Brad Smith is the founder and CEO of Codeless, a content production company whose content has been highlighted by The New York Times, Business Insider, The Next Web, and thousands more. He is also the cofounder of uSERP, a digital PR company that helps connect its clients with leading SaaS, eCommerce, SEO, tech, business, and marketing sites to boost brand authority. Fast.
- CEO Hack: Getting other people to execute on my idea and make it better
- CEO Nugget: Simplify your life and don’t over-think where you are
- CEO Defined: Being comfortable at being bad at best
Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place, Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you are in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.
Gresham Harkless 0:29
Hello, hello. Hello, this is Gresh from me, I am CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. Brad Smith of colas. Brad, it's awesome to have you on the show.
Brad Smith 0:38
Gresh looking forward to
Gresham Harkless 0:40
no problem super excited to have you on and before we jump in, I want to read a little bit more about Brad's here about all the awesome things that he's doing. And Brad is the founder and CEO of colis, a content production company whose content has been highlighted by the New York Times Business Insider, The Next Web and 1000s more. He's a co founder of usurp a digital PR company that helps connect his clients with leading SaaS, e commerce, SEO tech, business and marketing sites to boost brand authority. Fast. Brad, are you ready to speak to the SEO community?
Brad Smith 1:08
Yes, we'll be gone.
Gresham Harkless 1:09
Let's do it. So to kick everything off, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit here a little bit more on how you got started, can you take us through when I call your CEO story, we'll let you get start with the business.
Brad Smith 1:19
Gresham Harkless 3:07
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I'm having visions of like a phoenix rising up and being renovated. It's something completely new. But no, I think there's absolutely awesome. You know, because I think as you said, like, it's almost feels like a cheat in the way that people are looking for stuff. And to kind of always say, skate to where the puck is not to where the puck is gonna be. And kind of seeing where people are searching for stuff, how they're searching for stuff. And and because SEO could be so broad, having that ability to be able to kind of niche down and do what you do best is is pretty awesome.
Brad Smith 3:33
For sure, yeah, it creates a lot of problems too, when you're trying to do too much. So you don't want to hire you don't know how to work on messaging for what your company does, and how you sell and it affects pricing, because you're competing with all the other media agencies be doing something like copycat. And so yeah, just there's this trickle down effect that you don't really realize until you go through it. And I was really focused on number one enjoying my life. So now I'm like sitting here in tank top in Palm Springs during this interview, which is fine and often do all the drudgery anymore. But the other part of that was like I want to be really, really good at what we're doing and stand behind it. And I don't want to sell something or work on something I don't believe in either. So we need to be extremely good at whatever we're gonna do.
Gresham Harkless 4:09
Yeah, and a lot of times, the best way to do that is to be able to kind of hunker down and focus. So I absolutely love that. So I know I touched on it a little bit when I read your bio you did as well, too. Can you take us through exactly what that niche is? how exactly are you running? colusa? How do you support the client you
Brad Smith 4:22
work with? Yeah, definitely. We're kind of like a weird hybrid of like a content marketing agency, but also like a publisher, because we do a lot of high volume stuff. And so I like to say we do content production. And what that means is, usually when clients hire us, we have like a team of people working on their accounts. So we have writers, editors, strategy people, account managers, designers, there's usually at least like four to five people on each account. And we do somewhere around 250 articles a month. And so we're talking 1000s of articles a year and we were doing that now for several years. And so I depending on the industry you're in we tend to work a lot of competitive industries. So tech finances cybersecurity, and especially when there's like venture capital, or like huge amounts of money coming in to some of these companies, and they need to grow extremely quickly, that usually means they usually translate into, they need to do a ton of stuff to get that flywheel of customer acquisition moving quickly. And they don't have time to wait around. So they don't have time to just do three average blog posts a month, they need to they need like this machine to come get built in their organization. And that's essentially what we do. And that's kind of how we're a little different from like, a team of freelancers, or, and that's kind of like a hybrid approach of managing in house versus externally or, or other agencies who might be really good. But focus one strategy, not an execution, we're kind of like somewhere in the middle of entropy, like, Oh,
Gresham Harkless 5:39
yeah, that makes so much sense. And I love that. It sounds like you already kind of have the the machine built, so to speak. And it sounds like you can kind of plug into the teams that already are looking to get that that that boost in their brand, their publicity and everything all extremely fast.
Brad Smith 5:54
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So we like Like I said, we've been doing it now for a couple while and kind of perfecting it. We just did 70 articles for one company in like two half weeks. With very little kind of like front end, onboarding and stuff, it was very much like, you got to just jump into it and keep moving. And so the only way we're able to do that, because we already have the network of writers and how to structure content of templates and really build things to scale. And again, have the people in place you have editors focused on what they're good at your writers focus on what they're good at, you don't have people getting pulled into production. So it is very much like this, this detailed process and collection system that we then can go in and modify for each client.
