Darwin Liu | Revenue-Centric Marketing

Adam LeanPodcast

Many digital marketing agencies are “stuck” in specific channels they provide for clients, says Darwin Liu, founder of X Agency. On top of that, they only look at results from that channel. 

Darwin and his team take a different approach. They measure success by looking at revenue. And they’re what he calls “channel agnostic,” which means they use whatever marketing channels are right for the business. Plus, they strive to get results for as little cost as possible. 

In one case, they were able to boost a client’s revenue from $47 million to $90 million in a year, yet only increased marketing spending by 20%.

We take a close look at how they were able to do it and also discuss…

  • The 20-point checklist for a highly converting website
  • Why the best marketing in the world won’t bring more revenue if you don’t have this
  • How to take an industry-specific approach to your marketing campaigns
  • What’s on the horizon in digital marketing for the rest of 2020 and beyond
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Adam Lean: In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to grow your business with digital marketing. We’re going to talk to a digital marketing expert on what digital marketing can do for your business. We’ll break down the myths and all of the confusing jargon. This is P is for Profit,

Adam: Welcome to P is for Profit. My name is Adam: and I along with the rest of the team at The CFO Project are passionate about helping business owners improve the profitability of their business. My guest today is Darwin Liu. He’s the founder of X Agency, a digital marketing company that builds solid marketing strategies for ecommerce businesses. Darwin, welcome to the show.

Darwin Liu: Thank you, Adam. Thanks for having me. I am excited to be on this project and this podcast and love to actually help your guests get as much info as possible. And actually, learn from, and not doing the same mistakes I did.

Adam: Oh, man, well, I’m excited anytime I get to talk to somebody that understands marketing, especially digital marketing because it’s so confusing. It can be so confusing. But tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became the founder of X Agency. 

Darwin: Yeah, so, and I absolutely agree with you. I mean, this thing moves at a lightning pace. So, you know, you’ve been confused is actually not surprising at all. It changes every single day. I started this, well, I started marketing in a way where I graduated college, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I googled how to get rich online and it was off to the races. I’ve been doing this for, you know, since always, well, that’s, I don’t even know the year anymore, maybe 12 to 14 years, right?

Adam: You googled how to get rich online? 

Darwin: Yeah. And, you know, started there, started right out of college, no money, but, you know, selling scams, doing blackhat marketing, affiliate marketing, making websites. So really learning everything on my own since 08. I lost, you know, I made a bunch of mistakes. I overbought 30 grand on my credit card and I had to get a job at an agency. At the agency itself I, you know, I still didn’t give up. 

So I was working and building my own brand and still learning on the side. And it was after about five years where, you know, I left and started X Agency. So we’ve been about two, what, two years and a half and maybe just about three. We’ve grown tremendously year over year. We have, I think about 17 employees now, I don’t know the exact number. But yeah, we’re it’s been a fun and long ride and it’s definitely not done yet.

Adam: Oh, wow. So what agency did, what type of agency did you work for?

Darwin: Yeah, I worked for a marketing agency. And that’s actually where I learned a lot of things that I should do and also shouldn’t do. The company itself was called Inceptor/Didit. They were owned by Super Media. And long story short, I don’t know how well they are now but I’ve definitely learned a lot from that.

Adam: So why did you want to go off and start X Agency? Like, what makes X Agency different than all the others?

Why Darwin Started X Agency

Darwin: Yeah, well, a couple of things or a couple of reasons is that I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, right? So I was making a good amount of money from my old job on top of having my own side clientele. So I gave up a ton of money to start, to make nothing again, right? Being an entrepreneur is something I’ve always done. So this was always sort of the end game to actually run a successful company. 

What makes us different is a lot of things, I would say, but to name the top few is, I know enough agencies where nothing is structured. I mean, you know, one person who was good, the next person can be bad. There wasn’t a system of getting things out there so that everyone’s running the same correct marketing program, right? What we do differently is we’re actually looking at revenue and we’re looking at everything holistically. So one big problem with agencies that people are sort of channel, stuck in their own channel, right? 

So someone doing Facebook looks at Facebook numbers, someone doing Google looks at Google numbers, they don’t really know what’s actually hitting the pockets of the business owners because the business owners, you know, at the end of the day, they’re seeing what’s going to the bank account, right? So what we do is we’re channel-agnostic and we look at it from one touchpoint and we actually try to match up what we’re doing in terms of how much money we’re getting the business. 

