TechWyse CEO DJ Kennedy recently sat down with Joel Matlin of The Joel Matlin Entrepreneur Show to discuss entrepreneurship, the digital marketing industry, COVID-19 challenges, and staying on top of an ever-changing industry.
Listen to the interview or read the full transcript below.
Joel: Welcome to the Joel Matlin entrepreneur podcast. Today I’m interviewing DJ Kennedy, the founder of one of Canada’s first dedicated digital marketing companies. Since 2001, TechWyse has been helping small businesses and other marketing organizations with growing their own companies, using a multitude of digital marketing solutions to help the business make better sense on where they spend their marketing dollars. This is a marketing lesson you won’t want to miss.
DJ, it’s great to have you here. You know, we’ve had a long relationship, I believe dating back to 2005, when you were helping to learn for us with our online marketing endeavours. It’s so good to connect with you to speak about your journey.
DJ: Well, thank you, Joel. It’s a pleasure to connect with you as well.
Joel: So now DJ, we’re going to find out information that I myself have no idea about, but can you give me a little idea? Can you give me a little idea? You know? Cause I know our listeners always liked to know what’s your history growing up. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
DJ: I would say definitely, I definitely was brought up in an entrepreneurial family as the youngest of four kids and my parents owned and ran a printing company when I was a young kid. So I definitely heard those dinnertime talks where they were always focused on business.
Joel: That’s for sure. So now having said that, from an educational standpoint, you know, are you university-educated? What degrees do you have? Give us a little bit of background on that.
DJ: Yeah. So, I mean, I probably went through what would have been a fairly standard path back in the day in the nineties.
I went and did my undergraduate degree at York University, did a double major in mass communications. And I always did have an affinity for journalism, you know, and in that area. And obviously, the year 2000 kind of hit; the world was beginning a very big transition to digital media. The internet came out, I think, people started getting email addresses and the world changed right from there.
Joel: So when you graduated from York University, what was your first job?
DJ: You know what, I actually went away to Australia and I worked at the Olympics in Sydney. And then when I came back, I did a post-graduate in IT and that was really how I got myself on, you know, I was looking for something to do with myself. I had gotten a job at Mackenzie Financial in their e-commerce department.
As I was sort of just coming out of school and then really what I did was, I was watching my brother who was running a printing company at the time. And what I ended up doing was, I noticed whenever I went to his shop, that he was so busy. And the way that I got into this industry was I noticed that he had gotten himself ranked. Whenever somebody types in business cards online, he was just busy. And, so I figured out how to get that done with him. And I applied that towards, you know, a new industry.
Joel: So, but going back to around the two thousands, not many people knew about digital marketing. You know, they didn’t even know what the word ‘SEO’ meant. What types of things were you doing for companies back then? And how did you find your own clients in this industry that was just being created?
DJ: Yes, it’s a very good question. Certainly, when we first started, you know, you had your serial entrepreneurs that were aware of this new media, but most people were still, for their advertising, they were using the phone book – the Yellow Pages – and you had some early adopters and, you know, we really did a lot of different things.
Obviously we practiced what we preached and at one point – a little funny story – we actually had ourselves ranked. Obviously, Google was very new at the time. I think they started just in, just in 98’ or 99’. There were a lot of loopholes in the search engine. There was a time where you could just type in the word Toronto into Google and we would come up, TechWyse would come up.
So really, the way that we first started doing our business was that people started finding us, you know, other serial entrepreneurs. And they were getting in early, and they called us and of course, we had a methodology at the time and that’s changed since then, but really it was those early adopters when we first got started that we didn’t have to convince.
And then of course, as time went by, we had to start educating people on why they need digital marketing, as opposed to today.
Joel: Now, if I may ask you, tell us a story about how you obtained maybe one of your first clients in the early years.
DJ: I could tell a story about how we first started to engage with your former company, or one of your former companies, Alarm Force.
We had some people in our office. We were doing quite a bit of work in the dental industry, and I believe that one of our team members heard about Alarm Force, saw the first website that you guys had and we just thought, man, we could do a lot with this because there was obviously some marketing dollars. Alarm Force at the time was being very innovative with what they were doing and how they could get the word out.
So, that was actually a pretty fun time. I actually remember coming in and meeting you and the team and I think we worked together for over 10 years, from that point.
