Rebound – Bullseye Media

This week's episode of An Agency Story features Ernie Cote with Bullseye Media, a digital marketing company focused on the dental industry based in Dallas, TX. Ernie took a longer path to get to owning his business by having a successful career for many years before he purchased Bullseye Media in the middle of the pandemic. After a rocky start, he revamped his business by focusing on a customer and team first approach.

Company: Bullseye Media

Owners: Ernie Cote

Year Started: 2006

Employees: 1 – 10

In the podcast series “An Agency Story,” each episode uncovers the riveting journey of marketing agency owners. The episode titled “Rebound” showcases Ernie Cote, the unconventional agency owner behind Bullseye Media. Transitioning from a high-flying career in sales and C-suite aspirations to acquiring an existing agency, Ernie’s narrative is far from ordinary. This episode dives deep into the daunting yet exhilarating path of purchasing and revitalizing Bullseye Media amidst the unpredictability of a global pandemic.

Themes of resilience, innovation, and strategic growth dominate the discussion, illustrating how Ernie navigated the complexities of the agency world with a focus on the dental industry. His approach of specializing in a niche market, combined with tales of overcoming initial setbacks—like unexpected operational challenges and adapting to remote work dynamics—offers invaluable insights for aspiring and established agency owners alike.

The episode is peppered with humorous anecdotes, such as a memorable texting mishap with a key client, alongside powerful quotes that underscore the significance of persistence and the value of learning from mistakes. Ernie’s candid recounting of his journey, from the initial struggles to finding the right strategy for success, is both inspiring and enlightening.

Listeners are left contemplating the importance of adaptability, niche specialization, and the courage to take calculated risks in the agency business. “Rebound” is a testament to the idea that with the right mindset and strategic actions, setbacks can be transformed into stepping stones for success.

Tune in to “Rebound” on “An Agency Story” for a compelling blend of challenges, triumphs, and practical wisdom that resonates with anyone interested in the dynamics of growing a successful agency. As Ernie’s story unfolds, it becomes evident that the journey of an agency owner is as much about personal growth as it is about business development.


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Show Transcript

[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world, from the excitement of starting up, the first big sale. Passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional roller coaster of growth. Hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach.

[00:00:33] Enjoy the next agency story.

[00:00:38] Russel: Hello. Welcome to another episode of An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host, Russel. Today’s guest on the show is Ernie Cote with Bullseye Media, an internet marketing agency based in Dallas, Texas. Ernie isn’t your prototypical agency owner, at least in the way he got started. After a very successful career working for other companies, Ernie entered the agency business by [00:01:00] purchasing it from someone else.

[00:01:01] As anyone knows that has purchased a business, it can certainly be a daunting path. Hear how he turned it all around and is well on the way to rebuilding a successful agency.

[00:01:10] Enjoy the story.

[00:01:14] Welcome everyone. Our guest on the show today is Ernie Cote with Bullseye Media. Ernie, thank you so much for being here today.

[00:01:22] Ernie: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:24] Russel: Let’s get right to it. Just start us off, tell the folks at home what is Bullseye Media? Give us the elevator pitch.

[00:01:31] Ernie: Bullseye Media helps a dentist get new patients and or get more revenue per patient. And what I mean by that is per the ADA, the average dentist loses about 20% of their clients a year. People change insurance, jobs, they move, divorce, death, whatever it might be. So dentists, believe it or not, constantly need to be in a mode of doing some form of advertising to get new clients.

[00:01:54] So they typically rely on an agency like mine. And then secondarily, [00:02:00] oftentimes dentists will get to a point in their career where they have done enough of what they call drills and fills. You know, they’ve done the, the cleaning, all the, the normal stuff. And they’re looking for something different to do.

[00:02:11] So that’s oftentimes when they get into whitening or aligners or, sleep medicine, dental, sleep medicine, one of those type things. And when they do that, then additionally they need an agency like ours. So we’re your standard digital agency. But focus specifically on dental, and then with those two kind of criteria in mind, helping dentists who are looking to get new patients or looking to get more revenue per patient.

[00:02:34] Russel: You know, most of the guests on the show were the founders of their business, but that’s not the case in your story. So tell us how you came to own Bullseye Media.

