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Bill Sebald Interview – Founder & Managing Partner of Greenlane Search Marketing

Today we have selected Bill Sebald to take his Interview. He is the Founder & Managing Partner of Greenlane Search Marketing LLC.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

We followed the safety guidelines and mandates and began working exclusively from home. We are still exclusively working from home (despite having an office lease to cover). Greenlane is very lucky to have a great team and clients. Every single one of us supported each other through the hardest moments. We are one of the fortunate companies who weathered the storm and stayed profitable. As difficult as it has been, I believe we have become an even closer family.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company.

I always wanted to own my own business. After finishing college, I bounced around looking for an industry that spoke to me. I tinkered in design, printing, IT, the music business, and banking. Finally, I found eCommerce. eBay had begun operations, and I enjoyed selling online. This led to learning digital marketing.

Instead of Grad School, I studied digital marketing every night. I was coming into my late 20’s and quite concerned I hadn’t found my career, so I was extremely motivated to learn. I built, broke, fixed, and promoted websites as experiments. I consumed everything and put it into practice. After a few years, I was confident enough to start consulting on digital marketing. My biggest break came with a job at GSI Commerce. I was suddenly in the big leagues working on brands like NFL, Toys R Us, and many other marquee names.

I was always watching and studying the leaders of my different jobs. In hindsight, some were good. Some were poor. I took mental notes. After six years at GSI, I felt I had the experience, knowledge, and opinions to create my own company and build one that had a valuable service offering. My digital marketing agency, Greenlane, is an offshoot of GSI with our own adjustments. It’s the culmination of everything I had been through to date.

How does your company innovate?

The backbone of the company was an innovation. We found a different way of delivering a service. In a consulting position, we understand our role is to help companies reach their business goals. But we knew to be successful, we needed to find a way to be more engaged with our clients. We deprioritized internal scaling for a higher-quality output. The first five years were hard—a lot of work. But we eventually figured out how to balance our own profitability while generating profit for our clients.  In time, we grew our reputation for good work. Now 8 years later, our number one driver of new business is referrals from our past customers.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

The biggest problem was uncertainty with our clients. We weren’t sure how they were going to fare. We lost a few brick-and-mortar clients immediately, but our eCommerce clients stayed. In fact, they grew because people were now relying more on eCommerce. New business all but stopped for about five months. But the new business leads (as of this writing) are higher today than they have been in the last few years.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

My partner and I always agreed to keep plenty of money in the business in an emergency. Even our accountant thought we were holding more cash than we needed to. We weren’t rushing our own wealth. We started the company without financial help, and we wanted to weather any storm without financial help. Granted, the pandemic was an emergency we didn’t fully plan for, but we were able to cover salaries and avoid layoffs. I believe mistakes and failure is a great teacher, but in this case, a smart practice played out to be a great teacher as well. We trust in ourselves more, and we are more confident about the decisions we made.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

We didn’t invest in tools or software for help. But we did immediately stop to take inventory of everyone’s feelings, fears, pressures, and so on. We were all frightened, and we chose to be transparent. We are a people business, so there was really no other choice but to support our people. They, in turn, supported us as owners. We truly felt we were all in this together, and I think in hindsight, that was a very important feeling during this pandemic.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

We have competitors of all shapes and sizes, from big agencies to small design firms that promote digital marketing talents. But while they could be seen as a “jack of all trades, master of none,” we are focused on only a few areas where we are truly masters. This has served us very well. An early concern was whether brands would want to work with a small digital marketing shop. But we found that even Fortune 500 companies were calling us. They didn’t care about our size because they saw us as an alternative to what they were dissatisfied with. In the same way, Greenlane became a company built as an alternative to what we were dissatisfied with.

Your final thoughts

I am beyond lucky for my team and my clients. I feel like I owe them more than just helping us operate a functional business. I owe them for helping bring all my years of work to a place of absolute security. And for that, I am loyal and always trying to repay them.

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