Reprint from Ami Magazine TalkII Weekly Insights From Business Leaders By Nesanel Gantzi
Name: Joe Apfelbaum
Specialty: Online marketing
Company founded: 2008
Position: Co-founder and CEO
Background: Joe Apfelbaum is the CEO of Ajax Union, a comprehensive online marketing company specializing in SEO and PPC optimization. Within only a few years of its inception, Ajax Union has grown from its two founders to over 70 employees, and was recently ranked 178th fastest growing company in America by Inc. magazine. Joe has been featured on Fox Business Network and Fox Business News, and was selected by Google as a Certified Google Trainer. He hosts a free weekly video seminar on Growtime.tv where he teaches the budding entrepreneur “how to go from average Joe to CEO.” He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Chanie (author of busyinbrooklyn.com, a popular blog with many Shabbos recipes), and his children, Nechama, Esther and Ari.
How is Ajax Union different from other online marketing companies?
Ajax Union is an online marketing company that helps other companies grow by giving them exposure using the Internet. We use engine optimization and PPC (pay per click) programs to help a business show up on the first “search results” page of Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. A company needs to generate traffic from the right type of potential clients, not simply general traffic, and we work to provide that. We also do reputation management.
Why the name “Ajax Union?”
“A” stands for Allan, my partner (Allan/Zevi Friedman); “J” stands for Joe; and “X” represents the client—
our slogan is: “Its all about the X.” So it reads, “Allan, Joe And X.”
Why did you decide to go into this business?
Thirteen years ago, I was learning in Arad in Eretz Yisrael when someone asked me to build a website for his organization. I learned some HTML coding, how to use Photoshop, and I built a website. I did it for fun and I did it for free. I worked for the website AskMoses.com and I started getting job offers on the side, so I started charging. Five years ago, I met my current partner, Zevi Friedman, who had 15 years of marketing experience. We were a good fit and started a company … literally in a large closet with two desks. We wanted to help people, and never expected to become a massive company with 70 employees.
What do you think was the turning point in your success?
Two points. One, I’d try advertising in all types of venues: for example, setting up a table at trade expos.
I wouldn’t necessarily spend a lot of money at once. We would then invest in what worked. When it rains,
you might not gather a lot of water if you have just one cup, but if you have many cups, you’ll get some water in each. Also, you’ll see which cup got the most water and invest in that one.
The second thing that got us over the hump was hiring a salesman to increase sales. Most business owners want to do sales themselves; they look at a salesman as the last piece in the puzzle once the business is running smoothly. That’s a big mistake. We hired salespeople to sell, while we focused on the actual running of the business. It’s the same online—people plan to market after they have a gorgeous site. We say, spend 5% of your time on the site, and 95% marketing it.
Did you have a particular obstacle when you started out?
We didn’t think big. We didn’t expect or plan on growing into a multimillion-dollar company. It was hard
to handle our growth in the beginning because we weren’t mentally prepared for it. Now we shoot for the stars.
Does every business website need SEO or PPC?
You don’t make money from a website; you make money from a business. Every business needs customers and exposure, especially with an online business. If you sell challah online, you want your site to come up first. That’s what SEO and PPC are for.
Does it always work? Can you guarantee success?
If you’re with us several months, you’ll see success. I tell new clients that you have to have a USP, a “Unique Selling Proposition,” a competitive advantage that makes your company unique. We get to know your business intimately; we become your partner. We’re completely transparent and show you exactly what we do and how we do it. Marketing is about testing, period. You learn what works and what doesn’t. Since all our plans are month-to-month, we can see what works and decide whether to continue it or not. We work with you, not simply for you, to help your company grow. We help identify your long-term goals. I remember when we took a local cheese company from 600 “likes” on Facebook to 60,000—this helped tremendously.
How much does one need to spend on online marketing for his or her business?
It depends. A good general rule is that you have to invest l0-25% of how much you plan on making. If you want to make $100,000, prepare to invest $25,000. Also, I feel every online business should invest 35% of its monthly revenue in online marketing.
Can every successful brick-and-mortar store also be successful online?
Absolutely. Obviously it depends on certain factors such as shipping costs, but in general you can. We helped a local pizza shop that had started shipping pizza and was successful within a year.
How do you deal with work stress?
I exercise. If you want energy and to lower your stress levels, go for a walk, a run, get your heart rate up. The other thing I do is write a journal. You can’t say everything you think, but you can write it down.
People say they can’t afford to market online.
That’s like saying you can’t afford to grow your business. Maybe the answer is you don’t want to grow your business. I’ve had a client tell me he wanted to increase sales by only l0%, so that’s what we did. Additionally, if you don’t have money, then you have time, and time is money.
How does “time is money” apply to the growth of a business?
You either have your time or your money. If you don’t have money to grow your business, then use your time to learn how to do it yourself. That’s why there are successful businesses with many partners—because they put in their time, which is worth money.
What is the best piece of advice for someone looking to start an online business?
Find something people want to buy, get it at a good price and get as many customers as you can. Use SEO, use email marketing … make sure you’re “out there.” Have passion in what you do and spend time learning to grow your business. At the end of the day, I try to do the best I can in business but the most important thing to me is my Yiddishket. Business takes a backseat when it comes to Yiddishkeit.