[00:02:42] Ernie: I took a funny path to get here.

[00:02:44] So I was in sales the first 15 years or so of my career. I went to bat back to get an MBA. While I was getting my MBA, I figured out that I really wanted to be in the C-suite or a business owner. I wanted to do more than sales. So, the best advice I got was I needed to go run a P&L.[00:03:00] I live in Dallas and there was a digital agency that had some technology that had developed some IP and the owner of it wanted to go focus on that IP.

[00:03:10] So he went out and got some investors and the investors said, you go focus on the IP, but you hire someone else to run the agency. So they found me, and I literally had no agency experience whatsoever. I just talked my way in the door. I don’t even know how I did that, but got in, did really well, sold the agency. And I didn’t own any piece of it, there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me.

[00:03:34] But I loved the experience and I just had a lot of fun. I built a great team. I made these great relationships and absolutely loved it. But I decided, My next gig, I wanted to have some ownership. So I went to work for private equity group and for about a decade, um, I was what they call an operator. I would go in and, and run their technology companies for them.

[00:03:54] Along comes COVID and everybody’s got their COVID story. My Covid story was that I was running a [00:04:00] small business outta Nashville and I was flying there every week and I was really starting to miss my kids and, and hating the travel. And COVID comes along and I can’t travel anymore. And we basically decide that business is not gonna make it and we shut it down.

[00:04:14] So I’m home twiddling my thumbs, thinking, all right, well we come out of this covid mess. What am I gonna do next with my life? Working for private equity. I had the, the, the pleasure actually of about every 18 to 24 months running a different type of business. Or being involved in some different type of business.

[00:04:31] So I got a ton of experience and I thought, you know what, in my life that I enjoy the most, what like lit me up? What do I wanna do the rest of my career? And it was back to the agency days and I was like, you know, I really love that job. I just, when we sold it, I didn’t make any money at it cuz I didn’t.

[00:04:50] So I need to own an agency. So with that in mind, I started doing my homework. I found Bullseye, bought it during the pandemic, and the rest is history.

[00:04:59] Russel: I know [00:05:00] previously in your career you did work for an agency that eventually exited. What did you gain about that experience and how did it shape in how you approached once you actually bought the agency today?

[00:05:10] Ernie: Gosh, there, there were two really important lessons that I walked away from, from that experience. One is, you know, to own an agency, there’s really no barrier to entry, right? Like, if you decide you wanna be a lawyer, you gotta go get a degree, you gotta take the lsat, you gotta go to law school, you gotta pass the bar. There’s a lot to become a lawyer. Same thing if you’re gonna be a CPA or any number of things. To open an agency, you just gotta have the chutzpah to go open an agency, right, there’s no barrier to entry.

[00:05:38] I used to say you could throw a rock and hit an agency. Right. I mean, and in the Dallas Fort Worth area, I don’t even know how many agencies there are, but it’s a lot.

[00:05:46] Russel: I don’t know either. I’m trying to find ’em all, but I can’t.

[00:05:49] Ernie: Yeah, exactly.

[00:05:50] So, but, but then you’ve also got all these young kids that come outta college with advertising degrees. And they work for you for six months and somebody offers them like free pizza for lunch [00:06:00] and they leave you. And then you know, somebody else comes with you for a year and you just get ’em where that you want them and they decide they want to go live in New York or their boyfriend/girlfriend’s moving to Seattle, or they’re moving in with a friend across town and the drive is too far. Like keeping people was crazy. So I learned a lot about hiring and retaining people because turnover will kill you, right? It’ll kill any business, but particularly a business where in the relationship business like an agency is. So I learned a lot about finding and retaining top talent. The other thing that I learned was, I said that you can throw a rock and hit an agency.

[00:06:38] I had to learn how do we distinguish ourselves? Because I would tell people what we do. Yeah. You’re a digital agency. Yeah. You do websites and you do social media search and all. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. So I had to really learn to how to differentiate the message so that we could, get the attention of prospects, get the right customers, get them to pay the right price.