Joel: I could tell you, you guys did some great things with our company, as I reflect back. Now, you know, when we talk about the early years, you know, what were some of the challenges that you had to overcome during that time?
DJ: Oh, geez. You know, the challenges back then were polar opposite of what they are today.
Back then, can you imagine, there was a brand new industry that had started, not many people knew about it. Hiring people was incredibly difficult because we couldn’t just go – I think back then it was Workopolis and Monster – where we would hire people from. And you just couldn’t call; you just couldn’t reach out and get somebody that had three years of paid media experience or account management experience. So that was certainly one of the big challenges in the early years.
And then, of course, you know, just educating people – we knew it worked. But most people still thought, you know, it’s the Yellow Pages. You know, that’s where I’m putting my money. So, we would educate, we had to educate an uneducated world on why this would be more effective for them.
Those were really the big issues back then. And then of course just getting the work done, which was when we opened up our production center, over in India, which helped with the workflow and getting a vast amount of work done, at affordable rates.
Joel: Hmm. Interesting. We’re going to get back to that India concept. But knowing that we work, you know, as we said earlier, we worked together for many years. Why don’t you tell our listeners just to give them a bit more insight on the types of verticals that you serve at your company?
DJ: Yeah. You know, initially and up until the last few years, we didn’t really have an individual vertical. We do work with insurance companies, with security companies, healthcare and dentists, lawyers.
The commonality that most of our clients have is that they’re lead generation focused and when they’re lead generation focused, that’s our job, to get our clients leads.
Over the last several years, however, we’re starting to see a lot more people selling through sites like Amazon and things like that because it’s so much easier now, and Shopify. So. Yeah, definitely been an interesting ride.
Joel: Talk to me about transformation. How has the industry changed over the years?
DJ: Absolutely. When we first started coming into, you know, when the market first started, the buzzword that just began was SEO or search engine optimization. That word wasn’t a thing before now, we all know it – it’s just in our nomenclature.
It was really exciting, watching the transformation happen because in around 2004-ish, Google started Google Ads, or Google Adwords as it was called, which gave us yet another way that we could add value for our clients. What we were noticing, you know, we had these dentists. We had personal injury lawyers. We had cosmetic surgeons all signed up and they would come to us and they would say, “I think we’re getting leads, we’re spending money, but I just don’t know for sure if it’s from the work that you’re doing.”
So we built a lead measurement system and an inbound marketing system way back, probably around 2006, called AdLuge, where we were actually able to tag every lead that a client received and tell them exactly where they came from.
So, you know, and then as time has gone by, Facebook came out, they took about a good solid five years to have a model where they could advertise. And that’s really blossomed, I would say in after 2015 and they bought Instagram and now, you know, you can do all kinds of advertising everywhere, compared to, you know, previous where they would just write a big cheque for the Yellow Pages.
Now there’s so many different areas that you need to get into, it’s called a 360 view of your company. A lot of people have now become very intelligent. What they’re doing is they’re looking at your company, then they’re looking to see your reviews. They want to see that you’re set up properly on Google. It’s just a much more intelligent visitor these days.
Joel: So with the digital marketing arena being very competitive, how do you make yourself more competitive than the competition? What would be your competitive advantages?
DJ: You know what, that’s a great question. When we first started, and I would say for about 10 years, we would get all kinds of people, inquiries, people asking for help and if we ever went against other companies, in the proposal stage, it was always the same two or three different companies.
There is no regulation in this industry. So people need to know the questions to ask. And unfortunately, especially dating back many years, they didn’t know what to ask. The differentiators for us are that we are full-service. Meaning that we want to be that one company that a company will go to whenever they have a digital need. So whether it be I need to get some content done for my website, or I want one big marketing plan. Well, that’s what we do.
We’ve also been doing it since 2001, as you mentioned earlier, and we have a lot of resources in our company. We’re up over, I believe 125 now at this point, so we can get a lot done. And it means that, you know, the right hand does talk to the left hand.
Joel: Okay. So, in an industry that is so competitive and you’ve been around for a while, now it’s over 20 years. How do you deal with client churn? Is that a serious issue in your business and in your industry?
DJ: Yeah. That’s a really good question. Like I mentioned before, when we were first in this, there wasn’t that much competition, now, I think every business owner has been called by somebody from around the world, maybe not even in Canada or North America saying that they can help you with their digital.
