Episode #161 – Paul Kortman On SEO That Works. Freelance Your Way To Freedom And The Open Road (Even With A Family!)

by John McIntyre

Paul stuck his nose into SEO after seeing his employer’s proposals.

He was a systems administrator, but they challenged him to do it anyway.

Then someone planted the seed that changed everything…

“Why are you doing this for them?”

When his employer wouldn’t let him telecommute one day a week he decided…

“I can’t work in this oppression anymore!”

So he started freelancing.

His kids were already home-schooled and though he had not yet realized it…

His business was location-independent.

Three years later, Paul and his family made the transition to the digital nomad lifestyle…

and haven’t looked back.

Listen to someone who has been where you might be this very day – and see the steps he took toward freedom.

You can use these same ideas as a freelance copywriter.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • How Paul realized that he was already location-free. (You might already be good to go!).
  • How his income TRIPLED when he switched to freelancing.
  • The resource Paul accessed to end his “shameless whore” phase.
  • Two simple steps he used to double one client’s organic traffic in six months .
  • The “45-45-10” ratio of SEO that works. Stick with tried and true strategies most “experts” never talk about.

Email Marketing Podcast Episode 161


Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO

David Allan: Hey everybody we’re back for another edition of the podcast. I’m David Allan. Exciting guest of course for you today. His name is Paul Kortman. He is a nomad him and his family and he’s into marketing a digital marketing agency as CEO know all that kind of good stuff. We’re going to talk to him today. Paul Kortman How are you.

Paul Kortman:I am doing fantastic. Thanks so much David for having me on.

David Allan: Now as a fellow digital nomad The first question I should probably ask you is where are you.

Paul Kortman: Well we are stuck in a parking lot with a bunch of diesel semis around so I apologize because just as you hit record the semi next to me I Engine engine Oh I know that. But in the world we’re in Mexico we’re in a town called Zenn crystal ball.

They lost causes OK it’s in the southern part of Mexico almost to the border of Guatemala. And it’s a highly indigenous city. So you have your Mexican your Spanish speakers and then you have your native Mexicans so Preece Spanish era population who. Yeah they were different clothes. They talk a different language. And so it’s a very unique situation. We’ve traveled around Mexico for the last year and a half and this is the first time we’ve been you know in a very indigenous situation.

So it’s sounds very exciting actually. And we’re going to get to some of that sort of for our take over Tuesday audience later in the show but let’s start with how you got yourself wrapped up in all of this to start from like what you were doing prior to your digital excursion or nomadic lifestyle and sort of bring us all the way up to speed. So we know you know for people who don’t know much about you and sort of get a feel for who you are and where you’re not cool.

Well I’m self-taught and everything that I do and I kind of stick my nose into things and figure it out once I get in there. And so I am a certified nerd a system administrator I.T. guy and that that’s where I was paying my way through college. I got a degree in a completely unrelated field and it absolutely doesn’t help me at all except to say I’ve got a bunch of B.S. And then yeah.

And then well I was I was working for a traditional marketing agency as their system administrator. They had a web development team. And they were building web sites and hosting around 200 Web sites. They were building a $2000 per $150000 Web sites and I was just like. And then they were doing print and traditional media all over the place. We had about 25 staff and so that was enough to justify having an I.T. admin.

I stuck my nose into one of their proposals and found out that they were proposing that they are doing SEO and I was like no you guys aren’t. And you know beyond being a nerd I’m friends with the Web developers and I’m like no you guys aren’t you don’t know what you’re talking about. They’re like oh Mr. Big Shot. You think you know what you’re talking about. I’m like yeah I do. I read like three articles about it. So I know what I’m talking about.

Long story short they gave me a try on a couple of clients both as CEO and PPC. And three years later I had hired a replacement for myself so there was another nerd who took care of all the computers and hired three extra staff and built a digital marketing department within a marketing agency. And that stuff has now. I mean all the staff that are hired are still there.

That staff has grown to be about 10 to 20 somewhere in that range. And I’ve lost track over the time. But anyways so I did all this and it was just like growing like gangbusters.

I had you know my network was growing huge. I had everybody knew who I was. As far as our target audience and who we were trying to acquire. And so it was really a no brainer. Like I just say hey we want to do this for you and people would be like yes let’s do it. And you know a guy approached me and said kind of planted the seed of like why are you doing this for them. And then I realized that I could really be doing this for myself. And so that thread started happening and I started thinking along those lines of what would it take and what would it be like. And at the same time a co-working spot opened up in my neighborhood and I lived an hour away from the office and so I said hey

Mr. Boss Man can I work you know instead of commuting I’ll still leave home at the same time.

One day a week and just telecommute from this co-working location one day a week and he said absolutely not. And I was like Are you kidding me.

