In this week’s episode, I chatted with Rahul Alim, owner, and founder of Custom Creatives, a 16-year-old digital marketing agency. It’s clear Rahul has what it takes to have the staying power to run a successful agency over the years as he shares his no nonsense tips and advice on what it takes to be successful in the agency game.
Jason Yormark: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Socialistics, social media agency stories. Excited to have another guest on our show with lots of agency experience and we plan to dig into that. Welcome Rahul Aleem from custom creatives. Welcome to the show.
Rahul Aleem: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Jason Yormark: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s just kind of jump right in. I do this with all our guests. Kind of tell me a little bit about yourself, your agency, how things got started and all that good stuff.
Rahul Aleem: Okay. I’ll give you like summary version because I can go on forever with this. Yeah, so my company, like you said is www.customcreatives.com. We started way back in the historic age of 2004. We started off in the real estate niche. My background is working at www.realtor.com and I had to quit www.realtor.com to finally get my raise because they became our client once I started and that kind of sprung board us into the real estate mix. And then since then we’ve gone pretty broad along a quite array of clientele and industries. But that’s kind of how I got started way back in 2004. And it all started off working at a beautiful company called www.realtor.com.
Jason Yormark: That’s interesting. You just mentioned, so a lot of the advice that I’ve been given that I haven’t taken completely is that the riches are in the niches and that you really need to kind of niche down. It sounds like you did kind of the opposite. You started that way and kind of one little bit broader. So tell me a little bit more about how that happened and why you went in that direction.
Rahul Aleem: Yeah, so I was pretty niched for about eight years into the real estate space. We had no like idea to even expand. We didn’t even know anything else just because of my background. So that was kind of my leadership. But then we had other clients finding us online. Cause we started to advertise, we we’re doing Google ads, SEO, people were finding us and we get mortgage clients. We’re like, yeah, we can help. You got lawyers, yeah, we can help you. Because we looked at it from this vantage point that real estate is probably one of the hardest industries to master, because real estate agents aren’t the easiest people to work with. And when we started getting into other niches, it was like, man, this is like a breath of fresh air. We can knock this out of the ballpark. Clients are cool. Expectations are longer, they’re very reasonable. So it just became like a natural fit for us because to us, we just had such a dialed in process and I give all the credit in the world to the fact that we were able to close www.realtor.com as a client because it forced us early on in the early stages of our business to put together a
team and standard operating procedures to train the team so we can scale. Then we started to productize. And when we productized, we looked at like, let’s say a service like SEO. We created an assembly line process on how to execute. And if it was graphic design, we had an assembly line process on how to execute. So we didn’t necessarily say this is specific to realtors. We just said, this is the process. And then it can be applied to any industry really. So that’s where we felt that natural transition was a good time because we tested it. And then it gave us a lot better business perspective overall. Because now we weren’t just like with horse blinders on just looking down the single barrel of one industry, we got a broadened horizon of all business bottlenecks, all business problems that actually helped us become more powerful in solution mode when we were helping other clients.
Jason Yormark: Well, that’s awesome. So you guys have been in business for a while, so obviously you’ve had a level of success that has allowed you to kind of continue to what you do. So tell me a little bit more about the evolution of your agency. Are you a boutique size agency? Larger? Have you kind of stayed in a certain kind of lane in terms of size and just kind of decided to be the very best at being that sized agency? Just tell me a little bit more about the dynamic of where you’ve been and where you’re at.
Rahul Aleem: Yeah, I mean, from a manpower perspective, I don’t really look at like employee size as a measure of success because I know plenty of companies that operate at massive losses with huge amounts of employees. I just look at it from like how much money do we keep? How can we keep people on our team? Are they happy? Are they executing? Are they going above and beyond on their own without us asking? So it’s more of a culture thing, but from an employee size standpoint, we’ve been as low as one man show with me when I started. And that’s when I quite frankly, closed www.realtor.com as a one man band and it turned into a multi seven figure a year deal. And we scaled up to 70 people. And then post that relationship when we now are where we are today, we’re about 22 people deep. And I would call us a very boutique type agency. And our target audience is really kind of growth minded businesses that realize that they do need to advertise and invest in their business. It’s not a sunk cost. Marketing is never a cost, it’s an infinite return. And those are the types of mindsets of the business owners we try to attract.