On top of that, our strategy is totally different in a way. To simplify our approach, you know, we’re not aiming for top spots, we’re not aiming for, you know, more clicks and more impressions. Our goal is to get on as many surfaces as possible at the lowest cost per click possible. So we, you know, we take your money and we stretch it so much that say you’ll double your traffic, you’ll triple your traffic. So the majority of our clients, I mean, we’ll take it over and just one quick example is one client we took them from 47 to 90 million in the year and they only increased their spend by about 20%. So,

Adam: Wow. 47 to 90 million in revenue?

Darwin: Yeah. Revenue. Yep. 

Adam: So explain that. You get on many different services, many different channels, like Google, Facebook, etc?

Diversifying Ad Spend

Darwin: Yeah. At a micro level, yes. I say surfaces because that’s Google’s term of calling things, right? So quick example for you is, if a client only have $5,000 to spend, we’re not going to say put that on Google at 60 cents a click. We’re gonna say, we’re gonna aim for not number one, number two, we’re going to go for number three on Google and go for number three on Bing. 

We’re going to bid on the lower audiences in Facebook, we’re going to go on text messages, we’re going to go, we’ll spread the dollar across every single channel as low as possible. So if you want a picture, right? Instead of paying 60 cents a click on Google, we are paying 10 cents on Google, 10 cents on Bing, 10 cents on Facebook. And now that way, your $5,000 will get you say, 15,000 clicks versus 5000.

Adam: Okay. So, do you measure once, do you measure the success of those clicks? So once they land on the website, do you measure, you know, the conversion rate? How many of those clicks actually produce a sale?

Darwin: Yes. So, you know, we’re revenue-driven or revenue centric, right? We don’t, clicks is what we use as our sort of main indicator of if we’re doing things right, right? So for us, if we can get more clicks to the door, that naturally means more revenue. But what we do is we measure revenue at the end goal. So revenue is what we actually measure for our clients. Our goal is to get as much revenue as possible. And per your question, right? The second part of our strategy is really at the end of the day, fixing the website. So CRO is something that we look at. Upon CRO on the website itself

Adam: CRO as in conversion rate optimization?

Darwin: Yep. On the website. Yeah, we look at that. So picture this, if we come in, we take the first step of giving you guys the 20-point checklist on how to clean up your website so that people convert better on top of driving more clicks, it’s a compound effect, right? Let’s just say you’re converting much better now at additional five to 10% on top of getting way more traffic, that’s where the magic happens. So all your existing traffic on top of new traffic, you make way more sales. Sounds kind of crazy, right?

Adam: So, no, that makes sense. So if you had to rank all the different channels that an ecommerce store or really anybody who is selling online, you know, where should they be? Like, one, two and three, where should they advertise?

Darwin: That’s a loaded question, right? Because it depends. It depends on your business, to be honest. If I were to say, you know, if you were a local company, what’s on the floor, say not really selling online, you’re in the 500 to $3 million range and you really don’t have the money to blow on Google, right? It’s saturated. It’s for the big boys to play. For you, At the end of the day, optimizing local. That’s so easy to do is sort of an almost a one-time thing. 

So for the smaller, lower level, businesses with boots on the ground, and a couple examples where you would be, say, the salon that, you know, there are four salons, right? Or a restaurant chain, or whatever it is. Optimize your local presence, that’s number one. Number two is Facebook. I mean, Facebook is so highly targeted that like, you can target down to the race, you can target down to exactly who it is. You can target a director who works at x company, right? So it would be local Google, I mean it’s local Facebook and then Google.

Adam: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And you’re right, it is a loaded question because I guess it does depend. But with all the ways that somebody could advertise online, what are the things that you’re excited about this coming out in the future from a digital marketing standpoint?

What Darwin is Excited (or Scared) About for the Future

Darwin: Yeah. So, what am I excited about? In terms of digital marketing, more like afraid, right? Because we are getting a lot of machine learning and Google’s getting way more advanced. So to a lot of those folks out there, technically speaking, you can run a lot of your own campaigns now, which is a great thing. For us, you know, we are on, we’re always looking on the radar to see what’s coming up next. And it is all the machine learning, algorithms are coming out and being able to optimize better. 

Also, you know, scary thing about that is, what do we do with us? You know, will that ever phase us out? So, technology out there is amazing. For local, there are a couple amazing new things coming out. I mean, Google’s giving you guys a badge. It’s $50 a month, I think $2,000 a year for a lot of local services companies. But you guys will look amazing in local. Facebook itself is doing a lot of amazing things, especially around the local front, adding local stores and a lot of the new implementations that they have.

Adam: Yeah, yeah, I mean, It seems like daily things are changing. So what are some, I mean, you’re an expert in digital marketing, of course. What are some myths that you keep hearing about digital marketing that just, you just want to dispel?