Like what is this flexibility.

Yeah yeah I was listening to the tropical M.B.A. a in I mean the four hour work week was out and this was all Lake telemarket tele. I forget why it was even called but where you would work remotely over the phone or whatever like this telecommuting was very common place thing now we call it digital nomad or remote work but telecommuting was a very common thing. I was like one day a week you won’t let me.

He’s like No not at all. And so that was the nail in the coffin just like I cannot work under this oppressive situation. It was the best job I ever had. So I started my own business. It’s it’s the millennial issue.

And so like my spelling is perfect made massive money in it go away.

I can’t work from home.

I am. This is all I can do is stop. Exactly.

And we’re friends so you know and I like it. I like the guy and you know I love their business in all this. But I was just like no this doesn’t work for me. And so I stepped out on my own and we had already had some kids and had chosen to homeschool them. So here we were for a couple of years where I was working in the basement of our house had my standup desk. It was all good. And my wife was teaching our kids upstairs. And then one day we were like why do we need this house and why couldn’t we do this from anywhere because I hadn’t met over half my clients. And so that you know that turned into what we have today but it’s still the same

business it’s just it was location independent. I didn’t realize it was right and so we are all into this lifestyle and decided to travel instead of having a house. But the business itself was just because I couldn’t stand working for the man under the oppressive regime. And and yeah our first month out we had 40 K in revenue in the first month and so it’s unlike any other business startup or solo entrepreneur startup like just I had employees my first month because I couldn’t do it all because because you just had such a swamp of clients you need people to actually do the work.

There was a combination of things. One I didn’t leave my agents my previous employer in a lurch. I explained what I was going to do. I you know gave a date and I was a month ahead. And you know we worked on plenty of transitions and they just couldn’t find somebody to replace me. Go figure. That didn’t top my ego or anything like that. But they couldn’t find anybody to replace me.

So then you know when the day after they called me up and said Listen can we hire you to work these projects that you were already working. No one else can do. And we’ll pay you instead of your normal rate we’ll pay you your freelancer rate. So overnight I made triple to quadruple what I was making the day before. I had already lined up. Yeah sure. I’ve got taxes in all this that I have to take care of myself but that first year was just fantastic because they had signed contracts that they needed help with.

And that bridge the gap as I then pulled in other clients who were like yes I want to work with you but then I couldn’t you know work with them until the day I stepped out. And so that first those first three months were crazy but crazy in a good way because I had money coming in and work that needed to be done and I was trying to sell there was a backlog of people that wanted to work with me that didn’t want to pay the big agency rates of like 200000 a month and they wanted to work with me for a thousand a month and I was happy for that. So you know there was a small like switcheroo that was going on but then once we got that all settled Yeah life was pretty


No doubt no doubt that’s a very interesting story.

I like that part about the company had to turn around and hire you because I couldn’t find anyone to tell them. We are not a race of sorts.

You know I’d love to you know teach a course on how to do this and how to make yourself irreplaceable. Yeah. And but I don’t think I mean it’s serendipity I think is totally it. It was in a marketplace where I was ahead of my time for that geographic area and there was just no one else that knew what I knew and could and had the management skills. So yeah but they’ve since hired people who are good at being part of the country where you’re in then I was in Michigan. So the Midwest in West Michigan.

Thanks very much. All right so you’ve escaped the cubicle so to speak. Erie we’re on home and you have the money coming in including your own your old company that was hiring you.

So you said at the time that you didn’t realize that you were already location independent sort of the way you understand it now. So what when did you make that transition.

Well that was three years later. We it was more long and I kept going to city for meetings. So I would meet with my some special clients or I would go to networking events so that people knew who I was and so I was keeping my network in my referral marketing really warm and and that paid off in dividends I mean you know I couldn’t I couldn’t trace one non-client client to one at Peter’s actions and be able to say that because I was here or have a good process for bringing in

new. Sorry about the rough internet.

Problem. It happens here so it didn’t really work in your referral network and stuff. That’s great. So maybe tell us more now.


The referral network was working for me but you can go ahead and up on talks to talk about the referrals or whatever.

OK so referral we’re getting was working for me. But you know when I did leave home it turned out that that wasn’t going to work out for a long time because we were living in it. You know considering Southeast Asia. Yes sure Singapore has a lot of money but you know checking my time and it wasn’t like I could go to a networking event and find my ideal client there.

So I had to reconfigure my whole business and my whole sales technique. So while I was technically location independent my you know considering an agency world you have churn and so you always have to be selling. And my sales process was location dependent and I didn’t find that out until I left and then went oh wait. My situation.

You are at home.

My competition had a gangbuster year and was hiring people left and right and I was like I figured everything and now have a.

