Success Story: GoHighlevel for an SEO Agency

Bruno Souza is an SEO marketer for companies in some of the most competitive niches: CBD, Tech, and Home Improvement. In 2019, he added GoHighlevel to his agency and loves to share, educate, and train new GoHighlevel users on how they can build their own Freedom Businesses.

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2019 was the year when everything almost fell apart.

I had been working 14-16 hour days for the past couple of months trying to grow my SEO agency through local client retainers. 

I was out of shape, I couldn’t sleep, I had no hobbies, the bills were piling up on the kitchen table, and I was on the verge of shutting down the company. 

The thing is, our SEO agency was making some money, but not enough to justify the stress, and it certainly wasn’t going like I imagined it would when I set out to become an entrepreneur.

Nowadays, things are quite different. I live the “laptop lifestyle” now. 

The SEO agency runs almost entirely on autopilot. I was able to buy my first exotic car. I paid off all my debt. I finally have the time to do the things I love: travel, workout, stay at nice hotels, invest in assets, and eat high-quality food both at home and at restaurants. And most importantly, I’ve been able to take care of the people around me: I gave my little sister a car and helped my parents pay their mortgage.

So, how did things change over the last two years? What took a struggling SEO agency and transformed it into a juggernaut, currently partnered with multiple national brands, working on 7 and 8-figure projects?

The answer: I changed the way I thought about an SEO business.

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Rethinking the SEO Model

Instead of offering SEO in exchange for a monthly retainer, I used it to build passive-income-producing assets: lead generation websites.

Back then, I did not understand just how the retainer model had been holding my agency back. Before moving on to the lead generation section, let’s break down retainers, as chances are, it’s what you’re selling right now.

The Retainer Model Paradox

To grow an agency through retainers, you need to be constantly bringing in new clients. So let’s go over what it looks like to do that successfully.

When you’re starting out, you have a lot of time, but not much money. Thus, you can spend most of your time farming for clients. So let’s say you pick up some clients. Your money goes up, and now because you have to fulfill for that client, your time goes down.

Now, you have less time to spend farming for clients, but you keep chugging along anyway. You pick up a few more clients, and then you hit the plateau where most of your time is spent fulfilling instead of bringing in clients.

This is the retainer model paradox: the more clients you take on, the less time you have to increase your revenue.

That is, unless you are a master of developing systems and building teams.

So, let’s say you are a master of systems, or maybe you’re trying things out as you go.

The Challenge of Scaling with Retainers

The next logical step is to start hiring.

A business tends to have three core departments: Marketing -> Sales -> Fulfillment.

The first department you start hiring for is going to be fulfillment to free up your time.

You start outsourcing and creating systems to automate your fulfillment process (p.s., if you’re stuck below $10k/mo, this is how you break that plateau).

With something as complex and ever-changing as SEO, it can take months to build out the right teams capable of proper audits, on-page optimization, schema implementation, GMB optimization, citation/social creation, site-sculpting, and backlink building.

The takeaway from this is that building a system for just one of the business cores is already a monumental task.

If this was a lead-generation agency, you could stop there.

But because you’re trying to grow through retainers, in order to increase your income, you need more clients. In order to get more clients, you need marketing + sales to be just as dialed in as fulfillment.

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The Solution: Pay Per Performance

What if you could increase your income without having to take on more clients? You could just bypass having to build a marketing or sales department altogether. You could effectively stop at building out your fulfillment team.

The goal of a pay-per-performance model is to increase your passive income by building digital assets that you own while having as few clients as possible, with as high of a budget as possible.

What this practically looks like for most people is to start a lead generation business working with local companies and then transitioning into working with whales (national lead buyers).

Why Pay Per Performance

Simply put, pay-per-performance is the most efficient offer you can make to a cold prospect and thus the easiest type of deal to close.

Pay per performance is low risk, requires little commitment, generates clear MONETARY results for the client, and won’t limit your income to the number of clients you work with.

Compare that to an SEO contract which has high commitment, high risk (because, let’s face it, pretty much a low-quality SEO agency has burned every business owner), unclear monetary results (you can’t guarantee X leads, or even calculate an ROI for the client), you don’t retain any of the work you do or assets you build (they belong to the client) and worst of all, your income is tied to the number of clients you work with.

