learn” I felt like I could figure anything out with the help of YouTube, Facebook groups, Reddit and Google search, which was a huge advantage. This skill came from figuring out almost everything for my initial businesses on my own, which was very tedious, but turned out to be worthwhile considering how much I learned.
How did you finance your project?
Nomads with Solutions was completely bootstrapped. I started with essentially no money, and reinvested whatever I made until it started to compound. I had the advantage of being without any expenses when starting as I lived at home and was in high school.
How did you market and promote your business when you were launching? What was the most effective strategy to get your first clients?
I think one of the main areas people struggle with when starting any type of service based agency is client acquisition. As tacky as it sounds, one of the main issues I see is people not having an abundance mindset.
An abundance mindset in the context of client acquisition simply means that you have the belief that there are unlimited potential clients for you, hence if you don’t land a client after a sales call, or have a hard time finding leads, it doesn't mean there are no clients for you, it just means the client you were talking to is the wrong one, or you need to change something in your approach.
I am known for my unconventional approach to client acquisition, and I could easily write a whole essay on the topic, but I want to share a few tips that I think could be very beneficial.
Grow a personal brand. Having a personal brand brings so much credibility when approaching new clients and also is a great way to find new clients. My personal brand has made a huge impact on my success as an agency owner. For an example, check out my Instagram or TikTok: @michaelrgardiner. I have also started a professional website for my personal brand which I share with potential clients: www.michaelrgardiner.com. A website like this is not too expensive or difficult to make, and I think every agency owner should have one.
Using custom videos in any form of outreach (email, LinkedIn, social etc..) work really well as they show the potential customer that you actually took the time to put something together for them, as opposed to copy and paste messaging thousands of people
Leverage testimonials and case studies as much as possible. While it is understandable you might not have these available to you at the beginning of your agency, as soon as you work with your first client you should have a video testimonial and case study. Attach these with every form of outreach you do.
If you want to hear more about my client acquisition approach check out this interview I did with Iman Gadzhi. I speak about how I got my first clients going door to door with flyers, leveraging platforms like Upwork, TikTok and other unconventional approaches.
I am also in the process of recording some client acquisition videos to add on my YouTube channel
As far as retaining customers, for a marketing agency the strategy is simple (although the implementation is not). Simply get your clients good results. I have never had a client who I have made say $3,000-$5,000 per month in profit refuse to pay me $1,000 or $2,000 in a monthly service fee. If you can make your client money and bring them value they will be a lifelong customer.
You started your business at a very young age, was that an obstacle? Sometimes, being young can be an obstacle to convince potential clients. How did you show credibility and convince them?
I think starting my business at a young age was more of an advantage than an obstacle. I had close to no expenses, no real expectations from others, lack of real commitments outside of school and sports, no debt from college, and also time to get things working before I was a proper “adult”.
Most of the initial clients I closed did not know how old I was, did not care or thought I was impressive, and wanted to work with me even more.
As a digital nomad with travels, adjustments or even distractions being in a new country, how do you organize to stay productive?
Being a productive digital nomad definitely takes a lot of work. It’s tough when there are so many exciting things to see. I seriously struggled with FOMO (fear of missing out). Some things that help me are:
Friday-Sunday I don’t take calls unless 100% necessary
Outside of phone calls (due to time zone differences), I stop working around 6:00 unless I genuinely want to continue
I give myself more time to explore on the weekends so I don’t feel like I am missing out
When going to a new place I plan on staying 3 weeks+ so I have time to see everything without feeling in a rush and falling behind with work
Having a virtual team is the only true way all of this is possible in my business, my team puts in 3-4x more hours than me every week
Lastly, using Trello as a calendar and task management system has been huge for staying organized
What has been your business revenue progression?
As far as my business revenue, I have had some months that have been negative, and some months that have had revenue of over $30,000. As of now, my revenue is growing, although I had some bumps in the road due to COVID-19. By the end of this year, I am aiming to have my main business (Nomads with Solutions) doing about $30,000 profit per month, and as of now, that is looking realistic.
What are the most useful tools/platforms that you use for your business?
I have used quite a large amount of different tools with my business, however here are some that are my absolute favorite:
Trello for my personal calendar, business to-do-list and even as a CRM
D7L Lead Finder for locating leads for my business
Veed for editing Instagram videos
Reddit and Facebook groups for networking and meeting more people
LinkTree for maximizing your social links, for example: https://linktr.ee/michaelrgardiner
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
One word, freedom. Financial freedom, time freedom, location freedom, just freedom overall. I absolutely love it and don’t think I would ever be able to give it up.
What has been your biggest challenge/failure as an entrepreneur? And how do you handle that?
My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has probably been focus. I have had a problem of having “too many good ideas” and starting too many projects which leads to inadequate time for each. I have corrected this by limiting the ventures I will allow myself to get involved with and saying no to more people.
What are your business goals for this coming year?
I have 4 main goals for this year between my business and personal life
To get to $30,000/month profit working less than 20hrs/week
For my personal brand to have a combined 100,000 followers
To read 52 books (1 per week)
For my liquid net worth to reach a certain amount
How can an aspiring entrepreneur start building a digital marketing agency now? What would be your advice and first steps to take as a beginner?
One piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs who are just starting is to focus on 1-2 businesses at a time. At some points when I was a “new” entrepreneur, I would try to work on 5 or 6 businesses at the same time, and while I learned a lot from doing this, I made only a small amount of progress on each business. Currently, I have 3 main businesses and I feel like I progress so much farther on a monthly basis than when I had 5+ at the same time. I also was doing everything alone where now I have partners, employees, contractors and so many other people making my life easier.
I would also recommend choosing 1 or 2 skills that can transfer between businesses and getting really good at them. For example Facebook ads, cold emailing, sales etc... I think it is important to not only have a general business skillset, but also to have some expertise that can be of value (this is especially good when looking for business partners).
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Avoiding unnecessary meetings by using Loom videos for communication, using a calendar software to avoid scheduling issues, and using “if this then that” statements in all my SOP’s and communication.
What's your favourite quote?
“1% better every day”
Any good book(s) to recommend to an aspiring entrepreneur?
One thing I have started doing this year (2020) is reading 1 book every week. As of (6/17/2020) I am almost finished with my 29th book. I think reading is one of the best things you can do to not only become a better entrepreneur, but an overall better and wiser person. Some of the books that I have enjoyed the most are:
“Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris - A book everyone should read at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey (especially anyone interested in travel).
Here are my notes on the Four Hour Work Week.
“The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau - A great book discussing unconventional approaches to life and happiness
“The 10X Rule” by Grant Cardone - The best motivational business book I have ever read
On my Instagram story highlights I have been featuring every book I am reading along with some notes, to keep up make sure to follow on Instagram.
To learn more about Michael Gardiner and Nomads with Solutions :
Like our content? Comment, share, subscribe to our newsletter!
And go work on your ideas. Get things going!