Are you back to your comeback now. Yes. Well that was an interesting discovery that you were sort of tied to your sales process and stuff and you were for a marketing sort of tied to where you were when you left to go to Salty’s surgery or do you have to reconfigure that. That’s very interesting. Maybe let’s dive into some of the because it was primarily I see what you are doing for people.

Well it wasn’t. There was also another problem. I don’t know if I can say this on your show but I was a whore. I will do anything for anybody as long as the money was there because you know I had to have some sort of vague connection to digital marketing but that was very loose like I remember I had one project where I was fixing somebody’s spreadsheets and it was like really why am I doing that. You know it was because they needed it and they knew I was a really good guy. And so you know I ended up doing that and I got a business coach and I learned about systematizing things and putting

things into a process and it it took me a couple of years to get it worked down to a very smooth process. But throughout the course of my entire digital marketing career back you know when I was an I.T. guy and I would say hey you guys don’t know what you’re talking about Osseo. I mean I’ve been in the world of vessels for 12 years now and so like I really know what I’m doing there and despite everything constantly changing. There are three factors that just are steadily straightforward. This is what it is. This is what it means to have an optimized website or to you know try to improve your rankings. These three things

always work time and again over the last 12 years. And my business coach really honed in on that and said Why are you buying anything else. Why not just please. And so we didn’t believe that I could sell it. I didn’t believe that I could do it. Well but we’ve had over the last well the last three years I’ve been working at this getting it switched over to that. And a year ago we stopped taking on custom clients and we now have this process that is just fantastic and it combines everything my entire knowledge of the last 12 years in as CEO. It’s actually really simple like that. They call

it simple beyond the complex right of where you can understand something like how to drive a car. And then when it comes to driving a race car it gets really complicated and then you get beyond that point of where you know professional race car drivers. It’s so simple they don’t even think about it. And so it’s that simple beyond the complex. And that’s. And that’s where I’m at with a CEO of just like it is really not even me explaining it doesn’t seem like rocket science you know because it’s just driving the race car right. Right. But yeah so what it comes down to because now that I have you know hinted at it from multiple multiple times now

all actually tell the secret sauce. It’s not a secret. You know if you want to rank for something you have to write about it and B you have to have links coming back your site and then see the minor of it all. So those first two parts are you know if you’re to break up these in way according to or put them on a scale according to weight writing about it is 45 percent having the back links another 45 percent. And if you can do your math that leaves 10 percent for the final area which is the technical CEO of making sure you have H1 and H2 use titles and made inscriptions and all this and everybody in the world

seems to focus on that third category.

Technical Allessio audit’s and making sure you have all the right plug ins and everything’s configured and you’re optimizing your made descriptions for every single post. And what I found is I work at that and I worked that for years and it never moved the needle. It never made money for my clients and it was like pointless to do that. And so by reconfiguring everything we just focus on the first two. Yes we have an audit where we can do the third we can do the technical ACOR of like we just run it through a process and say here go hire a developer and make them really happy because there’s a bunch of things you need to fix. And we just bullet list it out here’s what you need. So yes we can take care of that. But

that’s not going to make you money in the end of the day it’s not going to drive more traffic it’s just going to make sure that you’re ready for the traffic or that you might move up by a half a degree. Whereas with the first two writing incredible content that applies to your target audience and getting those back links reading incredible content you can hire a really good copywriter and you can get really good content. Problem is most of our clients most of the businesses out there they think about the wrong things when they write that content they’re writing about their services or how they’re special or toot their own horn or whatever and it’s like nobody cares.

Nobody can so what we what we bring to the table is we actually tie the content with the backlift process and say listen let’s go find an article that’s out there. And for those of you who may be familiar with this that actually is a quaint term to describe this technique. It’s called the skyscraper technique. But what we do is we go out when we find an article that applies to your target audience that maybe. Well first of all that has a lot of back links. We usually look for 100 refereing domains or more. And so we start there and then when we say what’s wrong with that article or could we improve upon it or you know is

it really out of date. And is there a way that we can write a better article that the client would be super happy with. Really proud of and by the way we get compliments on our content all the time. They’re just like oh this is so great. I never would have thought to write this but this is fantastic. And so we then we publish that on the client’s Web site and then we reach out to the people who linked to the previous article that is old or out of date or crappy or just not well-sourced is for as far as scientific material goes. And and we reach out to all those people and we say hey listen we notice that you’re

pointing to this even linking to this article. We have a better article and I think it may apply to your users better if either A. You wrote a new post about her article or you just switched the link from your other content and switched it to our article and it’s amazing. So that’s our our method of link building. It’s all above the board. It’s all white hat. It’s all very understood and it’s organically organic is an overused term. It’s natural in far in so far as how it grows because it’s not like we hit a switch and suddenly you have 10 back links you post an