[00:06:57] So those are really the two big things I walked away from is, is, [00:07:00] is how to hire and retain the best people, which I think is critical for any agency owner. And the other is how do you distinguish yourself among all the other gajillion digital agencies out there?

[00:07:11] Russel: So when you were out in the market and decided you wanted to go into the foray of agency ownership, what particularly attracted you about Bullseye Media?

[00:07:20] Ernie: The fact that it was local was, was important to me at the time. Now after COVID, most of our employees are remote. I’m remote, doesn’t matter too much. And now, but at the time it did. One of the things that I learned, and this goes back to the answer I just gave about what I learned at the first agency I ran, is that you got to have some distinguishing factor.

[00:07:39] The fact that Bullseye Media focused solely on dental was appealing to me because I think agencies that serve a niche, It just gives you a bit of an advantage, right? It gives you, expertise, it gives you scale, it gives you a number of things. So I really like the fact that it was focused on a particular vertical, [00:08:00] and I think that dental healthcare is a great vertical to be in.

[00:08:04] And so those are the things that really attracted me to it.

[00:08:07] Russel: Riches in niches, I guess is what you would ascribe to.

[00:08:11] Ernie: Yeah, that’s right.

[00:08:12] Russel: And that’s probably one of the first thing I work with, with a lot of the clients is Yes. How do you position? How do you differentiate yourself in a space where that at least to get to a certain size, it doesn’t require you? Because everybody needs a website or everybody needs marketing, so you kind of just get by until you don’t.

[00:08:27] So, not only did you buy the business at an interesting time in the world, but you encountered some struggles just given the market you were in and what was that like during the first few months after you purchased the business?

[00:08:41] Ernie: I think the PG version is, uh, it pooped the bed. .

[00:08:47] Russel: We had this question the other day on the show. We are a fully cursing podcast. So if Okay. It the shoe fits. Yes.

[00:08:54] Ernie: If the shoe fits, it shit the bed. Um, man, there were a lot of lessons that I learned. [00:09:00] One is that when we were doing due diligence, and I say we, because the bank, I also have two minority partners.

[00:09:06] I owned the majority of the business, but I brought in two minority partners, which I can, I can talk to you about the, the logic behind that, later if you like. But so I say we thought we did all our due diligence, and here I am, a guy who spent a decade in private equity doing all kind of due diligence on businesses.

[00:09:22] One of the tricky little things is that if you’re financing a business like with a bank or with private equity with some form of debt, you can do an um, an earn out. When you’re doing an SBA loan, which I used, you can’t do an earn out. Whatever the valuation is, they get that money the day you close, it’s wired to their bank account, and that’s that.

[00:09:41] So the seller had no financial incentive to stick around. He gave me a good talk about wanting to stick around and, and really sell and speak and market. And he didn’t wanna run a business, but he wanted to do the sales part. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that. The day I met him, after [00:10:00] I closed on the business, I went to the office, he showed me around, gave me a key, said This is your office.

[00:10:05] Took a box and walked out. And I thought, Well, I’ll see him again in like a couple days. I literally, I’m not, if I’m lying, I’m dying. Never saw his face again. Ever.

[00:10:18] Russel: Oh my, wow. That’s, that’s quite a hurdle.

[00:10:21] Ernie: We had a few phone calls and that was it. And part of what I bought the business on is that he had been speaking a lot in the dental space and I was buying it a lot on his reputation and his contacts.

[00:10:32] So that was a, a rough thing.

[00:10:33] So we ended up having to trial and error, find a salesperson. You know, being a digital agency owner and having gone into several technology companies and helped them grow, I knew how to do digital marketing. Here’s what I found out hard and fast, is that dentists don’t care about digital marketing.

[00:10:53] They’re not on social media for the, for the most part, they don’t read email. They’re busy seeing clients. They don’t want you to [00:11:00] show up at their office. They don’t take meetings because when they’re not sitting in a chair looking in somebody’s mouth, they’re not making money. Particularly during the pandemic, because I bought the business in September of 2020, nobody wanted you in their office for the first nine months of owning the business anyway.

[00:11:14] The continuing education that medical professionals go to, were all put on, the kibosh and that’s where you get to meet your clients, build that relationship, meet new clients, get referrals. So it was a rocky start. And then also the agency had sold previously some services that, just to be honest, they weren’t delivering.

