By GREGORY ZELLER //
Philip Smith follows plenty of leads.
It makes sense the Port Jefferson native and lifelong Suffolk County resident would land in the lead-generation business. Smith is a true entrepreneurial detective, more apt to study a problem than to charge ahead, always picking up clues to unravel the bigger mystery.
It’s evident throughout his tactical business career. After earning an online degree from the University of Phoenix, the then-23-year-old started his first company in 1998: We Link You Internet Services, which first thought to capitalize on the dial-up Internet boom but later partnered with another startup, Ezzi.net, and refocused on webhosting.
Under the Ezzi brand, the Internet Service Provider was sold in 2006 to New York City-based holding corporation Access Integrated Technologies, with Ezzi founder Ali Dhoon along for the ride. Smith, meanwhile, kept the We Link You brand tucked away, while joining the ranks of Melville’s FalconStor Software.
If his first startup gave him vital clues about flexibility and quick acquisitions, his work at FalconStor convinced Smith to go it alone.
“My goal was to work from home, no boss, no employees,” he told Innovate LI. “Just have the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted.”
Smith revived We Link You and, like many would-be solopreneurs, turned to digital marketing. Focused mainly on local businesses, the restarted startup in 2010 caught the attention of Canrock Ventures Co-Founder and Managing Partner Jim Estill, who made an offer.
Granting himself a temporary home-or-bust reprieve, Smith joined Canrock, essentially shutting down We Link You again and working with Estill to create full-service search-engine optimization platform SEOPledge. Mineola-based digital advertising agency Didit would acquire SEOPledge in 2013, and this time Smith returned home with more vital clues about his ultimate professional destiny.
“The whole reason I went to Canrock was the experience,” he noted. “The knowledge I would learn from someone like Jim Estill.
“I learned a ton from him.”
Left again to his own devices, and further educated by his SEO exposure, Smith determined that his next adventure would be lead generation. Digital marketing had been good to him, he noted, but “I started realizing the digital-marketing space is very resource-intensive.”
“You have to find clients,” Smith said. “You have to meet with them. You have to provide resources.
“If you want to remain a one-person company, you’re extremely limited,” he added. “I could only have five to eight clients, and how much can you really charge?”
That wouldn’t do for Smith, whose ambition to work on his own terms is matched only by his ambition to break the bank. Finally, the true mystery was revealed: how to bust through the typical solopreneur ceiling, without bursting the one-man bubble.
At Canrock, he’d begun reading up on emerging lead-generation opportunities, and while Estill et al weren’t interested, now that he was flying solo again, Smith “literally dropped everything and said, ‘I’m going to give it a shot.’”
Naturally, he took the scenic route.
“I knew I wanted to be the actual lead generator,” Smith noted. “But I knew I had to take the steps to get to the point – to learn the industry from the ground up.”
Step one: flipping leads, essentially serving as a broker between lead buyers and lead sellers. It was a lot of footwork for the entrepreneurial gumshoe, who learned the ropes by contacting lead generators and brokering deals with clients “in all different verticals.”
Another vital clue soon emerged when Smith noticed demand rising for business-loan leads. But not traditional bank loans: Smith recognized a spike in the Merchant Cash Advance sector, a variety of small-business financing options featuring short payment terms – generally two years or less – and small regular payments (often daily) as opposed to larger monthly payments and longer terms associated with traditional bank loans.
Smith focused his broker business in that direction and it “worked very well,” particularly when it came to establishing relationships with commercial lenders. But when he brokered leads from a California seller who didn’t deliver and the buyer “flipped out,” Smith was reminded again of his “do it yourself” mantra.
“You build a product or service out of necessity,” the entrepreneur noted. “You can’t find anyone else to do it well, so you do it yourself.”
Just six months into his lead-generation experiment, he’d gathered enough evidence to take a critical step. Starting with a modest purchase of “aged data” – six-month-old leads – and a basic outbound dialer system, Smith was ready to generate and sell his own leads.
“It took me almost a year to learn the business, grow on the inside and get where I wanted to be,” he said, but once he got there, business boomed.
Smith, who officially started generating his own leads in December 2014, estimates that his first-month revenues exceeded $71,000. Marking his three-year lead-generation anniversary this month, the entrepreneur says his best single month to date exceeded $294,000 in revenues.
Officially re-launched as PJP Marketing in 2015, Smith’s one-man enterprise claimed $1.57 million in 2015 revenues and $1.62 million in 2016 revenues, and “should hit $2 million (in 2017 revenues) by the end of this month, no problem,” the founder said.
For Smith, the financial success is almost secondary to solving the mystery of how to succeed in business – seven-digit style – without really leaving your pajamas. But of course, the financial success ain’t too shabby, either.
And there’s always room for more, when you think like Smith, who’s “jumped into the e-learning space” with a series of online training programs designed to impart his do-it-yourself wisdom.
Marketed since July under the Philip F. Smith brand and IWorkInMyJams.com (with a national infomercial in the works for 2018), the courses are designed not only to help others learn the path to self-employment nirvana, but to help Smith personally overcome what he has sleuthed out as the “one negative” of lead-generation: scalability.
“OK, I hit $2 million,” he said. “So, how do I get to five or 10, without hiring 20 people?
“It’s very new to me and kind of scary, being in the public eye,” Smith added. “But it’s the only way to grow the brand.”
PJP Marketing / Philip F. Smith
What’s It? Uber-successful lead-generation one-man-band
Brought To You By: Philip Smith, the Philip Marlowe of solopreneurs
Status: Feeding your take-this-job-and-shove-it dreams, one revenue-record-shattering month at a time