article and over the next three to six weeks you get 10 back clicks because you know some people take longer to switch continents or switch links some people you know whatever. And it’s Arti Web sites that have talked about similar content. And so it’s all within the correct wheel house so we have found it now as slow is a slow game. Right. Like you can make some changes today and you’re not going to realize the full benefit of that for three to six months. We’ve had multiple clients with us now working this once a month for six months and we’ve doubled their organic traffic in the span of six months

and their sales their sales have gone up fairly significantly. We’ve got two clients that are just like you and I don’t even have to pick up the phone and do cold calling anymore like my leads are coming to me and it’s because organic you know all the fad about social media like yes. I’m still very social and very up on social media. The thing is it doesn’t drive sales for the majority of business out there. It’s it’s a it’s a brand awareness it’s how to stay in touch and contact but it’s not going to drive sales organic search conversions and sales all the time because you’re dealing with somebody who’s searching for They’re saying

they have a problem and they’re looking for your business and your ability to solve. And so you just need to get in front of them and boom you have a new client.

That’s great. Those are some really good. It’s interesting because I don’t know a lot about a CEO and an end of the world.

And so that’s very very interesting to hear how that’s approached Of course in other writing and it’s very interesting how those things fit together and the fact that you know that ACL does seem like the people who are involved on a daily basis with their CEO or of their own agencies or whatnot.

It is like to me it always seems sort of like this. I thought of it a way that you spoke about it which was like the last 10 percent you know whereas I also I’m familiar with a bunch of franchisees tactical exactly like this like you know Larry stuff. Exactly like almost like this. Well of course and that doesn’t help that you see that stuff you do see often. Like you said or is focused on that 10 percent. And also you see a ton of stuff where people were like selling back links or or doing the love the blackout stuff I guess.

Yeah and backplanes is the sketchiest place.

You know like I don’t we don’t even advertise that we sell back links like because we don’t we you know we bring you warm leads by increasing your rank through battleaxe and really great content. And so it’s you know we actually talk about we sell the skyscraper know technique as a done for you process is I’ll teach that technique all day long a because I learned it from a public space from Brian Dean overpacked Langkow and like we learned it we tried it on a few clients we found out what worked and what didn’t work. And it’s amazing how many of our clients have tried some form of this process and they come back to us and they’re just

like I don’t have the time or it didn’t work. What did I do wrong. And because we’ve been doing it for over a year now it’s very easy for me to pick apart a skyscraper campaign and to say listen your content was too focused on this or you know it’s just not link worthy whereas like you know and then your outreach sucked for this reason or you just didn’t do enough of it. And that’s I mean it is a lot of work. We send out at least 1000 e-mails a day. And so to give you you know some sort of context there. And that’s

half of our capacity. We could be sending 2000 e-mails a day. You know based on our current staff structure size and that’s just like we need to send out that many because the conversion rate is so low. Yes we could do it differently and send out one really really really personalized e-mail you know really get to know that person and all that but it doesn’t scale. And so in our situation what we did is we took that technique and we said how can we make this scale. And and it’s hard work. I mean I can tell you what my stuff comes to me every day like I’m behind on my little cards you know and so yeah I know it’s just a lot of work

to do. But we you know we get it done and it you know it’s it’s it’s gold because so many people are selling this technical Allessio stuff. And then there’s the scammers in the black hat link building and link buying stuff and it’s like no in reality anybody can acquire links. You could sit down right now and think of 10 or 15 people who own a web site or manage a Web site who you could convince in some way shape or form to link to you. You might have to write a different piece of content or a different article. It might instead of being focused on you know your drone product that you’re selling you might focus on marketing or you

might focus on digital nomadism or something like that. But you know that there are ways that you can create content you can do something on your website that you could ask 10 to 15 people to link back to you know just do that every month and you have just as much success as what we’re providing. But it’s a lot of work and people don’t do it.

And so people out there want to get in touch with Polydor nomad together. MDO while some show notes include a bunch of links things are pertinent for people to get involved and I just want to thank you all for coming on the show because this has been one of my favorites.

Awesome. Well David it’s been a joy to talk to you and through all the internet woes because know I still do live in a developing world. It is still amazing.

So if you don’t feel fine. I’ve done podcasts from a parking lot of a parking lot. And I hear you.

So thanks for having me and thanks for letting me be an inspiration because you know if we can just get the word out there that you can do it whatever it is you want to do. You really can. Now is the time.

Awesome. Hang on the line there for a sec Paul for everybody else of course will be back. Edition the podcast and hopefully we’ll have another world beater like Paul and his family to talk about the interesting things we did today.

Until then

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