Hey me,

It’s you again.

I know, I know. I shoulda warned you last time about the pandemic, but you know how we love to surprise people! More importantly, I didn’t want to cause a grandfather’s paradox.

Just know there is a version of us on a divergent timeline where Obama is still president and Kobe Bryant is still recording new episodes of Detail. That version of us is pretty insufferable though, unlike you. Turns out that pandemics build character!

I see that it took a whole pandemic for you to finally stay at home and focus on making some incredible content. My guy, you made an SEO MO.TION. PIC.TURE. Who does that?

So. Wow. Six years. We did it!

It sucks that you can’t celebrate like you did last year and all the years prior, but trust me when I tell you that you make up for it in 2021.

Remember when the goal was just to outlive that statistic about how small businesses don’t make it five years? Well, you did that. And you’ll do so much more.

You’ve built a multi-million dollar digital marketing agency. Most importantly, you’ve learned a lot and weathered a lot of stress in the process. I want you to take a moment and think though — what is the real goal?

This moment is a turning point.

I was just thinking back to all the things you were mulling over when you hit the six year mark. I remember how difficult 2020 was, but don’t worry, things are pretty awesome on the other side of all this.

I promise.

This, too, shall pass.

But let’s break down what else you’ve learned since we last spoke.

Take Care of Yourself

I know how it sounds. It’s a cliche. You’ve got to find the time and the mental space to take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and monetarily.

At this point you reached your peak weight of 230 lbs. A far cry from your fighting weight of 190. You were at 210 prior to the pandemic when you were working out with your trainer four days a week.

Let’s just say, sitting at home eating Entemmann’s chocolate chip cookies for five months was not a good call, my guy.

Running a business is deeply taxing on you. As an introvert, just the general task of dealing with people and needing to contort yourself to align with the experience of you that they need to have in order for you to achieve your goals is A LOT. You’ve gone through waves of expecting people to conform to you and seeing that it never really works out that way. Instead, you’ve realized that each person needs a different shade of you in order to maximize their contribution.

You spend all day doing that and then all night doing actual work. It’s exhausting just thinking back to it.

Make time for exercise. Play basketball. Buy a bicycle. Continue therapy. Learn to cook. Aggressively save money. Learn the stock market. Hit up the sensory deprivation chamber. Go to South Beach bi-monthly.

Seriously, why did that stop?

Pay Yourself First

I really need you to get this one.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pandemic or anything else. Pay. Your. Self. First.

You have this value where it’s important for you to honor the commitments you’ve made to your staff. You put that commitment ahead of your own needs. That value conflicts with the realities of running a business and taking care of yourself. Ultimately, that value always leaves you and the business worse off.

Why? Because to other people this is just a job. Once that job no longer suits them for any reason they are OUT!

You value taking care of others and you expect some reciprocity, but most people don’t see things that way. It is better for your business in the long run if you put your own oxygen mask on first.

I need you to promise me that after this recovery you will never not pay yourself first. Got it? I know you do.

Family Over Everything

When this all started, it was just you and B. She put up with and supported a ton of your insanity as you got this business off the ground.

Then there was Zora. Now there is Glory. Your life is so much more complex. You have to figure out how to navigate childcare, schools systems and not renting cars with doors that open vertically.

Your family needs you. It won’t feel like it because Zora and Glory are intelligent, happy, healthy and very well taken care of, but they need you everyday.

Pouring so much of yourself into the business leaves you on empty when it’s time for family. Unless you make a change, that will only compound over time and make your relationship with your family worse than it should be. Think of how your daughters love to see you everyday while you work from home during the pandemic.

You decide your destiny and your schedule. Make time for your family. At minimum you need to take every Saturday off completely.

Get Buy-in from Your Team

People don’t like to be forced into something. When there are big demands, sit down with teams or people individually and get their buy-in or feedback before making a decision. This is the difference between things happening and not happening.

The decisions are still yours to make. However, when your team has a say they are much more likely to contribute.

Don’t Waiver on your Expectations

Simply put, if the people around you feel as though your expectations are too high then you have the wrong people around you. You don’t expect too much at all, especially considering what you give.

There are people sending rockets to space and landing them on floating platforms in the ocean — for reuse. You just want people to update the project management tool and think critically about the work they’re doing rather than just going through the motions.

Anyone that struggles with that concept is not someone that is going to help you get where you are going. So, keep going until you find the right people that see your expectations as their minimum rather than beyond their maximum.