Jason Yormark: Go it. One of the things I’m kind of interested to get your take on I’m part of a, kind of an agency mastermind group. And it seems like a lot of, we kind of share kind of our challenges and one of the, I mean, this is an ongoing challenge, but it seems to be fairly hot right now. And I’m kind of curious how, what you guys do or what success you’ve had in terms of lead generation. Like,
how do you find the right clients for you? You know, what strategies or tactics have you put in place that have been able to build a pipeline for yourself that’s been either consistent or successful for you guys?
Rahul Aleem: Got it. Okay. So good question. So we do a lot of social media posting, like on Facebook, on Instagram and other platforms. And we put together a process where somebody else like writes on my behalf, I approve it, or I just write it and go live. So we’re fairly active. And we make a lot of offers. We make a lot of like two-step posts is what we call it. Like I call them two-step value bombs where it’s like, basically I give a bunch of value. And I say, who wants more information or more of this resource? And sometimes we charge, sometimes we don’t. And then we just get a barrage of leads, like a bunch of Me’s. Sometimes our posts get 20 leads. Sometimes they get 200 leads and then we have a process on how to follow up with them. We go through check your DM. Then we go through a DM process, a qualification survey, book them on a call so we can get anywhere between 5 and 15 calls per day booked just from that strategy. Now we also parlay that with paid advertising. So we want to always keep, my whole philosophy is who knows me. That’s my number one goal. I need people to know us custom creatives, myself as a personal brand, because the more people that know me, the more people that will be nurtured and followed. So I’m building my own broadcast station. So I’m not afraid to pay a lot of money on Facebook ads, YouTube ads, Google ads, whatever our client is hanging out on, we want to be on all of those platforms because then we can always target them. If they find us from Facebook ads, they’re going to see us on YouTube ads. They’re going to see us on Google display network. They’re going to see us everywhere. So our brand is constantly weighing on top of them because we realize we’re not stupid. We know that it’s going to take a lot of impressions, a lot of education for them to finally trust us because we’re in the year of 2021 going into 2022, right? There’s so many people that have been burned by a marketer, by a coach, by a guru, by a gardener, a dentist, whatever it is we all got to get over that. So trust is the most important factor. And the way to engage and acquire trust is to demonstrate value ahead of time, before they even know you, because then they’re more indoctrinated to want to actually build a relationship and buy from you. Because a lot of the calls we get on, like a question we ask is, Hey, how long have you been following us? And if people say like, dude for a year, but like, oh, awesome. Like, what’s been your favorite part so far along the journey. And then they start explaining to us why we’re the best. And then now we know we have a potential buyer on the call. Now, conversely, if somebody says like, not a clue who the hell you guys are, you guys just offered up a call and I wanted to get on it. Then we now know we have somebody that is not ready to be sold, possibly. Then we go through a sales
process. So we use that same process through any ad channel that we have. So we’re writing content, we’re doing video, we’re posting on social. And it’s just really simple because we’ve streamlined it. Because while it took a lot of work, when we didn’t know what we were doing, it’s almost like fuck, I got a blog. I got a YouTube, I got a Facebook, I got an Instagram. We were just like, no, we just got to do one piece of content and we just disseminate it over all those platforms.
Jason Yormark: What percentage of the calls that you jumped on with clients for the first time, would you say fall into that nurture bucket versus they haven’t had that much exposure to you would you say?