Darwin: Yeah. So a couple of things is that I’ve seen even recently is, one a lot of accounts that we take over, everyone is doing like AB testing on their creatives. They’re testing, you know, this, and they’re testing that. And I see that a bunch, right? That necessarily isn’t a myth, per se, but what they really need to focus on is running a correct account. So what we found is that people focus their time on things that don’t matter at the end of the day because their account is totally structured wrong. 

They’re targeting the wrong things, they’re running the settings incorrectly, right? So that’s myth number one, which is, it’s great busy work to say we’re running this test and that test, but again, when that count isn’t done correctly, it doesn’t matter. Myth number two is I’ve seen a lot of Facebook gurus around. So almost everyone now is a Facebook guru because they bought a book from I don’t even know who, right?

Adam: Everybody’s an expert.

Darwin: Yeah. And I’m seeing all these like weird long-form copies where, you know, literally like fear-driven and it just doesn’t work. It’s great for these infomercials and all that stuff. But like for local stuff, you know, it’s not a one size fits all thing. So still Facebook, at the end of the day, people hate ads, right? So we, there are ways to get around that. But writing crazy long articles isn’t gonna work. 

Adam: When you say long articles, like you mean long-form content on Facebook, or even like blog posts or things that,

Darwin: Long-form content ads, long-form content definitely works as blog posts. But when you’re sort of writing that as an ad, I don’t know who’s actually going to read through all that when all you’re doing is, I mean, I’ll give you a quick example and it would be a, say local restaurant, right? And my ad is going to be three paragraphs long talking about how COVID’s going to kill your business. So


What is the biggest mistakes that people, along the same lines, what are the biggest mistakes that people make with digital marketing?

Darwin: Yep, couple of big ones that I really do see is a lot of people do try to do stuff on their own. That’s one. A lot of companies, I think they are too afraid to hire an expert, if they can actually find one, to run their stuff and they end up eventually losing more money on their end. Two is I’m hearing more and more that blogging is dead or that email is dead and that’s one of the biggest mistakes that we see. Whenever we take over a new client, their email program is, say, 3% of their traffic, or they’re not doing any sort of content to put their name out there. 

So those two are definitely huge mistakes that people are missing out on. Three is really, everyone thinks that, you know this, a lot of local companies, they think that it’s always about sort of paying for the traffic. But again, the biggest thing for sort of boots on the ground services companies are really fix your local first. Very quick and easy. It’s not super expensive. People think that marketing has to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be. Get a one-time fix and then yeah, you’ll be way better off. 

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. I agree. Email definitely is not dead. I have heard that blogging is sort of the old school way. Almost along the same lines, if you have a restaurant, why would anybody read a bunch of long-form content on their blog, especially very thin content. Content that, it’s obvious you’re only writing just because you want to sort of manipulate Google to get your website up. So explain, can you explain that a little bit? Like how do you view blogs or content or whatnot? 

Blogging is not Meant for Every Industry

Darwin: Yeah. so content, I would say, you know, especially for b2b, right? Again, there goes that loaded question which is different sort of marketing channels work for different sized businesses or different category businesses. Blogging for a restaurant, I agree with you, it probably won’t work. But say blogging for plumbing, at the end of the day, I mean, when people are trying to search on how to fix something and we do enough for the long tail searches that they’re doing and they end up not being able to fix their say, I don’t know, toilet, they will come out and reach out to you, right? 

Because at the end of the day, your market’s saturated. Every plumber out there is doing the same exact thing. They are running the same ads, they do the same thing. So as hence, for plumbing as a services example, but not for restaurants. So I, you know, it’s not a one size fits all. It’s really dependent on sort of what your business is and sort of what target bracket you are trying to hit. 

Adam: Yeah. No, that makes sense. So let me ask you, you started a, you know, several business ventures and then you went to an agency and you started X Agency. So if you could go back in time when you started your first business or so, what’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Darwin: One piece of advice I’d give my younger self. I’ve definitely made a ton of mistakes. One thing I would say is, and I think we all read this, which is, and I think when we all started in our business, we read a lot and then we don’t really understand or think that it’s real, but don’t hire your friends.

Adam: Okay. That’s a good one. 

Darwin: Yeah. After that, really none just because at the end of the day, I think this whole process of starting your company or digital marketing is really learning from the mistakes, right? If I didn’t make all these little mistakes, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. So, you know, I really don’t, I’ve learned and enjoyed every single piece of this. Would you agree or no?

Adam: You know, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I think everybody’s made up of their past and their experiences.