And so the solution is pay-per-appointment lead generation.

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Switching to Pay Per Performance

If you go up to a business owner and say “Hey, I’m going to book appointments for your business, and all I want is a cut of what I make you,” you’re essentially offering them the best deal possible. 

There’s no risk to them; the results are clearly defined with a predictable ROI, and almost no commitment is needed from the client. It makes it extremely easy to get a “yes”.

In the past, this model would have two core problems:

  1. What happens if the client leaves?
  2. Small business owners don’t have the best closing rate on leads.

Luckily, we have something that solves these factors: HighLevel.

Scaling from Local to National – The Blueprint

My first SEO business around 2017/2018 was appointment booking for plumbers. We had the #1 rankings for plumbers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Phoenix, and Las Vegas despite working on an extremely tight budget and battling against the industry titans like Roto Rooter and Rooter Hero.

We spent 2-3 months building and ranking the websites for each city and then about a week finding buyers for the leads being generated.

Our first buyers were small local businesses and we dealt with the two core problems mentioned above, firsthand.

Some clients left, others we fired. But virtually all of the small businesses had sub-par operations (no 24/7 service, administrators that sounded like they had a permanent hangover, no follow-up, etc…).

However, after 6 months, we were generating enough leads that they could all be sold to a single national company: e-local.

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Advantages of Working with National Brands

Working with a national brand gave us a ton of advantages:

  1. Increased Income without More Buyers: If we wanted to make more money, we didn’t have to find more buyers. We could just put up more websites, in more cities, and “fulfill more,” resulting in a direct increase in income.
  2. Stable Operations: National brands have their systems dialed in – they’re excellent closers, always answer the phone, and track ROI. If the ROI is positive, they will never cancel on you. This leads to a stable and reliable source of passive income.
  3. Timely Payments: They would always pay on time and without any issues.
  4. Minimal Communication Required: They required little to no communication from us other than us sending over the monthly call log/invoice.
  5. Asset Ownership: They were completely fine with us keeping our assets/websites, and thus if they ever left, we still maintained the lead sources and would just need to find another set of buyers.

When we eventually switched to e-local as a buyer instead of small businesses, e-local paid significantly less per lead, but, because their systems were dialed in, and they closed more deals than small clients, we were actually making more money. 

Additionally, the income was now truly passive as it required little to no communication with clients, and did not require a marketing department, an onboarding team, or a sales team.

Leveraging HighLevel for Success

Even before HighLevel, this model was a success. But GoHighlevel is what inspired us to transition from a retainer model to a pay-per-performance model in 2019 when our SEO agency was struggling.

In 2019, when we re-launched this model, the GoHighlevel suite gave us access to solutions we could never afford before. These GHL solutions made the initial starting phase of our lead-gen project far more profitable and way less painful compared to the first lead-gen business I had launched in the plumbing space.

And while, back then, we had to do lead gen the hard way, you’ll get to do it the easy way now, through GoHighlevel.

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The Payoff – TRUE Passive Income

After restructuring our SEO agency and implementing the lead generation model with GoHighlevel, the results were clear. We had shifted from a business constantly chasing clients and fighting for retainer renewals to a well-oiled machine generating passive income through digital marketing and lead generation.

By focusing on building and ranking lead-generation websites and using GoHighlevel’s automation tools, we created a scalable and sustainable income stream. Our SEO agency evolved from a struggling business into a powerhouse capable of handling multiple national clients and consistently producing significant revenue.

The Takeaway

The transformation of our SEO agency didn’t happen overnight. 

It required a strategic shift in mindset, adopting new models like pay per-performance, and leveraging powerful SEO agency tools like HighLevel.

If you’re a local SEO agency or an SEO marketing agency owner looking to break free from the retainer model, consider the power of lead generation and the marketing agency tools available to you.

While my story might be powerful enough to entice you to take the plunge with HighLevel, I understand you might still be hesitating. 

Thankfully, HighLevel offers a 14-day free trial that allows you to explore its tools in-depth at virtually no risk! Click here to get started.

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