It’s a Business not a Family

Your friend, the inimitable Ruth Burr Reedy says it best. “It’s show business not show friends.”

Intellectually, you’ve never subscribed to “our company is a family” as an idea. However, the way that you have emotionally experienced it historically has caused you to treat employees like family that you don’t talk to on the weekends. You need to establish clear boundaries to your empathy and you need to establish a layer of middle management to abstract yourself from people enough that your judgment isn’t clouded when you need to make decisions for the betterment of the business.

Do continue to have at least monthly one-on-ones with every employee so you can continue to reinforce the culture and be connected. When you let someone else be between you and them, they demonized you and completely white-washed the culture of the company.

The Team Makes it Worth It

SEO sure has gotten boring hasn’t it? So, why are you still doing it?

You can make anything rank. You could make way more money from just being a consultant. So, again, why are you still doing this?

It’s the team. You started this company because you wanted to put together a team that could do absolutely anything. You wanted to hire people that would come in and help you bring ideas to life and capitalize by extension on the brand that you built for yourself.

Your greatest joy in this company isn’t the work itself at this point. It’s seeing the people you’ve surrounded yourself with continue to get better and progress in their careers.

Sure, it’s difficult and sometimes deeply disappointing.

People can only disappoint you as much as they can make you happy. The happiest you’ll be in your professional career won’t be through your individual accomplishments. It’s through the team’s accomplishments.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that you continue to get better and spotting and nurturing talent. As you evolve, you get better at making iPullRank the place that great talent wants to be. No matter what though, you always recognize that it is through them that you realize your greatest victories.

Build Process Early and Often

You’re seeing now that it’s remarkable how much early iterations of your team were able to get done despite your complete and utter lack of process. In your career as an individual contributor and as a manager, you never operated based on process. Any processes at companies you work with hinder progress. So, there was an assumption that if you hire smart people they’ll just figure it out like you did. This can be true, but not everyone is capable of that.

Break down everything your company does into its atomic components. Document it and revisit it regularly. And most importantly, build automation around it so people can focus solely on insights. Your goal should be for a similarly skilled person to come in and be able to ramp up without you giving them live help.

Edit Your Team Relentlessly

Year Six? Yeah, you’re still pretty bad at firing people fast enough. This is the year that you really get it though. It’s the combination of over-extending yourself to keep people employed and feeling as though that effort is not appreciated that makes it finally click for you.

Suffice to say that you need to be comfortable with continually editing the team to create the best group to help all of you meet your goals.

Some people are not the right fit. Some people are the right fit, but not right now. Some people were the right fit and stopped being the right fit as the company evolved. Some people were never the right fit and you made a mistake in hiring them. Some people were the right fit and you didn’t have what it took to manage them effectively. All of those things have been true.

You need to get better at spotting them early and often. Everyone carries the opportunity cost of who you could have hired by hiring the wrong person.

Here are some things you should always be mindful of when editing the team:

  • Don’t Invest In People That Aren’t Enthusiastic
    Some turnover is good turnover and you should learn from all turnover. When people don’t enjoy the work they should move on. What we do and the rate at which we do it can be very difficult. If they are not all the way in, they will not do what it takes to move us forward and there is someone out there who is a better fit that wants their spot.
  • Be Ready To Cycle Out The People That Came Before New Process
    Most people that were members of your team before a process was put in place will be directly resistant to a new process. This leaves new people that join the team confused because they are learning the ropes from people that have been around longer that don’t follow directions. They get told to do things a certain way, but people that have been around the longest don’t follow that way, so the new person feels like they don’t need to. As a result, the process does not take hold and your team is continually inefficient. If older staff cannot adapt, you need to encourage them to move on.
  • You Can’t Expect Most Employees to Think Like Owners
    The people you employ should be directed to take extreme ownership of their contribution, but you can’t expect them to act like they own the company. That is a characteristic that you had as an employee, but it is not one that is easy to attract as an employer. People like that generally go to name brand companies or to startups where there is significant upside. You will find difficulty attracting and retaining them at a small business.

You’re Allowed to be Mad Sometimes

Being a black man in a professional environment, you’re not allowed to ever get mad. As soon as you do, you get labeled as the “angry black man.”

When you bite your tongue and dance around that anger in attempts to be nice and appease people, then they’ll call you passive aggressive.

You know what? You’re the boss, so people will project all types of things onto you. You have no control over it and there’s no point to contorting yourself around any of that.

