Ali Saif is a lifestyle entrepreneurial and digital nomad. He runs a digital marketing agency called Highclicks.com and helps businesses struggling with online sales and growth to reach their full potential by optimizing their conversions and revenue.
Books: The 4 hour work-week by Tim Ferris
01:30 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Have a dream. Keep working on that dream.
Ali explains digital nomad life that he is after and talks about how his business High Clickz, started in 2008 with a focus on getting traffic via paid advertising, is results and conversion focused. With Google’s help, his company also flourished.
04:58 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be passionate. Your passion will open the doors to a desired life.
Ali discusses his journey prior to his latest venture. His interest in computers and programming at a very early age led him into a freelancing career at the age of 17 taking care of billing and SW. Later on he branched out into gaming and supporting online gamers.
09:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Freelance sites like Freelancer.com, Upwork.com can be excellent to get started.
Ali explains how he got his first paying customer for HighClikz. On freelancer.com, Ali saw a job posting for a sales page for a customer in customer who developed an e-book on how to talk to dogs. He thought it was interesting and worked with the customer to design the sales page and work with Clickbank to get him sales. And the first customer led him to more sales.
17:20 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be Keep defining your ideal customer and become an expert on their needs.
Ali talks about building a customer pipeline and his focus is on authors and coaches who want to establish personal brand and be an authority. Most of his business is through referrals from his existing customers.
19:43 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Expand your horizons to either technologist or business depending on where you started from.
Ali talks about his growth from a pure technologist into a businessman. Initially, it started with knowing how much money he needs to survive and sustain his business. Later, he was influenced by people like Tim Ferris (and the 4 hour work week book) and began outsourcing more to grow his business without sacrificing his lifestyle.
22:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Pricing is an important element of the business. Be on top of it.
Ali discusses his pricing strategies. Ali also has a product side of the business where he sells some products on Amazon. For products, his strategy is cost-plus pricing where he adds margin to his costs. For services, he prices based on the value he is delivering. The value is defined by customers.
23:47 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Focus on the most important tools for your business and not go overboard with them.
Ali goes over some of the tools used in his business. Google Analytics to analyze traffic, Click funnels for creating funnels, Quickbooks for accounting and various email marketing products like mailchimp.
26:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Get started with your business and evolve as you learn.Ali closes the podcast by talking about trends which are mostly mobile consumption and applications. His advice for aspiring business owners is to not wait but get started. Outsource where you can and grow your business.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the agile Entrepreneur Podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today I have a guest from an industry or area where every business needs some help. And that is the digital marketing. And the guest name is Ali Saif. Ali is somebody that I have known for quite some time. He's been my partner on this journey of ideal entrepreneurship. So Ali Saif is a lifestyle entrepreneurial and digital nomad. He runs a digital marketing agency called High clicks dot com and helps businesses struggling with online sales and growth to reach their full potential by optimizing their conversions and revenue. I mean Ali is somebody that I really trust, and I don't think I'd be here with the agile Entrepreneur Podcast without his help. Hey Ali welcome.
Ali: Yeah. Thank you, Ramesh. Thank you for your kind words And I'm really excited to be here so.
Ramesh: Ali, first thing is there are a few words here that I don't know if everybody knows. You talked about digital nomad. So you to talk about optimizing conversions. Maybe in a layman's language just tell us what you do and what your business is about.
Ali: Sure. So basically a digital nomad is somebody who is not depending on a particular location. He can work from multiple like he can do remote works staying in different places at different time. But still have like clients and businesses running for him. So he can sustain his business and his livelihood. So that's the digital nomad. And for the conversion and the conversion is basically in digital marketing. You know people have upsides and they have online businesses, but they need customers, they need products to be sold online. So for that they need to bring traffic and those traffic needs to be converted or they need to be become paid customers, for that they need a digital marketing agency that can basically develop a model for them or a system for them that can help them do that conversion.
Ramesh: Okay. So if I understand correctly, you're just not a website builder, website designer. You are very focused on helping your customers using their Web site to actually drive sales by having the visitors getting converted into a customer.
Ali: Yes that's the major difference. So basically a normal marketing agency, the difference between us and them is that our focus is on results based. It's more on focused on results rather than on traditional marketing things like Web sites or doing e-mails and running graphics or stuff like that. Our focus is more on generating measurable results for them. So that they can see how much they're spending and how much sales that they're getting from their website.
Ramesh: So when did you actually start this journey?
Ali: So my journey basically started, this company HiClix we started this company in 2008. In 2008 was the time when the general public and all basically the businesses around they started warming up with the online advertisement things. They started taking it seriously. Before that people used to just run some banner ads on Web sites and that was something that not many businesses knew about. And after Google and Facebook came in, the online advertising world really grew. So at that time we decided that there needs to be a business, there needs to be. Because before that I was running a different business. It was more focused on design work, Web site development and brochures and all those type of stuff. So in 2000 8 we shifted our business model more towards digital marketing and specifically started working with paid advertisement, rather than SEO and other stuff. Our core business model was to help customers bring traffic using paid advertising.