[00:11:32] They were taking money for it, but not doing it. And, I’m highly ethical. And I was like, well, if they bought it and they’re paying for it, we’re gonna deliver it. So we spent money we didn’t anticipate spending. We had marketing that didn’t work and we couldn’t get out in front of our clients to fix it because it was COVID.

[00:11:52] The first six to nine months were rough. But then the COVID fog lifted and I was able to go out and [00:12:00] visit customers. I was able to go, to dental conventions. I got some speaking spots and it really turned things around. And suddenly it kind of felt like, you know, we had gone from outta gas to found the gas station filled a full of gas and, you know, we’re hitting the road again.

[00:12:14] So it, it’s been a great journey, the last year, but the first year was, was brutal.

[00:12:21] Russel: Yeah, it sounds like it. I love a good turnaround story. I remember you recounting that, you know, even some of those struggles early on, you sounds like you took a real risk and doubled down on investing and building a great team to lay the path for the future.

[00:12:33] So, you know, what were you thinking at the time and how has that worked out for you?

[00:12:39] Ernie: So my two goals in the beginning were, were to stop the bleeding in terms of, we had some clients that weren’t sticking with us because I’d mentioned that the previous owner had sold some stuff that wasn’t being delivered.

[00:12:51] So consequently people began to leave. And then we were not selling, so I had to fix the things to get people to stay, show results. [00:13:00] Spend a lot of money on marketing I didn’t anticipate, and so definitely went into the red for a bit. We were spending more than we were taken in no doubt.

[00:13:09] Even during that time, I went out and found people I had worked with in the past that I knew would wanna work with me. And I called him up and I said, Hey, would you like to come work for me? And I’m, I’m happy to say it was a resound of, yes, I build good relationships with the people on my team.

[00:13:26] And everybody was like, heck yeah, Ernie, let’s go. I’d love to come work for you. And I would say, great. Here’s the salary. And they’d say, wah-wah , like I was totally outta out of the loop, I guess on,

[00:13:39] Russel: Especially during that time period when sellers were just running a muck.

[00:13:43] Ernie: So I literally had to replace a low performing person in the company.

[00:13:49] I won’t say the role so that it’s so, it can’t be trace back and embarrass him or her. But I had to pay almost double, almost two X [00:14:00] salary to get the right person. Now, it was absolutely worth it. That person I brought on board that I had worked with in the past has changed the business dramatically. So it was absolutely the right move.

[00:14:12] We were using kind of half ass cheap tools and I went out and got the best tools. We had some people that were, you know, B minus players. I went out and paid for A+ players. So I definitely invested, in the things to do the right thing and, and that paid off.

[00:14:31] But certainly it would, it was not a fun time.

[00:14:34] Russel: I can imagine. And so going back to, you kind of mentioned earlier, bringing on some investors into the business in your ownership circle and how has that decision shaped the trajectory of the business? Was that a good decision?

[00:14:46] Is it something to encourage folks to do?

[00:14:48] Ernie: Well, in terms of encouraging folks to do it, I would say I’ve heard so many horror stories about partners and people going in business together. I will tell you how it worked for me and it’s work beautifully. I [00:15:00] always say if I’m the smartest person in the room, it’s a meeting of the village idiots because I am not the brightest bulb.

[00:15:07] I work hard, I treat people well. I go the extra mile. I do all the things that you want a business owner and leader to do, but I’m just honestly not that smart. So I went to two of the smartest guys that I’ve, that I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with them two or three times now. I worked with them at that agency that I ran, and then I subsequently hired each of them in different roles over the next decade.

[00:15:31] And so I went to them and said, look, I’m, I’m buying an agency. I can do it on my own, but I would really love to have you as a partner in it. I would just love you to have skin in the game. I’d love to have your expertise. I was very clear though, is I said, look, I will own 51% or more of the business. I’m not interested in a three-way thing.

[00:15:52] I’m not interested in a minority. This is, I’ve thought about it a lot over COVID and I wanna own my own business and I want to be an [00:16:00] agency, but I do in fact want to own it. And both of ’em. Great, fine. We don’t care how, how much equity are you willing to give us? And one guy came in at 10% cause that’s just what he wanted to spend.