Gresham Harkless 6:34
Yeah, and that's absolutely huge. Because that definitely sounds like everybody's in their their zone of genius, so to speak, they get an opportunity to really focus, as you mentioned, that you're not kind of pulling in different directions as each member can be when you're trying to do you know, 10 different things. It allows you to really niche down and be able to kind of crank out I guess a lot of times and or whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish.
Brad Smith 6:52
Yeah, definitely. So one of the early ideas that I took was from was how professional restaurants are organized. So you have different people working different stations, you have one person working kind of the line. And I think that when it comes out, it's very much like a hierarchy or not, not a hierarchy, in a sense of like, a ton of managers are very flat and horizontal and people kind of like manage themselves to a large degree but but there, there is very much a let's find out what people are good at, and then just have them do that. So our internal writers produce way more than any in house writers neutrally do other companies. And part of that, because we tell them, like you don't use it on slack all day, you don't need to email us You don't need to email clients, you don't need to get the fellow clients like we, that's the account managers role. So we really try to structure everything. And on the commandment size. And other agencies, account managers or project managers often just like email people and harass people, they don't actually like know what's going on, they don't actually know or understand like, things are at this phase, and there'll be done by this stage, or they will answer client questions, I really want to make sure like, how we structure things is very important because it and the people we hire and everything else, it just makes everything much clearer and simpler. And ultimately, it means we're able to produce better stuff for clients and make them happier, hopefully, and it takes a lot of time. There's errors.
Gresham Harkless 8:05
Yeah, absolutely. Kind of definitely reminds me of the book, The E myth. And I don't know if you've ever seen the Netflix movie, the founder, where it kind of talks about the beginning of McDonald's and how he created a system so that people were doing exactly what it is that they were kind of focused on doing their best and doing it starts to create this kind of streamline approach to be able to kind of serve the client at the best possible ability.
Brad Smith 8:26
Yeah, definitely. So I've been self employed for like, almost around 10 years or something like that. And the first like six I did it wrong. So for the last like so yeah, it very much was a product of like doing it wrong, not understanding why couldn't scale not understanding why clients were happy when I when I thought we had all the things in place. And so it was very much like learning lessons the hard way, and then tearing it down to the studs and kind of rebuilding it in the right way. And then that's when things take off. And I think it's a byproduct of telling you, you're in the right direction. Does that make sense? So? Yeah, very much. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way.
Gresham Harkless 9:00
Yeah, absolutely. it's sometimes hard to do that, especially when we had the train rolling a certain way, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to tear to the stairs, as you said, and rebuild something that's even bigger and better and more effective and efficient. And so I want to ask you now for what I call your secret sauce, and this could be for you personally, or your business or a combination of both. But what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?
Brad Smith 9:20
I think our extreme kind of specialization doesn't work has worked really well for us. So when I found success with with scaling codeless and taking something really difficult, like quality content, which can be subjective, and scaling it, we took a very simple approach of like, we're just going to do one type of content. We're just going to work for one type of clients or one type of industry. And we're gonna have that means we're gonna hire one type of writer. And so it got and we're only gonna have one rate structure, like I got very started out is very, very, very, very narrow and specialized. And it's adjusted as we've grown because the team is bigger and can handle more diversity, a sense of like, you know, being able to tackle the challenge So we can do different types of content. Now we can work in different industries. But a lot of things are still holding true where like, we don't have a fast writer right? Now, we got to hire just finance writers or finance. And so we, we still try to hold a lot of those specializations in this thing in place. Because at the end of the day, it does, it is what helps make us somewhat unique, even against other kind of direct competitors. But what we do and why we do it is very different. And sometimes we often don't do things that they do, too. So you're bringing up a bunch of good book examples. But another one here is like blue ocean strategy, where it's like, the things we're going to do similarly to competitors, or the rest of the market. These things we're gonna drop a knife and worry about, and the things we're going to take to some extreme OCD level and charge like way more than most people do. And and if you do it, right, and if you are constantly iterating, based on the feedback and the feedback from customers and the results you're getting, then then it becomes a lot easier over time.
Gresham Harkless 10:55
Absolutely love that. And I wanted to switch gears a little bit. And I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app or book or habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?
