Brian Patterson – Founder of Go Fish Digital

[quote style=”boxed”]Establish thought leadership. I’d recommend that all entrepreneurs or, anyone really, work on developing thought leadership in their industry. The Internet is the great equalizer. Anyone can write about their experiences and highlight their strengths. With simple tactics, you can rank well in your industry because the barrier to credibility is lower than ever.[/quote]

Brian Patterson founded the online marketing agency Go Fish Digital back in 2005 and has grown the company from a workforce of just two to six full time employees in the years since.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from George Mason University. His client work ranges from small businesses to larger organizations, including the US Department of Homeland Security among many others. Brian has extensive experience in the field of online reputation management (ORM) and search marketing, and has been called on by both small and large organizations for his ORM expertise to help resolve complex issues.

Brian is widely noted for his experience in the ORM field, often consulting to other experts on best practices. He authored the seminal “Online Reputation Management Playbook” published on SEOmoz and is often sought out to develop solutions for difficult issues. Though SEO has evolved considerably over the years, Brian and his team have stayed on top of emerging trends and succeeded despite frequent changes to the system. Recently, Brian appeared on Kojo Naamdi’s Tech Tuesday show on WAMU 88.5 where he was featured as the region’s go-to reputation management consultant.

Brian lives with his wife and three daughters in Ashburn, Virginia.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m really focused on scaling the business. We certainly aren’t lacking demand, which I’m grateful for, but scaling the team of a service based business is full of pitfalls. The overall driver for me is hiring smart, motivated people. My partners and I touch base regularly to discuss where our weaknesses are and what areas of our work would benefit most from bringing on a new member of the team. I’m also working hard to develop thought leadership in the SEO/digital marketing industry to solidify the brand’s position.

Where did the idea for Go Fish Digital come from?

GFD started out when a non-profit organization I had volunteered for back in high school came to me for help with online marketing. At the time, I had a full-time government job and took on the work as a small side project. It was just one little website, after all. But when the project was complete, I got a few referrals and the business started to grow rapidly. When you do good work and care, word-of-mouth really goes a long way. At that government consulting job I met a guy who was doing the same thing as me, that is, moonlighting as an online marketing consultant. Not only did we spend our free time doing similar online activities, but we also shared similar values and were at similar points in our lives. We both decided we’d be better off combining our efforts and partnered up. Eventually, the side business became more than my partner and I could handle just “on the side” so we threw ourselves into the business full time. It was definitely a big risk. After al l, I have a wife and 3 daughters, but we were conservative and made sure to take the leap only after we had the confidence and runway to make it succeed.

How do you make money?

We provide a range of online marketing services to clients. These include website audits and redesign, full-fledged design work, SEO, online reputation management, social media management, and more. Our clients can either pay us for our work as a one-time fee, or, more commonly, invest in us on a monthly basis where we ensure that their goals are met and then managed. In some cases, we consult to companies and organizations while they do the marketing themselves. Fees vary based on the depth and breadth of service.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m a father to three girls so life can get pretty hectic. I wake up early and make breakfast for my two older daughters while my wife handles the baby stuff. Then I walk down the hall to my office and grind away at answering emails. I spend the morning working and generally fit in a workout at lunchtime and spend time with the family. Of course, I work a few more hours in the afternoon, break for dinner, and usually it’s back to my home office for a few hours later in the evening once it’s quiet. I’m lucky because I don’t have to spend time away from my family commuting to a faraway office. In that government consulting job I often spent 2 hours a day commuting – talk about a loss of productivity! I really take advantage of working from home and urge my employees to do the same.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Even though we are a remote workforce, the six of us gather together on a regular basis for weeklong coworking and brainstorming sessions. Despite the technological advancements that allow for productive ways to work from home and keep a team connected, there’s nothing quite like sitting around a table and throwing ideas around. That interaction tends to spark our best ideas.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Well, considering we’re in the reputation management field, I’d have to say, the newfound awareness of reputation management. Public Relations has always been a critical component of marketing, but when it comes to the online space, it played a relatively small role. Now, we are seeing a huge uptick in people understanding and using services like those we offer. It’s exciting that something that is a core piece of our business is finally being recognized. The more coverage it gets, the better it is for us from a business perspective.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was in college, I worked at a national car rental chain during the summers. It was miserably hot and the hours were long. The format for the program was that each employee on the management trainee track was required to handle every aspect of the car rental process. We worked 10-hour shifts in a shirt and tie and spent much of the day cleaning cars outside, sweating bullets, just wishing we could get back inside. Of course, once there, we were faced with piles of paperwork and irritated customers. Looking back, I realize this job taught me how to work long hours – literally from open to close, and really do the grunt work. It wasn’t easy but when you get down to the nitty gritty underside of a company, you have a more comprehensive understanding of how it operates as a whole. I also learned what it meant to do a job well. We were being measured purely on metrics so it really came down to – how well am I selling the product (in this case, that insurance that car r ental companies try to upsell you on). It was impossible to argue against the numbers.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I could start from scratch, I would probably spend more time coming up with the name and choosing something that people could immediately relate to and easily spell. I had originally named the company ‘MangoCo’, short for ‘Mango Company’. I thought it was artsy and modern, and hey, I got the domain name for it. I don’t think I realized in the beginning what a major part of a business the name is. We ended up renaming the company a few years later to what it is today (Go Fish Digital) because it just got too confusing for people. Of course, a name change is not ideal either. If we could do one thing differently, I would tell myself to pick a name that was a series of real words relevant to the industry rather than a vague combo.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Establish thought leadership. I’d recommend that all entrepreneurs or, anyone really, work on developing thought leadership in their industry. The Internet is the great equalizer. Anyone can write about their experiences and highlight their strengths. With simple tactics, you can rank well in your industry because the barrier to credibility is lower than ever.