[00:16:11] Another guy wanted to come in at a larger amount, but the way the SBA works is that if you have a partner that owns 20% or more of the business, they have to collateralize it. So he came in at 19.

[00:16:22] So I’ve got one partner at 10 and one partner at 19, and, and then I own 71. And so it’s a great thing because I own the majority of the business and I can do it at what I.

[00:16:31] But I have yet to nor do I believe that I will ever make a decision without consulting them. They’re smart, they’re ethical, they’re grounded. They are in the weeds of, of what we do every day because they work as digital leaders. One of them, consults with Shopify, and another one works for another large business.

[00:16:54] So, you know, they, they know what they’re doing and, it’s been great for me. I’ve heard [00:17:00] plenty of stories about people where the partnerships did not work out. I’m extremely lucky and feel grateful to have Tim and Charles as my business partners.

[00:17:08] Russel: Good part of the story and partnerships, they can be the most amazing thing in the world when they work. Right. And then they might be the worst thing in the world when they don’t.

[00:17:16] Ernie: Yeah. I had one bit of good advice I got when I was going into it is someone said to me, If you’re gonna do business partners, that’s great, but plan ahead for the divorce. And he goes, I don’t mean that in a negative way. He said, it’s not that, you know, like typically when a divorce marriage ends, it’s, it’s viewed as a bad thing. But in a business, inevitably there’s going to be some divorce. It could be friendly, right? But there’s gonna be some change, some distribution.

[00:17:44] The company is not gonna go on in its entirety. You know, tomorrow like it is today. So just plan for that. So we did, so we were out a business plan and we said if any one of the three of us wants out, the others get first right of refusal and here’s the formula. And so if [00:18:00] anybody wants out, they just raise their hand and say, Hey, I want out.

[00:18:03] And we have a formula for how that their share is evaluated. It’s in our operating agreement. It’s pretty black and white, so it, it works us.

[00:18:13] Russel: All right. I need to, for the listeners out there, I need to double stamp that advice. In those kind of situations, you’ve gotta plan for the worst and then certainly hope for the best. You know, I’ve helped clients negotiate a couple mergers and partnerships.

[00:18:26] And that’s what I tell ’em is that’s the only place where I condone being as cynical as possible. So you can kind of think through all those things that aren’t all the positive stuff. But I appreciate you sharing that. Listen hard to that one. That’s some good advice.

[00:18:40] So, you know, over the last several months, it sounds like the ship’s headed in the right direction. Mm-hmm. Are you at a point where you’re breathing a sigh of relief or you still feel like you’re in survival, hustle mode, foot on the gas?

[00:18:51] What’s that look like for you?

[00:18:53] Ernie: Oh, I’m in 100% hustle mode. I think that’s part of when you buy a business [00:19:00] and, you see your revenue tank over the first year. It puts the fear of God in you. And as the business gets back to where it was pre-late pandemic cuz you know, like I said, I bought it during the pandemic, but we kind of thought when I bought the business in September of 2020 that we were on the downswing and then Omicron comes along.

[00:19:25] So I feel like I’ve lost time. I am all about making up for that time. I’m one of those people that I, I definitely wanna make a lot of money. I for sure someday I wanna grow Bullseye into something that when I sell it or merge it or whatever, that I make money and that I’m able to leave some wealth for my kids and all that kind of stuff.

[00:19:46] But I’m also equally driven by, I can’t wait for the day when there are a couple hundred employees and we’ve just had a big event of some kind. And there are a couple of us [00:20:00] around the bar late and everybody’s, you know, dispersed and there’s a handful of us that were there from the beginning and we’re telling the tales of…

[00:20:08] Well, remember the time that we had to do this or we couldn’t afford that. Or, you know, that, that Ernie wasn’t taking a salary and that we did three layovers to make a convention because we couldn’t afford to take a direct flight. Just all those stories that come with building something. And come with being part of a team and people that are committed to it. Nothing would make me happier than, uh, someday there’s some, for some form of change of control in the company and for all those people that have been here from the beginning, to be able to give them a nice fat check of some kind.