We don’t have contracts in our own company. We always want to prove ourselves over and over every month with our clients, we meet with our clients every month. But absolutely, some companies do fall for the grass is greener. They’d go, and then sometimes they come back and I think it really just comes down to these business owners, they want to make sure that no stone is unturned and they want to make sure that they’re doing everything that they can. And that’s why they do try out different companies. But we definitely have a lot of companies that come back to us because they know what they’re getting with us. They know that we’re a stable company that’s been around.
Joel: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that if you speak to a digital marketing expert, you know, various groups of people who consider themselves digital marketing experts, you get different answers to the same question. What’s your take on that?
DJ: Yeah. I mean, like I did mention earlier, there are no regulations, literally somebody can, and there are lots of people out there that will set up shop and maybe they work from home. Well, there’s a lot of working from home now, but they will freelance, and certainly you can be successful that way and there’s lots of good people that do that. But in terms of how we handle ourselves, it’s really just a matter of us doing things and being transparent in the industry. Not hiding anything. It’s also an educational process that we’re helping out our clients. We’re helping them learn because the more that they understand, the more they can empower us to actually get out there and do work.
Joel: I know DJ from firsthand experience that what you’re saying is absolutely true.
Every week, we deliver a fresh new episode of the podcast. So I encourage you to subscribe to wherever you find your favorite podcasts and you’ll never miss an episode. And of course, please, while you’re there, rate the show and don’t hesitate to leave a review that really helps other folks find the show in the first place. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You mentioned that you have a staff of about 125 people and some of them are working in India. Can you give us a little bit of colour of how you manage your staff between Canada and India?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. The way that this all came to be was probably back pre-2005, we were just getting so much work. I had a contact over there and really, it all started from there.
We officially opened the business over there in 2006. And once the ball started rolling with that, it’s not really about location. That operation could have been in Markham. The barriers of communication are always going to be the same because we have to make sure that all of the work that we complete is very clearly laid out in a project management system.
Opening up that office there, you know, they’re fully dedicated employees, state-of-the-art facility, really opening that allowed us to scale at a much different level than we could have if we just all started it here and it also gave us the ability to offer a pricing structure that was reasonable and was attractive to small businesses.
Joel: When you have your staff, in India, as an example, would you have dedicated people to dedicated accounts or do people sort of rove between your accounts, your customer base?
DJ: Yeah, so, the entire operation is called TechWyse, but we do all of our management, all of our communications strategy, all of that type of stuff is done in our office here in Toronto, Canada. But, you know, a lot of the work and task-oriented things that we can send there, we do, and we also have some very talented design staff that specialize in dealing with conversion and those website visitors, the behaviour that they take when they are going to company websites. We have a very talented staff there. No doubt.
Joel: Now, when you’re doing websites, do you specialize in WordPress? Do you specialize in Shopify or do you do the whole gamut?
DJ: Yes. I would say a lot of people still don’t, but yeah, WordPress is, in terms of lead generation websites, that’s always been the foundation. The only reason that we do build on WordPress is that it’s very simple for business owners to go in and edit their content when needed. And it really does cater to the SEO industry quite well. It’s a CMS. If that’s what we are doing, lead generation for, you know, like I mentioned earlier mortgage companies or whatever it might be, that’s what we would build on having said that, we don’t always build websites for our clients. So we take what they have. There’s lots of opportunities with e-commerce right now with sites using Shopify and things like that, it’s never been so easy to sell online.
Joel: So would you say that WordPress is more for larger companies and Shopify would be more for a startup retail organization? Would that be true or not?
DJ: No, WordPress is the generic, you know, that’s the one that everyone uses just for your informational style websites, whereas Shopify would be if you wanted to sell a specific product. So it’s very different from say a personal injury lawyer or an immigration lawyer, it doesn’t necessarily need to sell things. They’re just looking to offer information.
Joel: Right. And there’s a lot of AI that’s going into websites. Are you using a lot of AI in your designs?
DJ: Yeah, I think conversion rate optimization would be the industry term for it. Are we using analytics? Yes. You have to be looking at analytics programs and just see what visitor patterns are. For instance, there’s been a massive shift in visitor habits in even five to eight years. We’ve seen mobile and tablets take over as being more utilized than actual desktop computers. So you have to be on top of those trends.
