Six years ago, Jackie Ellis found herself walking the longest quarter of a mile of her life. She had just started off on one of her daily, three-mile runs when a devastating pain hit her chest and she keeled over. She was having a heart attack. Her hands and knees were on the ground and her body told her to just lay down for a few minutes until she could regain her composure. But her head told her otherwise, as she scrambled to her feet and started to hobble home and then to the hospital. 

“I had been training for a fitness competition, so I was in the best shape of my life, clean eating and exercising six days a week, but that wasn’t enough,” says the mom of two, who had no major risk factors for coronary heart disease. “But I felt constant stress and was exhausted all the time. I was working forty-plus hours a week running a tennis and fitness club, doing personal training, shuttling my kids around as part of the soccer mom thing, and starting a side hustle in online marketing. I was overwhelmed.” 

Once she was released from the cardiac unit, Ellis decided that her days of counting other people’s push ups and renewing memberships would have to come to an end for her to save her health. “I don’t believe in work/life balance,” says Ellis. “Things can’t be evenly important. For everything there’s a season where one thing is more important than something else. I realized that I had to prioritize my health and my family.” She transitioned to working 15-20 hours a week as a digital marketing strategist and eventually ended up making six times as much as she did at her former job. To date, she has done everything from helping her clients turn $27 products into five-figure income in a month to supporting her clients in executing multi-million dollar launches.

I caught up with Ellis, now the founder of a highly sought-after digital marketing agency that supports busy, online entrepreneurs, to find out how she was able to use entrepreneurship to transition to a less hectic schedule, what helped her fast-track her marketing business to success, how to get glowing customer reviews and why emotions get entrepreneurs in trouble when it comes to making money in their sleep with Facebook ads.

Stephanie Burns: How were you able to get your business up and running so quickly?

Jackie Ellis: The Christmas spirit spurred me to do it. Just before Thanksgiving back in 2017, I was panicking because my kids’ winter break was coming and I knew that I wanted to spend as much time as possible with them over the holidays. The idea of shuttling my kids off to day camps while I toiled away at my full time job was hitting me hard. 

While working at the fitness club, I would write emails and newsletters and design ads. I picked up enough marketing skills to start a side hustle. But I didn’t feel ready to leave my job because I was only making $500 a month on my freelance marketing. So I told myself that once my side hustle income matched my day job income, I could quit. I did it within two months. And that was just from four days a week of work.

Burns: It’s hard to get clients when you’re starting out. How were you able to get quality ones fast?

Ellis: My business has always grown through word of mouth. The key to getting glowing referrals is taking excellent care of your clients. If they get good results—and even more important, feel valued by you—they’ll tell their friends and that’s how your business will grow. 

That being said, first I had to find those initial clients. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t stepped into a “bigger room” and joined a thousand-dollar a month mastermind after quitting my job. I really couldn’t afford it. But as soon as I joined, three people in the group hired me to do the Facebook ads for their business. If I hadn’t joined, they wouldn’t know me and I wouldn’t know them. My sales snowballed from there. Since then, I’ve doubled my company’s revenue three times and grown a team to seven people working for me. 

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Burns: What are some secrets to keeping your clients happy to the tune of doubling your income three times since starting your business?

Ellis: First, I’ve intentionally kept my business small so my team and I actually have time to connect with our clients. My first priority is serving my clients. People who work with us have so many choices when it comes to Facebook ads: they could do it themselves—which is scary—or hire a big agency—which might not have the best communication with them. So we try to give them the best results possible while making them feel loved and heard. We try to serve the heck out of them. We check in with our clients multiple times a week through email. It’s much easier to keep current clients happy than to run out to find new ones. Fast growth is not where it’s at for us.

It was also really important for me to grow a team. When my revenue increased, there was more work than I could do myself. I could’ve chosen to pocket all the extra income and be a stressed out, hot mess all over again—and my clients would’ve been dissatisfied. Or I could choose to start hiring people. So I started hiring. The first position I hired was a virtual assistant who had some basic ad skills as well as project management abilities. I could barely afford to pay myself, but I knew my company wouldn’t go anywhere and I wouldn’t be able to keep my clients satisfied without some additional help.

Finally, I improved my level of service—when I increased my rates. I looked at what comparable, boutique agencies were charging and what they were including in their offers. I was giving my clients so much more! I also took feedback from my clients in their onboarding forms. They’d tell me what they weren’t happy with and it was the perfect way to know how to serve them better than the last place. It enabled me to blow them away.

Burns: When it comes to running ads, how do you take the emotion out of the process?

Ellis: I’m not saying that Facebook ads and sales copy should be devoid of emotion. When you’re crafting that content, you absolutely want to make sure that you touch on pain points and create a compelling vision for your potential customers of the life they’d like to live. But when it comes to buying ads, that’s where the emotion needs to stop. When you hire an agency to handle your ads, they’re able to bring an analytical—not an emotional—brain to the process. When you’re doing it on your own, you’re freaking out about how much money you spent on ads over the weekend or mistakenly focusing on what a $2 ad can get you instead of what a $5 ad reaps.

Whether it’s relationships or revenue, when we’re emotional about something we don’t make the best decisions. When it comes to ads, we need to be less emotional and more logical. We have to focus on the information as data and the numbers are clues. Think of this as an experiment where you then figure out what you’re going to do with the results—besides pulling your ads or throwing more money into them. Maybe you discover the offer you created isn’t resonating with people, so you tweak it. Or perhaps you realize something that is resonating with people in your ads should also be used in your emails and social media posts. Ultimately Facebook ads provide data that tells you what people like, which people like it and how to improve it. 

It also helps to remind yourself that you might get emotional about the numbers before you go into your ads manager. A mindset shift where you tell yourself, “I’m going to look, but I’m not going to freak out and pull all my ads,” can help.

Burns: Why do you do what you do?

Ellis: Five years ago, when I started my business, I realized that I could pave my own way to success. And if I could do it, I could help other women do so as well. I want other female entrepreneurs to live out their own dreams—and do it all with less stress. To be able to take an item off of my client’s overflowing to-do list of home schooling and transporting kids to sports is a privilege. To be able to help my clients grow a successful business without adding even more stress to their plate is an honor. I’d love to be able to say that I prevented thousands of women from having stress-related heart attacks. But even if it’s just one, it will have been worth it.

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