[00:20:44] I just, I love people that are in it to build something great together, and I really have that team right now. I’ve really, really got a group of people that are just committed to taking this thing to the next [00:21:00] level.

[00:21:01] Russel: I love that. That’s a great vision for the future. So we’ll have to, when you have you on the podcast 10 years from now, just after, we’ll do it the day after you’ve had that night there at the bar.

[00:21:10] I love it. We can talk about it then.

[00:21:12] Ernie: I’ll be all hungover.

[00:21:14] Russel: Yeah, that’ll be great. If you had a time machine and go back and give yourself some advice when it comes to, let’s just say your Bullseye journey, when are you going back to and what are you gonna tell yourself?

[00:21:27] Ernie: Oh boy. I mean, the question was after I bought the business, so I’m gonna, I’m gonna answer it in two ways. If I could go back to before I bought the business, I, you know, hindsight’s 20/20, I would’ve caught some of the things that I found out the hard way.

[00:21:45] Years ago called Strength Finders. I dunno if you’ve ever heard of that book. Of the book is that, you know, there was a, there was a, a school of thought that if you were grooming managers, and you were at GE or IBM, that you needed a rotator on 15 different departments and then you [00:22:00] would be a good manager and so on.

[00:22:01] And then the premise of that book was that the research showed that if you double down on what you’re really good at, you do better. So I am terrible at little details. I rely on my CPA and bookkeeper to make sure that the bills are paid on time. And of course, I look at all the reports every week and make sure that it’s all good.

[00:22:22] But you don’t want me doing that. You don’t want me doing your SEO or building your website. I’ve got people that are 10 times more detailed oriented than I am. But what you do want me doing is you want me talking to employees, you want me talking to partners, you want me talking to clients because, I’m a good, empathetic listener.

[00:22:39] I will figure out with employees, what are they doing today that they love? What do they not like? Where do they wanna be? And I will help put them on a path to be a better employee at the end of the road than when I found them at the beginning of the road, like to help them advance their career.

[00:22:53] I love that. I love to talk to partners and figure out how we can help each other. I love to talk to, to clients and not only hear what we’re [00:23:00] doing well, but I really hear like, love to hear what we’re not doing well. And so that we can fix it. And, and so I’m good at that. So the first few months of the job it was COVID, and I didn’t know how to do that over Zoom.

[00:23:12] I just, I just kept thinking this nonsense is gonna be over soon and when it is, I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna do what I do. Well, it took six months before I could get out there and go meet with clients and particularly dentists. I mean, I dunno if you think about this but dentist is one of the number one places where COVID could spread.

[00:23:30] Cuz you think about it, let’s say you’ve got the flu and you get your teeth cleaned before me and the hygienist is spraying water and all these particles are in the air. The chances of me coming behind you and getting the flu are pretty slim because the flu doesn’t hang out in the air very long.

[00:23:45] Well, COVID was hanging out in the air for freaking hours. So it was a horrible place to go when during COVID. So they just weren’t seeing anybody other than one patient at a time and detoxing the room as patients left. And so I just spent a couple [00:24:00] months like spinning my wheels of like, I can’t do the thing I’m good at.

[00:24:05] So what I should have during that time is I should have had the discipline to do the thing I wasn’t good at. I should have used that time to read contracts, go through the books, do all that tedious, monotonous, detailed oriented stuff that’s against my nature. I should have used that time for that.

[00:24:24] And if I had, if I could go back in time, that’s what I would do. And then when the world opened up, I got back to doing what I’d do and love. But I certainly miss some opportunities by not forcing myself to do the things I don’t like to do.

[00:24:41] Russel: There you go. Well, when they invent the time machine, I’ll give you a ride.

[00:24:47] Ernie: Please let me know. I have so many, I have so many dates. I wanna go back to so many dates. .

[00:24:52] Russel: No, you’re telling me. Yeah. I wanna see a dinosaur. That’s what I wanna see. So I mean, at this point, do you feel like you’ve unlocked the key to [00:25:00] success for the business, or whether you have or haven’t, what do you think it is? What’s gonna be the key to success for you guys?

