ABOUT SHANE DUTKA
Hey, there. Shane here! 👋
I’d like to share a little bit about my story and how I went from crunching numbers as an accountant to building multiple 6-figure SEO driven businesses, to becoming VP of SEO at one of the worlds leading website holding companies.
The Start Of My Journey
It was November 2014 and I was just wasting away at PwC as an accounting consultant to the Department of Defense, which sounds 10x cooler than it was.
I sat at my desk crunching numbers all day, making dozens of power point “decks”, bored with the same old routine, day after day, no excitement, with the same predictable paycheck, always looking forward to the weekend and my meager cost of living raise once a year.
It was a job, and I was grateful for the opportunity, but it wasn’t great.
Around the end of 2015 I finally started to get fed up. I wanted to earn more money than the traditional 9-5, wait-your-turn, ladder climb can provide. I wanted skills that would allow me to help generate revenue and earnings, not be “overhead” as that’s how most accountants are viewed in a typical business.
But I just didn’t know what that would be… or how I’d accomplish that.
What I DID know is that I didn’t want to quit my job to do it. I’m too risk averse. As much as I wanted to just go all-in and throw caution to the wind, I wanted to be safe and smart about it. I had to be able to build something on the side while still collecting my vital paycheck.
This was key.
With all the constraints and barriers I propped up for myself, I figured the best way to make this happen would be to leverage the internet to make money.
Given the rise of Amazon, Shopify and people just buying more stuff online rather than going to brick-and-mortar stores, I figured there had to be a way for me to make a little side income on the internet, right?
I searched around the internet and eventually landed on the idea to start an e-commerce store and sell something.
What would I sell?
(drum roll please)
The Bow Tie Failure (Kinda)
Out of all the things, why try selling bow ties?
Well, because I was getting into men’s fashion at the time and it just seemed like a good idea to align an interest of mine with a business idea.
That and bow ties were easy to ship, lightweight, had good margin, and the typical bow tie customer buys multiple bow ties, so the average order value could potentially support paid ads.
And, well, I didn’t have any better ideas. So why not just start, right?
So I took a leap of faith and started digging around for the next steps.
It was like, “Okay so I have a product idea, but what’s next?”.
Well, I needed a logo, a website, and someone to actually make the bow ties. All things I didn’t know the first thing about.
So what did I do?
I Googled it…. all of it.
I researched every detail hours of YouTube videos watched.
Admittedly, I probably consumed too much information and didn’t take enough action, but I’m an analytical and accountant at heart.
I think I spent at least 6 months trying to get a logo together, a website, and start designing the bow ties I wanted to manufacture.
I worked with freelancers I found on Upwork to design the bow ties, negotiated with manufacturers in China to get the product made, and contracted with freight forwarders to sort out the logistics to get the bow ties shipped across the Pacific Ocean through customs and to my house in Washington D.C.
Below is a picture of me opening up my first box of brand new bow ties, hurray!
At this point the score is a whopping $0 earned and $38k spent!
It was all financed by my salary and credit card debt.
Pretty much everyone thought I was crazy, and there were a lot of ‘Oh, Shit’ moments.
A Hard Knocks Lesson In Marketing
At one point I got the not-so-brilliant idea to hire a marketing agency to help with the marketing process.
I figured, “I have some extra money, I can do things right and bring in professionals to help refine the logo, build a decent website, and get started on the right foot.”
Good idea in theory, but in practice this was a giant waste of money and just ended up getting me (and the agency) extremely frustrated.
Given the fact I was a newcomer, the agency didn’t take me very seriously.
Not their fault. I was just inexperienced and didn’t know what I needed. Here are some other things I wish I knew (but didn’t):
- Best practices for an e-commerce site
- How to structure the checkout experience to increase conversions
- How cross-sells or up-sells worked
- Where to place email opt-ins
- Branding, design, or product photography
I DIDN’T KNOW ANYTHING!
Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience.
But… I kept pushing through.
The agency ended up building my site on Shopify.
This was good because it allowed me to get my feet wet with internet marketing, but it was also bad because it was extremely difficult to make changes to the site.
After I got a little experience, I realized the site they built for me was a hot stinkin’ mess poorly optimized for any type of conversion. Again, my fault for not understanding what I needed at the time.
I will say working with the agency showed me the process of starting with an idea, branding around it, and creating photography to bring the idea to life.
Photography is everything when it comes to e-commerce and really the bedrock of a great website, and that experience helped crystallize that concept in my head.
So, about an $8,000 marketing lesson learned via the school of hard knocks…
What Did Work?
There were a lot of things I did during the time building the bow tie site that were a complete waste of time.
For example, I tried to start a podcast “Real Guys With Bow Ties”.
I was like… I bet bow tie guys would be into listening to other bow tie guy stories. This only lasted for 6 episodes until my motivation fizzled, but if you’re curious, they still exist today here’s the link.
What did work was SEO and content marketing.
At the time I didn’t understand SEO, but one of the guests I had on the podcast was a marketer and he explained how he used SEMrush to do keyword research.
I had never heard of SEMrush so as soon as we wrapped the recording I started digging.
I found the keyword “bow ties with suits” had a fair bit of search volume, so decided to create an article targeting the keyword.
Here’s a link if you’re curious (pictured below).
I wrote a bunch of these and after a few months of waiting, it started to rank and traffic started to roll in.
That traffic turned into bow tie sales and I was hooked.
Pivot To Pest Control
With this knowledge of what works, I wanted to pivot to a niche with more broad appeal, like pest control.
I figured, people hate bugs, there is a TON of people searching for good information there and willing to buy products to remedy their bug problems.
I could also sell leads to pest control companies with the traffic from the website.
So I started a pest control website, peststrategies.com in 2017.
This decision changed my life.
Below is a screenshot from my Amazon Associates dashboard to give you a sense of the levels of success I achieved with this site.
With this success I started my sites similar to PestStrategies.com in other niches.
One of those was LearningJewelry.com, a website that focused on diamonds.
In 2018, I ended up quitting my job focusing full time on these websites.
In 2019, I sold PestStrategies.com for over $1million and in 2021 I sold LearningJewelry for $500K without ever hiring a single person. Just using freelancers and contracted workers.
Through trial and error I’ve developed the systems and processes allowing the sites to run themselves.
I’m obsessed with efficiency, which makes it EASY for me to build projects up and then let them hum along in the background while I re-focus my energy somewhere else.
That Brings Me To Today
With this experience in 2020 and track record, I decided to join up with the company, Three Ships, as a Director of SEO to lead SEO strategy for their home business unit.
Three Ships is a large holding company owning 50+ website assets spanning niches like sleep, health, auto, home, and others.
I focus on the home vertical for them.
I get questions fairly often as to why I didn’t just stay an entrepreneur and keep building sites. Why join a company?
The answer is pretty simple.
I had a fair bit of success building sites, but I had a lot to learn about building and leading truly great teams.
Setting strategy, getting alignment with cross-functional groups, and executing. I also had a lot to learn about what it takes to grow and scale a successful business.
Since starting in 2020, I’ve overseen dozens of different web properties and led multiple cross functional digital initiatives that have helped propel Three Ships into double-digit EBITDA growth each year since joining.
We are now among the top digital marketplaces growing to 200+ employees (starting at just 9 when I joined).
I’ve since been promoted to VP of SEO and I oversee and lead SEO, digital PR, and M&A strategy for our home business unit.
If you want to follow me, I have a newsletter I send out sharing what’s working for me in SEO right now.
If you want to contact me, email email@example.com.