Once you’ve built up that authority, don’t be afraid to let people know. For example, we built the page ‘Online Reputation Management Expert’ on our site so that people looking for an expert in what we do know where to find one. We’ve put in the time and effort to build up thought leadership, and having a page like that allows you to cash in on your efforts.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Several years ago, I created a start up that was intended to be an online talent competition. Kind of like American Idol, but all online, the voting, the entry, everything. Ultimately, it failed because the developers couldn’t handle the project. I should have recognized this but they were so nonchalant when we first laid out our plans. Now, when we do internal projects, we make sure before we move forward that the developers are confident in their abilities to execute on it, rather than watch the whole idea crash and burn.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Well, we’re in reputation management, so maybe this is a bit of a cop-out, but we see a future in insurance for brand reputation. It could be for business or individuals, but either way it would serve as a “life lock” for your reputation. Just like you put money towards auto or home insurance, you could invest upfront in your personal brand and ensure that if someone were to ever make you look bad, you’d be compensated appropriately for any damages. That’s just one idea we’ve been kicking around lately but if someone else wants to get it off the ground, good for them.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

If I could change one thing in the world, I think I’d go with access to information. With the proper education, it’s amazing what some people are capable of. Unfortunately, we’ll never know some people’s potential because they weren’t afforded the same opportunities as the rest of us, but just making information available is a huge step in the right direction. Have you seen Sugata Mitra’s TED talk “Build a School in the Cloud”? If not, go watch it now and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

When I was a kid I was really into learning magic tricks. I met a magician who also made balloon animals, and I picked that up and have been able to do them ever since. And not just swords and snakes, but cool cartoon characters and stuff. I never talk about it, and really only my friends with kids know that I can do it. But… I’m putting it out there now.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Boomerang is a great resource for staying on top of emails and getting stuff done. It’s nice to be able to bug people and, of course, follow up when something is urgent. Everyone I work with is tired of hearing me sing Boomerang’s praises, but whatever, it is THAT great!

Evernote is great for keeping all your notes organized and in one place. I use it every single day.

Also, Google calendar is something I can’t live without these days. It’s great because you can use it for work and your personal life. My wife has it too so she knows what I have going on and vice versa. It makes juggling work and family that much easier.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Blink – The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell is a book I always recommend. It covers the art of decision-making – and explains why some people are better at trusting their instincts while others really need that extra pause before coming to a conclusion. It’s a powerful book for entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to do great things quickly.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@bill_slawski – He can get geeky at times but it’s good to understand the inner workings of Google.
@Mark_Sisson – He wrote The Primal Blueprint, which is an interesting lifestyle book. It offers an alternative approach to diet and exercise. Many of the tips I’ve incorporated into my own life and feel like a completely different person.
@Doubletree – This is an organization that is doing social media right. Any company can benefit from checking out their messaging and taking notes on their innovative and engaging approach.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

“I should write something really offensive here haha”. Well, my awkward humor just caused me to laugh. So…

Who is your hero?

Absolutely my wife. She is the force behind my family and I couldn’t do what I do without her. Between the diapers, the tantrums, it’s just a thankless job and I admire her work every single day (and I certainly don’t tell her enough).

Is it difficult to run a completely remote company?

There are numerous perks to working remotely. We have low overhead, no commute, better work/life balance, and many other advantages compared to those stuck in a restrictive office environment. But we also miss out on some wonderful things. For example, the bond between coworkers is not as strong, you don’t always know who’s around and who’s working on what, and you lose the aspect of serendipity in the workplace (overhearing a conversation, jumping in, riffing off an idea). Some days it can feel like you lose the magic when you have a remote team. Luckily, there are a number of tools that we use to bridge the gap, like Google Hangouts, Sqwiggle, and Basecamp. These all contribute to our continued success as a remote workforce.

You’ve got three daughters, are you going to go for the boy?

Perhaps. I just have to mentally prepare for having four girls – as that is a very possible (or likely) scenario.


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