[00:25:07] Ernie: I haven’t unlocked it, but at least I found the right key after fumbling with a bunch of keys on the key chain. I feel like I’ve, I, I have the found the right key and may maybe close to unlocking it.

[00:25:18] When we started out on this journey when the bank says, you know, tell us about your business plan, how you gonna grow this? And, and so we had kind of a three legged stool, and the first was organic. We felt like the guy that we bought the agency from was really relying on his own relationships, his own, referrals going to shows in a slow growth mode.

[00:25:37] And we said, oh, we can pour gas on this. We can do a lot of great digital marketing cause we know how to do this. We’ll, come to find out we were wrong. The way that you do it in this business, it’s definitely. Referrals and relationships. And so we’ve learned that and we’re leveraging that and we’re seeing our sales grow month over month.

[00:25:56] And so we’ve cracked that code. The second was M&A. [00:26:00] And you know, we went into it thinking M&A would be a strategy for us, but then I just admitted to you that the first year was so horrific that you can’t go talk about buying another boat when yours is full of holes and sinking in the water.

[00:26:13] So we had to, we had to shore up the business and I’m just now, two years later, beginning to take a solid look at M&A. Here lately, I’ve been talking to an agency owner a day. Basically. Oh wow. Almost a day. And we just have conversations. And it’s been very collaborative.

[00:26:28] It’s been amazing. I have a lot, like I started a Google sheet of competitors and I just started going down and I calling people and I have been. Remarkably surprised by the number of people who not only been willing to talk to me, but if they’re local, have coffee, if not have a Zoom. And we just share with each other.

[00:26:45] I found some what I think are gonna be some good partnerships.

[00:26:47] I’ve gotten some good advice. Hopefully I’ve given some good advice.

[00:26:50] But I’m slowly building relationships with these people so we can feel each other out and at at a time that, that maybe either one, one of us wants to merge or [00:27:00] exit or whatever. It won’t be done in a vacuum. It will be done with some relationships. So I feel like I’ve slowly figured that out. I’m figuring that out at the very beginning of it.

[00:27:09] And then the third was IP. I would say we’re nowhere near knowing what kind of IP we wanna develop. I mean, eventually we wanna enough exposure and awareness and understanding of the dental space that we find some IP that’s missing or that can make things easier. Don’t know what that is yet. I’m just at the very beginning of looking at that, but kind of with a three legged stool took me a while to figure out the organic.

[00:27:33] But I would say the leg of that stool’s pretty strong now. At least the the M&A one we’re starting to think about, and the third leg that the IP not there yet. But that’s kind of, that’s kind of where we are in our roadmap.

[00:27:45] Russel: That sounds all fascinating and smart approaches and love everything about that. Final question for you today and what I love getting all the different answers from folks is, entrepreneurs born or are they made?[00:28:00]

[00:28:02] Ernie: I was made. I graduated from college and had plenty of opportunities to go do my own thing, to have started something. But I mean, I have the same opportunities anybody else had. I don’t mean that like things dropped out of the sky. I just mean like anybody that graduates from college, I could have chosen to live from home and save money and started any number of businesses.

[00:28:25] And I just was too scared to do it. I just, I, I wanted a job. I wanted the paycheck, I wanted to climb the corporate ladder. And then it wasn’t until I started working for a private equity group because then I was like, well, I don’t have my own money to go spend, and I don’t wanna risk it anyway.

[00:28:40] But if I go work for a private equity group, I’ll get a small piece of these businesses. So I’m not risking much, but I’ll get the experience of running them. And that’s exactly what it, what the way it worked out. But it took me a decade of doing that before I was like, I can do this on my. Just, I’m a late bloomer.

[00:28:58] It just took me a long time to [00:29:00] figure out, oh, wait a minute. I can do this.

[00:29:03] I’ve turned around several businesses. I’ve made several businesses run. I’ve made some investors some great money. Why don’t I just go borrow money and make this happen? So I’ve always been a risk taker.