Brad Smith 11:05
Definitely. So I'll try to list a couple things on my head. One of them for sure, would be getting better and processes the system. I a lot of people in this line of work anyway, I think they are really good at like what they do. They're not like met like middle managers who just like, push paper all day. And so I was like, I liked writing. I like doing SEO, I like I got really good at those, like, critical kind of parts. But what always held me back for a long time was understanding how do I work through other people. But today, I like don't do any real work. I just feel on the phone all day. But how do I how do I get other people to do like execute on my idea and then build on it. So make it better, without me having to get involved and diving into the weeds of everything. And so even though we're a smaller company, it's still very much like that, where I'm not really involved in like the day to day thing. And so usually processing systems come back through like the email you mentioned, work the system is another really good one.
Gresham Harkless 12:01
Absolutely love that. And so now I want to ask you for what I call a CEO nugget. And this could be a word of wisdom or a piece of advice, it might be something you would tell a client or if you happen to a time machine, you might tell your younger self.
Brad Smith 12:12
I think sometimes people especially founders, and CEOs need to stop over complicating things. And so a lot of times we have these grand ambitions, that we're really in no place to execute. And we don't have the team, the time the money, like all the things. A lot of times too, though, I think we try to overcomplicate things. And so for example, when I was originally started an agency A long time ago was very different. And we worked with clients in different industries, they had tried to deliver different services and we tried to, and then you, you read about all the agencies that grow fast are the ones that are really good, or the other types of service, you know, the best like advice from service professionals, and they're always talking about like, well, you should specialize more. And then you go, Oh, yeah, I should specialize more and then don't do it. Because you're like, Oh, well, I still kind of like we're gonna travel and retail and because it's kind of fun, because you're like, but it's not how you go like a successful business. That's how you, that's cool. If that's if your approach is one thing, if your approach is, I want to I want to do the work myself, I want to stay small, I want to add another run with that. But if you're trying to get a protocol to build on that on the team on a scale, you need to get out of your own way. Again, you need to get your own head and just listen to other people and do what they're telling you. And even if it's parts. So a lot of times I think we especially founders and CEOs are like very optimistic people. So it's very easy for us to lie to ourselves about things and say it's gonna be better tomorrow, or it's just that one client would have signed, or that one prospect would have signed or if whatever this one thing would have been different than everything will be great. And oh yeah, next month, like whatever record month, sometimes you just need to kind of like accept reality a little more, and simplify your life a little more, and don't overthink kind of where you're at.
Gresham Harkless 13:53
definitely appreciate that nugget. And so now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. And we're hoping to have different quote unquote, CEOs on the show. So Brad, what does being a CEO mean to you,
Brad Smith 14:03
you have to be comfortable with being bad at stuff. So a lot of times in most companies in most organizations if you get good at something, but there or they promote you in that little space, and it makes total sense because like if you're good at something and you do more of it and typically the company's you know, whatever makes more money.
Gresham Harkless 14:22
Brad truly appreciate that definition. I appreciate your time even more when I wanted to do with passion, that mic so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional you can let our readers and listeners know and of course how best they can get out of you and find out about all the awesome things you and team are working on.
Brad Smith 14:35
Yeah, definitely. So our code let's get covid.com as I mentioned we do production. How did you find me on LinkedIn I believe my username on that read was called is bs marketer for my initials. bs and the Yeah, the best way is usually get a hold of me having to talk about all kinds of stuff cuz I think what happens I want I wanted to jump on this because I think a lot of times, founders and Stories, everything you hear is geared towards, like, the success and the extremes, and is usually not reality. And so I like talking about this kind of stuff that other people don't talk about a sense of how people actually gotten those points without glossing over, like all the gory details and just focusing on like, the fun, shiny stuff that happened after 10 years. It's like when you read a biography, and they talk about like this kid going growing up through high school, through college, and then all of a sudden, you fast forward, like when they're 40. And you're like, wait, what the hell happened in the middle? How they go from, like, new college, graduate to, you know, multi million dollars a year, whatever. So, so yeah, I think I think it's important that people focus and kind of explain how it really is because it is really difficult and you know, like, don't always have that a compass where you're not exactly sure what direction you're supposed to go in. So I'm always happy to chat in detail about this stuff. Well, I
Gresham Harkless 15:52
definitely appreciate that Brad, we will have the links and information in the show notes and you're absolutely right, because there's so many times you don't know if you're going the right way, because you never see that aspect of people's stories. And so I appreciate you for being transparent for talking about you know, the struggles because I usually say life isn't all sunshine and rainbows and business definitely is not either, because there's definitely a lot of ups and downs and, and topsy turvy retiree times for sure. So I appreciate you for reminding us of that remind us of how that is the way to kind of get towards success and I appreciate you again and I hope you have a great rest of the day.
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