Darwin: Yeah. And I think to run a successful company, you run it based on the sum of sort of all your failures, you know? Because if you’re lucky enough to actually never have gone through any of those mistakes, you’re eventually going to make it because I think we all take the same path and you’re going to make it at a higher level. And you’re just gonna get, you know,

Adam: Yeah. So along the same lines, what do you feel, I mean, you work you and your agency work with businesses all the time. What do you feel like separates successful business owners from those that just always seem to struggle?

Darwin: Yeah. So I think what ends up happening a lot of times is technicians become business owners. So say you’re good at plumbing and, you know, you’re amazing and you think they could come out and start your own company. And when they do that, they forget to turn into a CEO and run a, you know, run a company the way you should be, right? So I think the biggest mistakes that I really try to focus on and try to work on really is as a business owner, is people forget that sales, number one, is your lifeblood and two, cash flow.

Adam: Oh, absolutely.

Darwin: Yep. Managing bills and understanding those is tantamount to actually having a successful company.

Adam: Yeah. Explain what you mean by technician. I think you’re referring to the E Myth book. Is that right? Okay. Explain that.

Darwin: Yeah. So, and I see this a lot, every time I catch myself doing it, I try not to. So when you’re amazing at a, you know, a specialty, whether it’s plumbing or online marketing, you end up doing that way more than running the company, right? So you’re actually in the business versus working on the business. 

And a lot of times, that is what happens and that’s why businesses don’t grow because, you know, they’re too busy focused on doing the technician piece without actually focusing on growing the company, which would be going the sales, figuring out the cash flow, working on their budgets, making sure things are going correctly, you know? So they’re stuck in the weeds instead of actually growing the company.

Adam: Yeah. Now, that makes sense. Anybody listening, I would recommend the E Myth by Michael Gerber. Fantastic book, because everybody, he uses an analogy, I believe. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I think he used a story of a lady who liked to bake and she wanted to open a pie store. She’s the technician and so she was only struggling because she was the technician but she also needed to be the entrepreneur. You know, and there’s, what is the third? Entrepreneur, technician and manager, right?

Darwin: Yeah, a manager. I would say, I would add a fourth one, which would be the CEO because an entrepreneur and a CEO are two totally different things, right?

Adam: Yeah, that’s a good point. Why, do you say that though?

Why an Entrepreneur and a CEO are Different

Darwin: Because, you know, an entrepreneur is a dreamer, right? And it’s great, you know, we 

can throw our crazy wild ideas out there. But at a point or at a level of growth, you have to put on the CEO hat, which is sort of structuring things and making sure we’re doing things the right way and not the crazy way, you know? So for me, I like the entrepreneur part way more versus the CEO part so I would always be starting new companies, I would always be, you know, after this, I’m still gonna be doing something else. 

The starting part is the fun part for me. But I do know that the two differences and I think a lot of people can’t tell that apart, you know? Being an entrepreneur is great and you can do wild, crazy things, but to grow, you actually have to slowly turn into a CEO or hire someone to actually run and organize and actually make the business run the way it should be, which is building your system to scale.

Adam: Yeah, absolutely. Taking your vision and executing.

Darwin: Yep, exactly.

Adam: Execution is very important but a lot of visionaries and entrepreneurial-minded people, they have these great ideas, they just need help implementing. 

Darwin: Exactly, yeah. And being. you know, having them is great, right? But without the execution and the organizational structure, they usually end up fizzling out.

Adam: Yeah, no, that makes sense. So this has been great Darwin. Where can people find you if they need help? Whether they, you know, if they have an ecommerce store especially but if they need marketing, digital marketing help, where can they go?

Darwin: Yeah, so a couple of places are, one is we actually have a small business division now. So smallbusinessmarketing.com. We finally grew that out just because a lot of people want advice and we don’t service small businesses, right? So they’ll have a ton of information. We haven’t fully put that out yet, but we do have small services there. For me, if you want to personally reach out, I’ll definitely answer you. I might be slow, but you can reach out at darwin@xagency.com.

Adam: Okay, excellent. So we’ll put those links in the show notes. So you said smallbusinessmarketing.com. Wow, that’s a pretty good domain name.

Darwin: I, you know, prior to all this, I was a domain flipper website for Black Hatters. I’ve done it all. And yes, it was definitely that domain.

Adam: Okay, and then your email. That’s great. Darwin, thank you so much for being here. 

Darwin: Well, thank you so much for having me, Adam. 

Adam: Yeah. So again, I would like to thank Darwin for being our guest. And if you would like to see if he and his team can help you with your business, feel free to reach out. Again, I’ll put his info in the show notes. Thank you so much for listening. And remember, the goal of your business should be to make more profit than last year and turn that profit into cash that you get to keep thanks for listening.