[00:29:18] But, financially I think I just grew up in a way that, my mom, she worked for the same company her entire life. She started as a secretary. We lived in a trailer park. We lived in double wide. We were the royalty of the trailer park cause we were in a double wide, but we were in a trailer park. And she saved every penny bought a house. She got very, very ill and ended up, uh, dying, uh, much sooner than she should have. But she would’ve stayed at that company and enjoyed the salary and the benefits and all that stuff, and had zero risk taking in her body.

[00:29:54] My dad was a risk taker who had failed at several businesses [00:30:00] miserably. So I kind of had from my dad this risk taking gene. But I didn’t see him have any success in it. I probably had that seed in me, but I mean, I had to be made, I had to stumble and, and figure things out on my own.

[00:30:15] And then, so to me, at least for me, I was, I was not born, I was made.

[00:30:19] Russel: Well, late bloomer or not. Sounds like you’re doing a lot of smart, amazing things with your business, so congrats and kudos for that. If people wanna know more about you, your story and Bullseye Media, tell ’em where they can go, sir.

[00:30:32] Ernie:

[00:30:34] Russel: Straightforward as it gets. It’s so awesome getting to hear your story and in such a short amount of time, a really great turnaround story. So I’m excited to see where it goes in the future. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Ernie, and it’s a pleasure having you.

[00:30:46] Ernie: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:30:51] Intro: We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from [00:31:00] around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction.

[00:31:12] Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to $5 million and more in revenue. To learn more, visit

[00:31:27] Ernie: All right. So years ago when I was running that first agency that, that lit me up so much made me decide I wanted to do this. We had a new client, big client, super happy to have ’em. Kind of a make or break if, if this client didn’t work for us, we wouldn’t get other brands like that. And, and they had taken a risk with us and I’ve been trying to get in front of the CMO forever and I found out that she was gonna be at a show in New York where they were relaunching their brand.

[00:31:52] All new. Logo and, and branding and booth. And so she was showing up [00:32:00] for it and she had a bunch of press there, uh, for, for interviews. So I found out she was gonna be there and I, I got ahold of her admin and I said, Hey, I’d really like to meet with her while she’s there. She said, if you can come to the booth at this amount of time, I’ve got this little window of opening where I’ve given her a break to like have a coffee between interviews.

[00:32:16] You can chit chat with her, then it’s kind of the best I can offer. I said, man, I’m on it. So I flew from Dallas to New York, stayed the night. The next morning, I’m in the cab and I’m not a late person. I really try to be early, but the traffic was horrendous. There was a really bad wreck. And so I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

[00:32:33] I don’t know if I’m gonna make it. And I finally, I, I get out, I’m a few blocks away. I run to the convention center. The line for the badges is forever. I try to sneak through security. They won’t let me. I go back. I get my badge and I’m in line and I’m like, oh my gosh, I feel so horrible.

[00:32:48] Well remember they’re there because they’re launching this new branding stuff, including the new booth and, and everything.

[00:32:55] So I texted her and said, I am so sorry. Traffic [00:33:00] was terrible. I’m here in the building. I’ll be there any moment and I can’t wait to see your new boobs.

[00:33:08] Russel: That’s a surprise, little punch line to that.

[00:33:10] Ernie: And I, and I hit send and all of a sudden I went, Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I feel like I can’t even look down at, I feel like I looked down at, I think I said Boobs, said, please Booth. Booth, boo Booth, let it be Booth. And I looked down and sure enough it was boobs. Oh man. So I go up to the booth and I meet her and I’m like, I am so terribly sorry about my text. And she goes, what text? And I go, the one about your boobs. And she goes, what?

[00:33:36] She hadn’t read it yet.

[00:33:40] Russel: Some other random person. I don’t. What’s better or worse in that situation?

[00:33:44] Ernie: I’m in position with her and she’s like, why did you text me about my boobs?

[00:33:49] I’m like, I didn’t, I was texting about your booth, your booth.

[00:33:53] Russel: Dangers of auto correct. The dangers of auto or, or the lack thereof maybe in that situation, I don’t know what, [00:34:00] what happened there. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Well, alright for the folks at home, don’t text your clients about their boobs.

[00:34:07] Ernie: No, bad idea.

[00:34:08] Russel: Straight from Ernie. That’s a good one. Thank you.