IT’s the dream of many 20-something’s to launch a successful start-up and tick that winning business venture off their bucket list.

Brisbane duo Nic Blair and Michael Bell, 28 and 30 respectively, are making that dream a reality.

However, their journey hasn’t been without setbacks – eight to be exact.

Motivation and mateship carried the university friends through a journey of eight failed businesses before they landed on Search Factory in 2011.

The company’s revenue for this financial year stands at $2.2 million, a 69 per cent rise from the previous year and a significant increase from its year one revenue of $564,000.

This is being driven by 27 staff in Fortitude Valley working for clients including 99 Bikes, Barbeques Galore, Cruiseabout and Coral Homes, and an additional 25 content contributors working from home.

Brisbane Business News spoke to the pair about turning failure into success, why perseverance alone won’t deliver results and how to create a killer digital strategy.

What was the idea behind Search Factory?

Michael: Everyone else in the market at the time was offering packaged Adwords and SEO services, lock in contracts and little in the way of KPIs. The issue is that every business is different so the same packaged strategy won’t be effective for every vertical. We seek to understand the client’s business and objectives, build a tailored strategy and then measure this against real KPI targets. We don’t lock clients into contracts and we pride ourselves on strong client and agency relationships. We share as much knowledge as possible with our clients and are here to guide and educate. Our focus since day one has been how to improve their business, not just their search marketing.

How did Search Factory come to be?

Nic: I was working for a large Australian company and began hunting for high quality search agencies but found it hard to find a provider with the level of service and strategy I wanted. In April 2011, I quit my full-time job and spent the next six weeks getting a number of clients on board through existing contacts that I had. It was just myself and one content marketing manager until March 2012 when I then hired another SEO manager and brought Michael on board as business development and marketing manager. Michael became a business partner in November 2012.


What skillsets do you both bring to the business?

Nic: My skills are in digital marketing and business management. I’ve spent a number of years fine tuning my skills in business finance, HR and people management, operations and administration of running companies. Michael’s skillset is the perfect complement to this. He has always had a passion for figuring out how to make businesses grow, no matter what the vertical may be. He is great at sales, marketing strategy and business development.

Can you tell us about your failed businesses?

Nic: The majority of our failures have been online businesses. We spent the majority of 2008 and 2009 working on a number of start-up projects including a number of online gaming websites, SMS competitions, a mixed martial arts website and a digital consultancy. We reached the end of 2009 with a whole lot of learnings, but no earnings. After a total of eight failures and plenty of lost dollars, we realised we had to call it quits and find ourselves full-time jobs.

Michael: As the old saying goes, ‘you’re the result of your past mistakes’. We couldn’t have built up the Search Factory to its current level without learning these lessons.

Considering what’s in your trail, would you say the key to success in business is perseverance?

Nic: I think it comes down to motivation, which is the driver of perseverance. Whether you are playing a sport, learning an instrument or starting a business, you will work towards your goal no matter what if you have motivation. Just persevering means you might grind away day after day and miss the big picture or the opportunity to become greater because you’re solely focused on overcoming the next hurdle. If you are motivated to achieve a superior level of quality, you will educate yourself, learn from each mistake, surround yourself with the right people and do what it takes to get there.

Michael: In my opinion, there are a number of equally important ingredients that help develop a successful career or business. Firstly, become a sponge for knowledge, read as much as you can and continually educate yourself. Secondly, networking is critical as business is all about connecting with the right people. Thirdly, always put in 110% regardless of whether you are self-employed or work for someone else. Finally, and most importantly, don’t lose motivation if you fail – get back up and prove people wrong. 

What should businesses be doing more of when it comes to their digital strategy?

Michael: Businesses must understand their customer, how they behave online and what leads them to convert. Businesses often undervalue a detailed plan of attack for their digital strategy, which can seriously affect their ROI. A digital strategy also requires continuous maintenance and progress tracking to ensure the best results. Businesses have finally realised digital is the key medium in which people seek solutions. It’s consistently showing up as the clear winner of the advertising debate, but now the focus needs to turn to where exactly money should be invested, which will differ for every business. This is when hiring a professional service becomes essential. Although it really depends on the individual business, Google Adwords and SEO management are currently our most popular mediums and delivering the highest ROI to our clients.

What is the greatest challenge when it comes to running Search Factory?

Nic: The greatest challenge is balancing such rapid growth. I’ve seen other agencies lose quality very quickly when under-resourcing their teams, so we have almost been non-stop hiring for the past two years to ensure we always have adequate staff levels.

What’s the long term vision for Search Factory?

Nic: Our number one priority is maintaining a high standard of work, which will become even more important as we grow. Long term, we are set on growing our presence in Sydney and Melbourne and including new services in our range to complement the current offering.




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