Joel: So I’ve noticed because I’ve been sort of toying around with an e-commerce store just to keep busy during COVID. But having said that I’ve, I’ve come to the conclusion and I want to have your take on this, that there’s really three components to running a successful e-commerce site. One has gotta be a product – you’ve got to have a good product. Right? And then the next, you gotta have a good website and then third, I’d say probably the most important – but with the other two, it won’t work – would be the marketing. And that’s where you guys fit in. Correct?
DJ: Yeah. And, obviously, before everything, you just mentioned the business plan. The biggest mistake people make is just, “Hey, I’ve got a product, I’m going to try to sell it without having a properly planned execution.” So, certainly we help with everything you just mentioned there, but, we do need our clients to have a plan in place so that we can be speaking the same language.
Joel: Okay. Now when you say ‘business plan,’ I think of a financial forecast. What, what do you mean by business plan?
DJ: Well, I mean, you know, even going to a business planning company like the DVC or there’s a lot, even banks help with business plans. Really there’s all kinds of templates online where you can kind of see, put that together. You can simply just Google it business plan Canada, and that’s where it all starts.
Joel: Well, I’m going to assume that most companies have some sort of business plan. They say, “Hey, you know, I’ve thought about the business I’m going into, and I’m allocating so much money for so many things and that I’ve developed this product.” But my question is, would I be right? Or how would you deal with a company that is having trouble?
They’ve done all three. They have a product. They have a website. They think they have marketing, but they’re not doing too well. So how would you analyze what you think they should be doing?
DJ: Yeah. So first we want to make sure that the demand there, you can look at Google Trends and see how many searches are being done in a given industry or a product. So you want to make sure that there is a demand there for it, that’s obviously a big thing. And then, from there, when you’re actually looking at the website that’s been built, we want to make sure that there are as few clicks as possible. So each click that you have in your buying cycle is a barrier to purchase. So, all you gotta do is look at Amazon to see a ton of testing put into practice. You can literally click one button and everything that you want to buy is done. It’s pretty amazing.
Joel: If we go back to the basics, right? When we talk about a website, would you also check out the website to see whether or not it gleams what you think it should? It reflects what is going to encourage people to buy.
DJ: Yeah. So there’s a conversion on it. We do those so that we can make sure that the process is as lean and mean as possible.
There’s also, when we take on a new client, we’ll investigate even where they are in terms of, we have an SEO audit so that we want to make sure that the technical infrastructure of a website is set up properly. That there’s definitely a lot of planning that goes into when we first bring a client aboard.
Joel: How long do you think it takes for a new company to come on board with a product, with a website and they say, okay, DJ, I want you in, I want you to get us going in the marketing side. How long would it typically take for you to create traffic for that company?
DJ: Well, we can have traffic right away through paid media, but I always tell people to be reasonable with their expectations, to have eight to 12 months where you can give it a go and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Joel: If we were looking at a blend between paid advertising and free advertising, so to speak, what generally type of blend do you recommend?
DJ: For most companies, I do recommend a bit of both. You know, paid media, so doing Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, you know, all the others. They do cost money, but they bring instant gratification. Whereas if you have a content marketing plan and you’re doing your SEO, that’s going to take a little bit of time. But in the long run, that’s going to be your most cost-effective methodology, for sure.
Joel: Do you push Instagram and Facebook at all?
DJ: Oh, yeah, big time. Yep. It’s much cheaper at the moment. And certainly is a great area to get noticed and to get found for sure.
Joel: DJ, it looks like the world will be moving to its new normal late this year. And certainly by 2022, what trends do you see for companies that want to be successful in online business as we roll through the decade?
DJ: We’ve been talking about it quite a bit already, but the trend is definitely to have a lot of cookie jars open. You want to make sure that you are exposed everywhere, you want to make sure that your ads are tailored for all the different viewers. The different devices like smartphones, tablets, desktops. And then the trends really are not tricking people, being authentic with your advertising, with your marketing message, making sure your content is thought-provoking. And, you know, some people, they don’t even understand what interesting content is available out there. By having content on your website, it’s really food for websites and we can consume that content.
So, it really does depend on what type of business you’re in, but making sure that you’re in as many places as possible is very important now, because like I said earlier, you know, 25 years ago, people would just pay for a full-page ad in the Yellow Pages. Whereas now we have a more intelligent visitor looking for social sells, reviews and all that stuff.
Joel: Oh, it’s totally changed. So we likely have many listeners who I think are probably interested in working in the digital marketing industry. Do you have any advice for these people?