Rahul Aleem: About half and half. Like that’s just a pretty like accurate guess if you will. But half and half, because the majority of people who have bought from us rarely do we have like cold audiences, it’s a multi call process. But typically since we’re running all these different, like ad funnels where some of our stuff is running for seven bucks, some for 97, some is free training. These are all our ways to magnetize ourselves towards them. So they get a little bit of a taste on how we can grow their business. We give them some quick wins so they can pump in some revenue. And then we just develop trust because oftentimes our free content will absolutely destroy mastermind content.
Jason Yormark: No, that’s awesome. It’s interesting. Cause when I talk to other agency owners cause we do very little cold outreach. A lot of what we do is, most of our business has been warm inbound. And a lot of that is attested to the fact that we get enough of those leads coming in, that it warrants, you know, the business growing and being successful. But a lot of that, I mean, that was just, that was a commitment early on for a couple of years to kind of put out content and build you know, recognition and some web visibility that, you know, it doesn’t happen overnight. You know, you get a lot of agency owners that are just starting out, like, you know, how do I drive leads? Like how do I get more warm leads? Well, you can’t, you know, unless you’re going to throw a tremendous amount of money at advertising, it just, you have to make the commitment to blogging or podcasting or putting videos out or putting helpful content out regularly for an extended period of time. That’s going to slowly kind of build your visibility up. And I think that’s why you see a lot of, you know, folks come and go, cause they don’t have the staying power because they’re not going to put in the commitment and the time and the effort to do those things, to kind of build a pipeline like that. So I love hearing how, you know, you guys are putting together a lot of really great, helpful content that kind of builds that up. What are you know, if I’m an aspiring agency owner or somebody that’s looking to start, like, what are the 1, 2, 3 things that really come to mind for you? Like when you look back at what you did and think to yourself, we could have done this differently. Or if I went back, I’d try this. You know, what are some suggestions that you give for folks that are just starting out, that they really should be thinking about to kind of set themselves up for success?
Rahul Aleem: Well, I mean, if I can give my 2004 self a big tip, I would say, listen to people ahead of you. Don’t be so fucking egotistical and hardheaded and don’t do it alone. Because I literally took it the long route. Because even though I had people giving me free advice, some of the best minds in the world that ran publicly traded companies as CEOs that are in our family network were telling me advice. And I’m just thinking like, fuck you, I got this. I’m in my twenties. I got this man. Like, so that would be my number one advice to myself is listen to my network, use my network because they truly passionately wanted to help me. And I just refused it. That’d be my number one tip. But if I was starting from scratch aside from just taking mentorship advice, I would literally pick one niche, do not niche hop, commit to it for a minimum of six months, go all in. There’s going to be really shitty days. There’s going to be really good days, but you treat every day equally. Go all in every day you go unbalanced, you work your ass off 10, 20 hours a day. You don’t go with like, you don’t listen to other people that work four hour workdays, four hour work, weeks, months, all that bullshit. You go all the fuck in. You take care of your health and you put everything else aside, family, friends, everything. If you have children, then eat dinner with them for an hour. That’s really it. That’s my advice. Go unbalanced. So pick your niche. And then you have to craft an offer that’s going to disrupt the tension. Because everybody goes in with the same horseshit when they start their agencies, $1,500 retainers, but they’ll work for free for a testimonial nonsense. Pick a can’t say no offer, master how you can present that offer. So you can differentiate from even guys like me, which is not hard to do so you have to get good at presenting and then be able to close or collect money on the call, build the money. Once it clears. Now you have a business. Now your bottleneck becomes fulfillment. If you’re the one doing it all, you can build a 20K agency by being a solopreneur with a right process and place. If you want to outsource it, don’t go out and find the cheapest dude, go interview people. Like don’t put your house onto somebody else’s business. Cause if they suck at one, they’ll suck at them all. So you need to know how to interview vendors if you’re going to try to do that white label route. So you have to have buying power. So you have to understand how to negotiate, how to understand customer service, how to understand, what are the pitfalls to avoid. Why do people cancel? How long do they stay in business with you? What’s your retention process? Like if I’m losing a client, are you willing to do a month for free [13:30 inaudible]. So you have to create a partnership-relationship because I see so many people just saying, oh, I can sell Facebook for 500 or sell it for 1500, outsource it for 500. Well, what’s going to happen is you’re going to lose your entire business in 90 days to six months and be in a different niche. And then you’re going to tell your friends, oh, what happened was this industry doesn’t buy, oh, the fulfillment process sucked. But the reality is you’re the bottleneck. So stare yourself in the face in the mirror and figure those things out early.