Ramesh: Okay. So Ali before you started your company in 2008 did you work somewhere or was this like you started off with a business itself first? If you could just talk a little bit about your own personal journey.
Ali: Yeah. So my personal journey is basically is somewhat interesting. I feel that. It's basically that from a very young age I was interested in these computers and inside my house my uncle used to work on Pascal. It was a language. That was like eighty-nine, nineties. And at that time I was really interested in computers and he used to take me to these exhibitions and all. So from there on I got this germ I guess for learning about this thing and I used to spend a lot of time in tinkering with the different languages and all. So basically from there on I decided that I would work on this field, in the computer field and from there on I used to make plans for like which kind of business I would go in. Luckily there was a company that started an ISP, like Internet service provider and they wanted their Web site and they basically were looking for somebody who can develop something for them where they can run their billing system online for the customer. So I got that project as a freelancer first time and I was like 17 years old at that time. So from there on basically I interacted with other developers and developed this thing for learning and starting your own business from there on and then from there on I started this software company where we started selling software to ISP for managing their accounts and all those things and then later on that business ran from till 2001, from 1997 to 2001 and then I shifted towards online gaming industry. Like we develop company which was, basically it was like a shop where people was coming in and there was like, what do you say it's like a gaming center where people use the games. So I developed, I’ve made that business and we went on to, we created different teams for the gaming championship counterstrike and Warcraft and all those stuffs. And we represented those teams to different tournaments as well. So that was also my passion for gaming and that's why I converted it into this business as well.
Ramesh: So you evolved. Like you went from ISP to gaming to the extent looks like you were riding the trends.
Ali: Yes. So basically at that time I was not, because I started really young. So it was more focused on my own choices. Because I had the knowledge at that time of programming, and I knew how to create these products. So that's why at that young age I only followed my passion. For example on the programming side for the ISP and then on the gaming side when I was playing games myself as well. But it was later on that I decided that this thing, the only for following your passion is not going to work. You need to actually plan everything properly and execute it properly in a business way. And then at that time we basically build this company. HiClix.
Ramesh: Okay. So then you went from gaming towards this digital marketing in 2008.
Ramesh: Okay so looks like you have an interesting background where you're not one of those guys like you worked in the corporate world for some time. And I say man I'm fed up with it. I want to go start a business. You started off as a freelancer. And you kept building the business one after another.
Ali: Yeah that's right. So that's why it's a bit interesting, because at a very young age I started directly doing my own work and till now, I'm in my late 30s now and still I haven't built my CV yet. Because I have never applied for any job and only work for myself. And yeah so that's how basically the journey went.
Ramesh: OK. Ali I can tell you having worked in the corporate world, you're unemployable. Nobody will hire you. And I don't think you will survive in one single year in the corporate world.
Ali: That's right. That's what I’ve heard that now there's a term called unemployable. And that's where I fit in, I guess.
Ramesh: Exactly. So you're based out of New York and then you are a nomad in the sense like whether you're New York or wherever that it is, it really doesn't matter. So tell me who was your first paying customer and how did you get your first paying customer?
Ali: Sure. So this in 2008 when I started this company there was not many people who were interested in running paid advertising and I also didn't know how I will get a customer. So my first customer was a guy in Hawaii. So he basically had, he created. He wrote a copy, because he had developed something where he made an e-book which guided people how to talk to dogs. That was really funny and really interesting for me because I didn't know people could talk to dogs as well at that time. But then he was looking for somebody and I was also my company was there and I was looking for customers. And at that time there were these freelancing websites like freelancer grew that were popping up and, in the start, I thought that let's go and see if there are any genuine customers over there. Because they also started their businesses at that time back in 2007, 2008. So there I found my first customer who the guy who wanted a sale page for his e-book that was about, that basically had a product that talked to dog. So I thought that I don't know if this thing can really sell and there will be any customer for this guy. But I knew how to build the sales pitch for him. Because I knew the sales pages because you know in traditionally you do get those sales pages in mail. So I knew how to basically develop those. So I just took his sales space and made that long sales page and we uploaded it on click banks and to his surprise and surprise as well, His product really went great. It started selling immediately because there was a market there who was looking for like he targeted for the dogs and click banks also helped him because that company was also new at that time, I think. And then so from there on I got this thing for helping people who were coming up with their e-books.
Ramesh: So you advertise yourself on the www.freelancer.com and then he found you or he advertise a job.
Ali: No, he advertised. Yeah, He advertised a job and I saw that on that Web site and I definitely contacted him and talked to him about it.