DJ: Yeah. And that’s music to my ears, you know, 15 years ago you couldn’t find anyone. It’s definitely a very busy industry now. Lots of people are in it. What I would recommend for anyone that wants to get into the industry, there are lots of free certificates, like Google has probably more than 10. From fundamentals to much more advanced. I really like the HubSpot Inbound, that’s another great certificate you can get.
What I tell people that want to get in the industry is, show agencies and show people you are interested in the industry by getting these accreditation’s and then get experience. Don’t be focused on money at the beginning. Focus on just getting a year or two of working experience under your belt. And then it’s magic. You have superpowers that a lot of people don’t, and there’s definitely tons of opportunity out there right now.
Joel: What about for our new business owners or new entrepreneurs that are thinking about getting into business, how do they start with marketing of their company?
DJ: I don’t think that you need to make it complicated. We talked about a plan earlier, but what I would focus on right now is obviously making sure you have a professional website as you’re getting started as a company. I really do highly recommend building it off of WordPress. If you don’t have the skills, it’s a few thousand dollars to get them built by a proper company. I would stay away right now and some people might argue, but I stay away from the website builders, I won’t even name them, but there’s website builders out there.
Eventually, quite quickly, you’re going to have to move to a proper CMS system where you can update content. Once you’ve done that, the most important thing is having very compelling content and having an outreach program so that people are made aware of your content so that when you start getting found and respected in the industry. So the content, and then of course doing some paid media and mainly, Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads.
Joel: With COVID, how has TechWyse been affected with COVID? It’s just had a devastating effect on so many companies, there are a few companies that have done extremely well. Where has TechWyse found itself?
DJ: Yeah. I think we were all kind of sick of talking about the old pandemic, but we are lucky.
We were able to quickly move to a work-from-home system because we do have, you know, a ticketing system that allows us to do that.
We really had to shift with all of our clients. Our job is to help them with their messaging. So, business is definitely not being slow for us, it’s just been a lot more pressure because we’re literally dealing with business owners that are going through some very big problems and we’re trying to get them through those moments.
I say this to my staff all the time, they’ve really come together and they really showed that they cared through all of this and we’ve come out stronger for it. I think that most of our clients would also agree the same.
Joel: Well, that’s great to hear. Now, as an entrepreneur, you know, you started a very successful company. What would you say to motivate our young folks or whoever is listening and thinking about starting a company? What motivating remarks can you make to help them out?
DJ: You mean in terms of, you know, people in the industry or?
Joel: No, I’m not talking in your industry – I’m talking in general as an entrepreneur. Right? You know the difficulties that you’ve gone through to arrive at and develop a very successful company.
What suggestions would you have for those potential entrepreneurs that are thinking of starting a company?
DJ: I would say that for me, the biggest factor for me is focus. You need to be tuned into your industry. So while you’re tuned into your industry, whatever that may be, there’s times where you’re going to be tempted to get sidetracked. I always say do a check-in on what your core values are and make sure that you’ve adapted to the world and keep focused on what you do best, because if you’re not focused on what you do best, you can’t be the best at anything.
Joel: During the course of your 20 plus years in operating your own company, what has been, let’s say, one of your biggest obstacles in starting it?
DJ: I think really because we don’t have a product, you know, in the advertising industry, our product is really our staff.
The biggest challenge, obviously, I was saying this to one of my colleagues the other day, is just keeping on top of what your staff want and need, because they really are your output and if you have everyone that cares about what they do it really does show. That’s certainly a big shift, even 10 years ago, what people wanted then is much different from what they want now. So just being aware of that.
Joel: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. DJ, I want to thank you for enlightening our listeners on the benefits of digital marketing and strategies.
I appreciate the association that we’ve had with Alarm Force and the old Alarm Force days. I want to wish you continued success in helping small businesses grow to become large entities. And by the way, just so you know this DJ, I love your company slogan, taking your business to the top.
DJ: Thank you so much, Joel. I love your show and I’ve loved the relationship we’ve had over the years.
Joel: As always, it’s fun, bringing successful and highly motivated entrepreneurs like DJ to you each week. And I hope it motivates and inspires you to reach new heights. And please remember if I can do it and DJ can do it. You can do it too.
Want to take your business to the top? Contact TechWyse today to learn more about our digital marketing services.