People expect leaders to be even keel at all times. That’s unreasonable and that expectation causes you to over-correct to a point where you always assume people’s failings are your fault. Then you over-function for their shortcomings and people believe that it’s okay to not meet expectations.

When people continually don’t meet expectations. You’re allowed to get mad. So, remain measured, but clearly communicate your disappointment and/or anger. Otherwise, people will believe everything is okay when it’s not and then they’ll be hurt and surprised when you fire them.

Celebrate Relative Accomplishments

You’re a high functioning polymath and you’re hard to impress. You are also not effusive with compliments unless you are impressed. If someone works through the weekend to get a project done and the output is regular, you’re not impressed by that.

This can be demoralizing to people because they have expended what is a large effort for them. You need to go against your natural reaction and recognize them for their relative effort and accomplishments. Otherwise, people will burn out before they can progress to a point where they can do impressive things.

Take Some Business Courses

No one ever taught you how to be a manager or how to run a business. Taking a course on management was one of the smartest things you could do. There was a marked difference between what your company was before and what it’s become after. There are plenty of areas where you will benefit from additional learning.

Read “Built to Sell” Sooner

It’s not about wanting to sell the business. It’s about understanding what it takes to run a scalable business that can operate without you. There are key ideas in the book about simplifying the offering and moving to a pod structure that will accelerate improvements across the business and create more of an engine for sustainability.This book is a paradigm shift in your thinking. If only you discovered it in year two.

Always Have At Least Two People In Each Non-Manager Role

When you have one salesperson or one developer or one of any role, there is no challenge to any idea. There is no competition. People get comfortable with mediocrity because they look around and see no one else who does what they do and expect that the company will just accept whatever they do.

You’ve seen what happens when you do this and you add additional folks in the role later on. The incumbent person in the role is faced with what they should have been doing the whole time and they become resentful toward the new people that come in after them and do a great job and you ultimately have to fire them.

Where possible, always bring in new roles in twos so you establish direct accountability and partnership between them early on.

Hire Separate Teams for Separate Ventures

I know the goal was to build an agency that could power any idea that you or your team has. Guess what though, no one in your agency cares about your software idea or your online record store. They care about clients — as they should — that’s what you hired them for.

You’ll come to realize that they look at the new venture projects as doing free work for you rather than as an opportunity to build up the company or even as another client.

So, if you really want those things to happen, you need to hire staff for those ideas and treat them as separate companies at the outset. For each venture, hire someone to do the heavy lifting and an outsourced team around them until it gets off the ground.

Once those ideas gain their own steam and can afford to hire your agency, then have your team work on them. Otherwise, they just take away the focus and force you into overfunctioning on both ventures.

Find your Creative Outlets

Don’t internalize your bad experiences with professional “Creatives” in ad agencies. Those people go around deciding what is and isn’t creative while their industry pumps out 49 versions of the same COVID-19 ad.

Those people are clowns.

You’ve made albums. Designed websites. Written and voice acted in a movie! Directed music videos and created strategies that have, in aggregate, made companies billions of dollars.

Forget being “Creative” in the eyes of some corny Warby Parker-wearing Art Director that wants to argue about the difference between a “font” and a “typeface.”

But I digress.

You need to find your creative outlets. You’re spending too much time working. It’s been too long since you released an album, but you still get a lot of joy out of recording a verse or a song here and there.

Make time to explore creative avenues. Make a new album. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t drop a record for an entire decade. Do a TikTok video before Microsoft buys it (or is that Trump shuts it down it in your timeline?). Or go back to your original dream and draw a comic book.

It doesn’t matter. You just need to do something creative regularly. It allows you to come back to the day-to-day with a more creative focus.

Your Network Ain’t Your Net Worth If You Don’t Know How To Use It

You’ve built a vast network. You’ve got a ton of goodwill within that network because you focus on giving way more than you focus on asking people for things.

People say that your network is your net worth.

However, if you don’t learn how to leverage that network, it’s just a list of people that know you and ask you for things.

Make reaching out to your network a regular and on-going thing.

Continue to look for ways to help people out, but always stay connecting with new people so you can capitalize on the ambient opportunities. The things you do with your marketing efforts remind people that you exist and that you’re awesome, but you can do effectively through networking too.

Stay Proactive

When you are fighting so hard to keep things going, it is very easy to get stuck in the rut of survival and not focus on continuing to grow.

You don’t want to just own a boutique agency for the rest of your life.