Ramesh: OK so then through this first customer afterwards did you build a reference through him. And is that how you got other customers?
Ali: Yeah. So basically from there on I got to know about these different things that people were doing. Because traditionally we thought that only products could be sold online. We didn't know that there is a huge market for learning, e-books and horses and people are now coming on to Internet. And the majority of people are there to learn something. And people who are in this economy who can teach them or give them some knowledge are going to make a lot of money at that time. So I specifically target those people who wanted to sell on click banks who wanted to, who wanted to create an e-book and then sell it on click banks. So for that I ran my own ads on Google ads and people were searching for that there was really a lot of independent on Google's side as well. You can target any keyword that you wanted and if you specifically targeted Click Bank you can get traffic as well. So I got a lot of customers and I helped a lot of people go on click bank and make a lot of sales. And from there on after that Click Bank, I got another company which came to me and they wanted to basically sell real courses. They were not interested in selling e-books. They were basically selling university courses where people can come in and they can do like nursing courses, they can join the army courses and stuff like. You know nowadays University of Phoenix and all those universities are really popular. At that time they were just coming up with all those courses and universities were really coming up with online courses. So there was a big company who specifically deal with those customers and they approached me that if I could help them come up with those landing pages and help them generate their leads and all those things and from there on I did a lot of work with that and help a lot of online university courses.
Ramesh: So let me ask you this, you've evolved since your, the first ISP Kind of a business. Were there any down times where you said this digital nomad kind of stuff is not working out for me, I need to go and get a real job kind of situation.
Ali: Well since I was doing it from really a very start and at that time the main motive was not really to get a lot of money, but to create products, help customers getting a high on getting recognition by having good work and then later on when I had started this company, then I had to decide that no everything needs to be properly setup. We need monthly income coming in, a subscription model stuff like that. We need to develop accounts and all those things. And then at that time I basically sat down and made a proper business plan so that I don't have to go back and do some kind of a job. Obviously in the start there was a time where I do think that I should go and basically join some company as a developer and stuff like that. But then you know in 2008 there was a big crash as well and people were still laying off and I could see that since the economy was doing really bad, but the economy on the Internet was doing really well like Google ads were making a lot of money at that time. And all those stuffs. So even then I haven’t even thought, the financial crisis gives me another motive that no I have to basically do this business for myself.
Ramesh: Actually I think at that time also people are getting laid off and they are doing, started doing freelancing and then I think the Internet side of the world was taking off in that time.
Ali: Taking off, that’s correct.
Ramesh: All right. So in some ways I think you're experimenting on your own business with the paid advertising at the same time helping your own customers with paid advertising. So it looks like it worked out very well from a business perspective. Let me ask you a question, your customer pipeline. I mean like how do you build your customer pipeline and how do you manage the customer pipeline.
Ali: Yeah. So right now the majority of customer that I get is through referrals. Because I specifically have developed a system where I specifically target people who are ready for becoming an author or who are doing coaching who basically want to sell their courses, or they have any products. So only I choose to work only with those type of people, because they are the kind of customers who basically have an idea. Who also know how the internet works a little bit and then we can help them get the resources that we can help them with? So I don't really work with like a plumbing company or maybe some other company that's running, like a B2B something. I specifically choose to work with authors, coaches and people who basically sell their own products on the Internet, on Amazon or on their own websites.
Ramesh: Excellent. So you have defined a customer profile, the ideal customer profile and then you kept targeting to get that kind of customers and then so then becomes a repeatable business.
Ali: Yeah that's correct. And those are the people who basically also refer me as well, because they also know other coaches and people who are authors and who are selling products online or who wants to sell products online. Because you know if somebody is doing really well on Amazon people around them do ask them that how are you doing this and how are you selling. So then they refer those people to me, and I not only help them in coming up with their sales funnel, I can also help them with the kind of product that they can sell as well.
Ramesh: Excellent. I mean that is how I honestly, I think you're being a true, not just a technology partner and also a business partner. I think that is the ideal mix that you seem to have. So the other questions that I want to ask you Ali is about you are a technologist in the sense that you started led with technology. But you built a business. So how did you learn about the business aspects of it. Was it tough? Did you get a mentor? How did it go about?