Jason Yormark: Yeah, no, I love that. I’m a huge proponent of like investing more in better talent. I think a lot of, we get so many inquiries from folks that have been burned and having worked with just garbage, like being misled you know operations that are outsourcing a ton of stuff, overseas that maybe shouldn’t have been not to say that there isn’t, you know, viable ways to do that. But generally speaking especially for US-based businesses. We just, you know, we keep everything in the states. Just because we know that that’s what it’s going to take to bring the level of sophistication that they need to be successful. So it’s a great piece of advice. Like if you’re just starting out like you might, you’re not going to make money right away. Like invest in amazing people. Otherwise you’re just, you’re just going to fall flat. So I love that.
Rahul Aleem: Yeah. And don’t do something complex because when I built my business, I built it on a product and service that was all a complete accident. Like somebody referred me a client early on. Like when I started, I left www.realtor.com and I said, all right, well, I’m going to sell virtual assistant services. I’ll be the virtual assistant. I’m going to charge $200 bucks a month. I’ll give them a discount of two months off if they pay in advance. So I can line my pockets with cashflow. So I can’t even buy a fricking laptop to do the work I’m selling. And it was something I can control. I already knew the process. I mastered the system, I was fantastic at it, and I can do it in a matter of five minutes. I’m like, dude, if I can get 200 bucks a month, it’ll take me maybe like five minutes is an understatement, maybe an hour a month per client. This is scalable, then I can just teach this same easy system to somebody else. So I got a value of money. The realtor got a value of not having to do a single thing of lift a finger. Then www.realtor.com got a value. And the sales team got a value because their customer service wasn’t the greatest. It was pretty much a pure cancellation of anyone called customer service. And the sales reps hated that because then they had to do their own service, because they knew they would get clawbacks on their commissions. So I solved the big problem for a big company. And the sales reps love that. So it was getting referrals. A client called and said, Hey, can you design the banner ad for me? And it’s a product and service I used to sell. And when I’d sell it, I’d have to give it to a friend or I’d have to find a graphic designer for the client who can build the ad, write the copy, and then have it go to a page that can convert, which is like obviously a landing page. So once I got that magical referral, I didn’t know how to design them at all, because I was just told my buddies have a graphic artists to do it. And I knew it, I was getting them paid. So I’m like, you know what? I’ll just charge this lady 500 bucks. Let me figure out how to find somebody to do it. So I Googled it. I found some dude overseas at first, before I brought it in-house and the guy charged me 25 bucks. So dude, I’ll pay you 25 bucks if you do it today though, did it today. Didn’t like, sent it back. He redid it today, same day. And then the lady loved it. So then right when I got the lady loved it, I’m like, Hey, and I just, in the moment I came up with an idea I’m like, there’s four seasons in a year. And I said, Hey, have you ever thought of four seasoned marketing, like bigger companies do? And she’s like, what do you mean? I’m like, well, what if we did one different creative per season? Because you know how you watch television commercials. If you see the same one over and over, you stop seeing it. You’re just, it’s just background white noise. I’m like, we don’t want that. We want to get you a result. And like, if you buy two more, I’ll give you the third one for free. So I’m like, all right, cool. I mastered the art of the upsell. So I took a $500 service, gave her $2,000 of value for $1,500. And my net costs you guys in the audience can do the math $75. And then we started saying, okay, we have a real business idea here. Let’s put it to test. So me and someone else on the team. So I brought someone else on. We just freaking cold called all day, every day, anybody who advertised on www.realtor.com, homes.com, any website with banner ads, we knew our pitch and we mastered the pitch. We were selling these. Then we started getting referrals from the sales team. Then we started building that relationship because I was being very strategic at the time because if I cold called the top of the head honcho of a big publicly traded