No. You want to make $500 million dollars and be on one of the early flights to colonize Mars. For diversity and inclusion purposes, of course.

You want to do a lot of things within that spectrum.

You need to stay focused on the end goal and continue to work towards it. Otherwise, you’ll look up and see you have been fighting to run in place.

You’re Bigger Than What You Do

Just because you’re in it doesn’t mean you’re of it.

Your company does SEO and Content Strategy, but what business are you yourself in? You haven’t figured this one out yet, so I’ll tell you.

Michael King is a black entrepreneur, a creator, and a marketing lifestyle brand. You’re a polymath and there is space waiting that only you get to occupy.

You’re not the next [insert marketing motivational speaker here]. You’re something different. You need to do more of what makes you you so you can level up your influence and help and inspire more people. Particularly, more people of color.

What Got You There Won’t Get You Here

Last time I only told you about things that have happened up until now. I wanted to give you a sneak peek into some of the things that are just around the corner for you.

You’ll Level Up as a Public Speaker

You’re a born performer and considered a highly-engaging speaker — within your niche. In the near future you’ll figure out how to level up beyond your niche and command keynote speeches in stadiums or wherever it is Tony Robbins speaks. You’ve just got to get comfortable without the slides.

You’ll write those books you’ve had in your head

By this point you still haven’t done a few things that you’ve always wanted like to visit Japan or write any of the books you’ve had in your head for a number of years. In the very near future you will finally tackle writing your technical SEO book entitled “The Science of SEO.” You’ll also write somewhat of a memoir about the challenges of being Black in Tech entitled “Race Conditions.”

The former will be lauded by your niche and get added to digital marketing curriculums. The latter will be a New York Times bestseller and you won’t even have to buy back copies to make it happen.

iPullRank will become an 8-figure agency

Years two and three yielded 3X and 2X growth. Then, after fumbling the ball in 2017, you got back to 2X growth again between 2018 and 2019. This year, despite the pandemic, you’re tracking towards another 2X, but it’s a different 2X. You’ve identified the growth engine and you’ll be able to ramp that up further in the coming years. Process, marketing, sales will form a confluence that finally gets you over the hump and into the sustainable 8-figure territory.

You’ll Start a Software Company

In your heart, you’re a maker. Marketing is a focus on only one part of your skillset. Sitting in Scrums and stand ups only makes you jealous as you help to grow other people’s products. You need to build your own and you will.

Like many of the companies that have sprouted up in the past 20 years, it will be an entry point to creating many more applications and it will be the first company you take public.

You’ll Start a Media Company

You’ve created small-scale media for twenty five years. You’re ready for the big leagues. The acquisition of the music e-commerce site allowed you to zero-in on what’s not working in that space and what needs to be created. You will capitalize on those ideas and fill some much overlooked gaps in the music space.

You’ll Create a De Beers Moment

Since you entered into the advertising space, you’ve been fascinated with how brands have changed our vernacular and instantiated human behaviors at grand scale. As iPullRank grows and expands into broader Creative executions, you will come up with a strategy that changes human behavior.

You’ll Release a Few More Records and Tour Again

Jay Z extended the half life of a rap career. You will help create a wave of Adult Contemporary Rap and release a handful of new albums. On the back of that and the growth of your media company, you will briefly tour internationally again.

You Will Contribute to the Reduction of Racial Bias in AI

You’ve always been passionate about helping the progression of black people and you’ve been excited to finally contribute to that in a meaningful way through leadership within the #BlackAndBrilliant Advocacy Group. I’m excited to tell you that that initiative will grow legs. What you’ll really love is that you will bring a world-changing idea to life in creating the equivalent of the Turing test to help determine if Artificial Intelligence has a racial bias.

See You Soon

You were better prepared for a pandemic than most because you’ve lived with the uncertainty of running a small business for so long.

That doesn’t make the world feel any easier to navigate. You’ve just had a lot of practice steering the ship through murky waters and getting to the oasis without a map.

I just wanted to make sure you know that this, too, shall pass.

Mike, the future is bright and this is just the beginning of what you will bring to life. Every day is a step toward making what’s in your imagination real. You have many more games to change and many boundaries to break.

I can’t wait for you to see what’s in store and I look forward to meeting me.

See you soon.


iPullRank is a digital marketing agency specializing in Search Engine Optimization and Content Strategy founded by Michael King in 2014. If you enjoyed this read, I’d love for you to click the applause button or reach out to me on Twitter @iPullRank.