Ali: Yeah. So it's really funny that how I ran about the business thing. The way I learn about business was that I knew I was good at the technology and creating products and programming and on stuff. But I was not really built for the business world. So my main thing that taught me about business was that I needed to decide on a basis that how much money that I need to make right in this starting. So for example if I decided that I need to make X amount of money, I needed to come up with a product that sell to X amount of customers at an X amount of dollars right. So that's how I started learning about selling things and making money and profit and how it all works basically. And then after that obviously I had to go through the books, which talk to you about business. Tim Ferriss was really instrumental in that. His book, the four-hour work week was really, so that really something, because I was living the four-hour work week life. So when somebody came up and told me that this is possible, I thought that yeah that's how I was living right now. And then I can really increase and grow my business using these tactics as well. Because I was doing the biggest mistake that I was making at that time. I was doing a lot of work myself and not doing a lot of outsourcing. Because once you know different things about the business or technologies you tend to do it yourself. And that's a very bad habit. And since then I developed this thing that I need to outsource as much as I can. And then I develop my own team with designers’ developers all around the world. People who deal in customers code and accounts and all those things. So these things really helped me learn the business side.
Ramesh: So let me just dig a little bit more into that pricing right. So how do you know your pricing your services and products right. I mean how long did it take for you to find the right pricing and even then, now how do you know that your price is right?
Ali: Yeah. So basically what happens is that if I'm selling, because I not only sell the digital marketing services. I also sell products on Amazon as well. So one of the products that we sell is a cream, moisturizing cream that we sell.
And the way that we price it is based on the cost that we get from the manufacturer. Then we add on the cost that we need to pay to Amazon and then the cost that we need to do for advertising, after that cost we add in our own profit. So for that product based or the product base pricing it's rather easy. But the service-based pricing is a little bit difficult. Because it depends on the kind of services that the customer needs. For example if they don't have any copy and they need a copywriter, for them the price is always different, and we charge based on the amount of copy that they need. If they y already have a website and they just need to make it more conversion optimize, based on that we charge on their website that they're running. So on the service side I’ve kept it so that it's totally based on the customer and how much services that they need. So that's how we do it.
Ramesh: So basically product, I would call it a cost-plus pricing. The service side it's a mode of value-based pricing model.
Ali: Yes that's right.
Ramesh: Excellent. Okay so let's switch gears a little bit into the operational aspects of the business. What kinds of tools do you use to run and manage a business?
This is more for other entrepreneurs to learn from.
Ali: Yeah. So basically my business relies on Google Analytics a lot. That's the tool that we use a lot for measuring stuff. Then we use click funnels to create funnels for my customers. We use five teams to create these different paths and these tools are really great. If you want to start. Selling your products or you want to sell something. So you can use click funnels or drive teams to make these things. WordPress is also another tool that we use a lot in this.
And then for accounting we use Quick Books for running accounts and these are the basic tools that we use day to day for our customers and for email.
Yeah for email we use mail gun or MailChimp. These are the e-mails services that we use.
Ramesh: So excellent. That's good. And then let's say if you want to start out your business now. Going back to other any things that you would do differently?
Ali: Yeah. So like I said the first thing that I would do is that not only rely on myself, I’ll immediately start and outsource most of the work and start finding people who can help me. Secondly, I will not, I mean I wasted a lot of time in planning that I’ll do this and that and I’ve learned that it's much more easier to start the business first and then work on your product and services as you go along. Especially in this Internet marketing. So these two things I think I’ll work more better if I start now.
Ramesh: Okay so what are your future plans. I mean what are the trends that you're seeing. Because I mean it looks like a you are a trend rider. So you went from ISP to gaming to in 2008 to high clix paid advertising and stuff. So what kinds of trends are you seeing now that you want to position yourself on your business for?
Ali: Yeah so, the trend is now mostly based on, because people are now moving more towards the mobile and application side of things. They are moving the Web sites, even the convergence. If you see the trend is more happening on the mobile. People are buying products on the phone. So traditional browsing is on the lower end now if you're selling products and stuff like that. So that's why websites which are more geared towards selling on mobile users are really doing well. For example there's this t shirt company which sells T-shirts, their most of their sales is happening on the mobile phone and people are going through Facebook. Because most of the people use Instagram or Facebook on their phones and from there they click on an ad and they immediately go to the product page. So my focus is now mostly on the mobile aspect of the conversion and how to attract those people who are the mobile users to convert more using these technologies.
Ramesh: Excellent. So Ali anything else that you want to tell our listeners. Things that I have not covered.
Ali: Yeah. So to your listeners I would like to say that if you want to start a business please go ahead. This is the right time to start a business. You have all the tools available. You have all. You can be a self-publisher, you can have your own marketing agency, you can get customers to spending money on ads. So doing business nowadays is, this is the right time if you want to. But you need to basically plan everything properly and then go and start your business start your business. It’s not that I just have a passion for creating something or designing or stuff like that. You actually need a business plan for yourself and then go ahead and start the business.
Ramesh: Excellent advice Ali. I mean, I cannot agree with you more. Start right away but start with some kind of a preliminary basic plan. This passion itself will not get you the money on the table.
Ali: Yes that's right.
Ramesh: Excellent. Thank you, Ali.
Ali: Thank you Ramesh.