company. They’ll just say, whatever kid, what are you talking about? We don’t need you. We have no problems. They don’t give a shit. They’re just trying to, publicly traded companies customer is the investors, not the people who are their actual, real true paying clients. So, I just decided to say, let me stay underground. I’m going to cold call all the sales reps. I’m going to give them the greatest pitch they never heard before. And they started referring all the business to me. So we’re doing like 30 ads a week at one point, just off getting referrals and cold calling. Then one day I got a call into their office and like, Hey, we want to meet you and talk about fulfillment. I am like cool. Went into the meeting. They said, we want to hire you. Like, let’s agree to price. We agreed on the spot. And they said, all right, we’ll hire you. We’re going to start sending you business in the next 30 to 60 days as we wind down our existing team. By the time I left that office and got to my office, they had already given me 60 orders that minute. And I’m like, oh shit, now I have a real problem. Like, I’m really a one man show here. I got to solve this. I can’t stay up all night because I was, so I called a couple people that worked for me or I interned in the past from high school. And I’m like, hey quit your job now, you now work for me. And they came back and we built this whole team and they were responsible. Like, either, I don’t know if it’s because I am Indian and my dad was a master delegator making me like, make his tea and do all the chores and shit like that. But I made every person, the CEO of their position and I said, you need to document exactly what you do when you do it, why you do it and how to make it even more effective and then update it when you find a better way. So that became our training manual. So I just let the employees master their own role.
Jason Yormark: That’s cool. So you’ve been in business now for 15, 16 years kind of what’s, you know, what are the next three to five years look like for you, just going to keep grinding and doing the same thing, or do you kind of have an end game kind of what’s your plan with the agency?
Rahul Aleem: No end game insight. No, thought process to sell. I love what I’m doing. I still enjoy it. I wake up every day wanting to do it. Not because I have to. I’m responsible for a lot of people. Not only the people that pay us, but also the people that work for us. But coaching, the coaching business, helping other agency owners find a better way, solving the guru type world out there that people will kind of push, pull wool over people’s heads, agency owners selling coaching that they can’t even run a successful agency themselves. So, that’s kind of my chapter that I have started now. But then I also do a couple other things, like invest in other businesses. I invest in real estate, so I’ve kind of diversified, but none of that could be possible had I not gone all in and remain all in into this agency because if you look at like rich dad, poor dad the book, and like, even like, if we go expand beyond that, like look at like Jeff Bezos to Mark Zuckerberg, to Bill Gates, how do you think the wealth creation happened for them? They went all in on one business without distraction where now they can create Space X and buy WhatsApp and do all the other charitable things that they want to do. It’s because they went all in on a core business when things were bad when things were good, when things were sideways, when the world was crumbling on their head, they just fought through it relentlessly. And that’s why they were able to have the lifestyle they live in. And I think that’s what every business owner, agency owners especially we get caught up in shiny object syndrome, like, oh, we have an Instagram trainer, we got a Facebook story trainer. It’s like, look, don’t go over all those shiny objects, stay laser focused on how you can get your next client. And if it’s through one of those channels, do it, but don’t try to do it all at once. Master one channel.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. I love it. Last question before we wrap up, a gadget, a book, a show what’s something that stands out for you that you can’t get enough of or really made an impact on you recently?
Rahul Aleem: Recently. Like, I’m not a reader, quite frankly. I don’t think I’ve read. The last book I read was in the nineties. So it was probably 1999, I think. And that was probably my most, at that particular time where my Headspace was the most impactful book I’ve ever read of all time, because I can’t pay attention for long periods of times.
