From surviving to thriving: lessons from Sean McGinnis

Today we feature our interview with Sean McGinnis, a highly successful online marketer and trainer who started out his internet marketing career with a simple DVD movie review website in 1999.

Here, Sean shares his experience and the insights he has gleaned through his 14+ years in the internet marketing industry, from how he first started out with his online business to what he did to carve out his market niche in digital marketing training with his launch of 312 Digital.

A most informative and inspirational chat! Enjoy…and please feel free to ask Sean your own questions in the comments section below.

Please do tell: how did you start out in internet marketing?

I got my start in the industry the same way so many others have – I built my own web site. I launched DVD Verdict, a DVD movie review web site, in April 1999. Along the way, I learned a lot about HTML and web development.

Later, I sold websites to lawyers for a premier web development company focused on the law firm market. From 2006-2009, I managed the SEO team for that company.  My team consisted of 37 consultants. I served as CMO and General Manager of an internet bar exam test-prep business. Today, I’m VP of Sales & Marketing for a startup in the legal space that drives highly qualified traffic to law firm web sites.

You recently launched your business, 312 Digital, as a “hard-core, how-to digital marketing training business.” Could you elaborate on what 312 Digital is about?

312 Digital offers a wide range of digital marketing training classes. The classes are always conducted in-person and they are limited in size to encourage the best possible learning environment.

Many people attend a conference or webinar to try to learn the various disciplines that fall under digital marketing – or they just muddle through and learn on their own.

Most conferences don’t teach attendees how to perform digital marketing tasks. Instead, they focus on teaching strategy or worse yet, simply highlight keynote speakers.

Most webinars don’t teach anything, either. Instead, they exist to get people to hand over their contact information so businesses can follow up and sell them something else – a product or a service. Webinars are the perfect lead gen machine – but they very rarely teach very much.

312 Digital provides a rigorous, structured method for learning the ins and outs of digital marketing. We offer classes in Email Marketing, Content Marketing, Social Media, Video and much more.

What inspired you to create 312 Digital?

The “idea” of 312 Digital is really a coming together of a few different ideas. I really wanted to do more speaking, because speaking and teaching is something I really enjoy.

I also love to work closely with people I love and respect. Collaboration is, to me, one of the highest art forms of professionalism. I love to surround myself with people who are much smarter myself: Better writers; better speakers; amazing people.

I have a pretty robust network and was looking for a way to collaborate with the best and brightest. 312 Digital is a coming together of these two things – collaborating with really smart people and teaching people about digital marketing.

Could you share your insights into what’s involved in starting up an online marketing business?

I’m not sure we’re doing anything different than what you would do. We’ve created a tightly defined offering – one that lends itself to robust storytelling. We’ve identified a group of influencers and shared what we are doing with them in hopes that they would actively share our story with their networks.

We have focused quite a bit on potential off-line marketing channels, because our target market is not necessarily heavily involved on-line. A significant segment of the market still needs to learn these digital marketing skills. We’re targeting them.

So what makes 312 Digital training unique?

My main goal for 312 Digital is to be able to offer the best possible training for the money. One of the ways we do that is via a business model and a mission that keeps the focus on the training and on serving our students.

The best way to illustrate what I mean is to share with you a few guidelines we’ve developed as I thought through the business model.

  1. 312 Digital will NEVER accept sponsors at our events. Ever. I believe the very act of selling access to your paying customers is akin to pimping them out – a vile act that has no place in business.
  2. 312 Digital pays our speakers. This ensures there is an arms-length business relationship between 312 Digital and our speakers. This is the best possible way to ensure the content they provide is the best it can be. My time has value; so does your time; so does our students’ time. I value that time and pay accordingly.
  3. 312 Digital speakers receive every lead from every class. I will never take a consulting fee from one of our students. I will never take a finder’s fee or a cut of any work our speakers that generates from a 312 Digital class. Ever. This ensures I have the best interest of our speakers at heart, just as I do our students.

I know of no other provider who has stated operating principles like these. These are the cornerstones of what I would call “business integrity.” I believe we charge a fair price for an amazing day of learning. I don’t want that muddied or muddled by side deals and sponsorships. I want the focus on the classroom and the student.

Any words of wisdom you’d like to offer to the newer online copywriter or internet marketer?

My advice is this. Study hard. Work hard. Be a student of the game. Understand your customers. Understand the rules of the game. Understand who the judges are and what they want as an outcome.

My single most important advice is this – stop trying to find shortcuts to success. As marketers, it is endemic in us, and I cannot for the life of me understand why. If something is freely available, cheap and easy to execute it probably doesn’t work. If it does work, it won’t work for long.


More about Sean McGinnis

Sean McGinnis is founder of 312 Digital, a company that teaches marketers, consultants and small business owners how to market their business on the web via training classes focused on Digital Marketing, SEO, Social Media, Email Marketing, PPC, and more. Sean also brings his 14+ years of digital marketing experience on behalf of clients through regular consulting and speaking engagements. You can connect with Sean on Twitter and LinkedIn.

photo thanks to woodleywonderworks


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