Jason Yormark: Like when I’m reading, I’ll be like, when is this chapter end? I’m like, what am I doing? I’m thinking about is when is this chapter going to be done?
Rahul Aleem: Yeah. And then you end up not even paying attention to the words you’re reading. Yeah. So, I like bite-sized nugget. So it was called don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff. And it was basically like paragraph nuggets. So it was like nugget one, nugget two, nugget three. And the psychology of that book was the nugget is so short, it’s like a little tiny paragraph. You’re like, well fuck, I might as well read like one more. And it’s like, now you’re psychologically consuming more and more in one period of time where you’re actually reading now, but it was all beautiful stuff. And it taught me the world of patients because I played sports and I’m inpatient. I just want to win now, but that kind of calmed my heartbeat. Cause like I run a million miles an hour. I think I can do it all. I think I’m the smartest person when I’m not. And this really brought me back down to planet fucking earth. And that book helped me a lot. But today to fast forward to today, the two audible books that I like. And like I said, I listen like I read too, so I can’t pay attention for long periods of time. So, I have to listen to one chapter like 10, 12 times sometimes just to even hear every word. But gap selling by a gentleman named Keenan. And shoot, I can’t believe I just forgot the other book, the other resource, but it’s never split the difference by Christopher Voss. Those are the two and I don’t buy any other books. I don’t listen to anything. I just listen to those over and over and over again because I’m a big fan of like, you don’t always need more information. You just need more execution. So just like when Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, LeBron James, the reason they’re so good at what they do is because they practice the same thing over and over. And then it allows them to pivot into the fancy stuff. Simple things like layup drills, the free throws, the three pointers. So I do the same thing. I practice like a robot. I’ll listen to never split the difference over and over. I’ll listen to gap selling over and over because repetition is the mother of success here.
Jason Yormark: No, that’s awesome. Really good stuff. Anything I didn’t ask you that you feel you should add to the conversation?
Rahul Aleem: I mean, I just want to see everybody like understand that we’re all equal and this is all a learned behavior. So there’s no glass ceilings over our heads. We get to be whoever the fuck we want to be. So my motivation or hurrah speeches, like have bigger goals so you can fall shorter of them and then expect bigger goals. So, I mean if your goal is 20 grand, make it 40 grand. So when you fail you at your 20 grand, so you fall short at where you actually wanted to be. So you’ve got to psychologically motivate yourself and just keep going. Cause it’s not easy. There’s been a fucking hard awful times, but then there’s been glorious times and now all those scars are all preparation of what’s next.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. No, that’s awesome stuff. Thank you so much for being on the show. Where can people find you, learn more about you and what you do?
Rahul Aleem: Yeah. I mean if you want to learn more about what I do go to www.customcreatives.com. I have a free resource. Is it cool if I kind of pitch that? So if you go to www.customcreatives.com, it’s on my hat right here forward slash win, W-I-N. There’s a little button that says free seven figure funnel guide for all you agencies, owners out there. If you download that, that one slide as simple and as ugly as it is when you see it. That’s how I present to clients that we close for retainer deals anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 per month. And it’s literally all on that one slide on zoom. So yeah, it’s the same slide I use today that everybody else gets.
Jason Yormark: Got you. I’m going to put that in, I’m making a note right now to put that in our show notes. So, well, Rahul thank you so much for being on the show. Definitely can relate to a lot of what you’re saying. Clearly I can get a good sense of why you’re as successful as you are. So thanks again so much for carving out some time today and sharing your insights on the show.
Rahul Aleem: I had a blast man here.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Thanks again. Well, that’ll do it for this episode of Socialistics. You know the drill, share, like, subscribe, all that good stuff. Thank you for listening. And we will catch you on the next episode.
Jason is a 20+ year marketing veteran including time spent at Microsoft overseeing social media for Microsoft Advertising & Office for Mac. Once named to Forbes Power Social Media Influencers List, Jason is the owner and founder of Socialistics.