Gail Gardener is the founder of Growmap is recognized as a marketing strategist who specializes in setting up and scaling the marketing operations of SMB. She is highly recognized as an expert in digital marketing processes for emerging and mid-level businesses.
Let’s start the interview
Cloudways: Let’s start with a traditional question. Tell our audience a bit about yourself. How did it all begin? Who motivated and inspired you to be who you are today?
Gail: Just before I was to start my junior year of college, I applied at IBM. Even though I didn’t have an electronics background, logical thinking and being good at algebra in high school enabled me to ace the entrance test.
I was told I had the highest score in the logic section that the office had ever seen. I’m not surprised because I looked at the logic blocks and had no idea what they were. But they reminded me of math, so I treated them as though they were equations. And that worked.
So instead of going on in college studying piano, I went to work for IBM as the first woman field tech in that office. I was part of the first group of women ever hired except for two “test” women before us.
IBM’s CEO and board decided that they deserved our retirement more than we did. So after 23 years at IBM, I resigned and left, thinking I might build websites for horse businesses. I had been online since 1993 and built the largest horse site at the time thanks to access to a T-1 line (main internet trunk) at a friend’s ISP (during the days of slow dial-up).
I kept running into a neighbor, his trailer loaded with a brand new horse walker, on his way across the country. After a few times, I asked him how he was selling all these products. He said a friend was advertising them online. He didn’t know where.
So I went home, got on the internet, and started searching. I finally found his ads and a really awful website built on a free geo-cities site. So I researched pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
The next time I saw him, I asked him how much he was spending. He said, “oh, $25 or $30 dollars a month”. I asked him how many he was selling a month: “oh 2 or 3” – and he had the highest-priced horse walkers online! What a return!
So I went to a Mennonite neighbor whose website I had built. His construction company sold buildings and playhouses. I pitched him the idea that if he paid for the advertising, I’d do it for free to learn how. He wasn’t interested, but he happened to mention it to his brother-in-law who built gazebos. The gazebo-seller insisted on paying me no matter what happened.
In the beginning, I could help them make a lot of money. (After he was successful, I also ran ads for the buildings.) For five and a half years I did nothing but PPC.
This was before Google AdWords existed and then a little while after it launched. Back then, Yahoo! had bought Overture and they were the big dog. They were just as good as AdWords, but they destroyed their business trying to copy Google. There were other smaller platforms, too, like Kanoodle.
I could advertise small businesses starting at five cents a click. Clever long-tail keywords let me sell real estate at 25 cents a click when others were paying $1+.
But I could tell where Google was going. They kept broad-matching (equating) my best long-tail keywords with the most generic keyword, creating a zero-sum game my small business clients couldn’t play.
So I quit PPC and set out to figure out how small businesses could survive in spite of Google. Wiley & Sons even asked if I wanted to write a book about it. But at that time, I wasn’t well-known enough to promote a book well.
That is when I started GrowMap and creating small business marketing strategies instead.
Cloudways: According to your Twitter profile, you are associated with GrowMap and BizSugar? Tell us about it? Are GrowMap and BizSugar related? What are your responsibilities?
Gail: I founded GrowMap in 2008, so it is 11 years old now. It is my primary site where I publish tips and advice for small business. I also write for other small business sites as time allows.
BizSugar is owned by Anita Campbell’s Small Business Trends, LLC which also owns her primary site Small Business Trends where I am a part-time staff writer.
Cloudways: Can you tell us what inspired you and how was the journey from hosting to marketing?
Gail: Originally, I had a blog about pay-per-click (PPC) advertising called PPCThink, where I shared how to increase conversions at a lower cost on Yahoo ads (formerly Overture), AdWords, and many secondary PPC sites.
I started GrowMap when I switched from PPC to small business marketing strategy. The site was originally built and hosted by Sam Russo’s website design agency Click Refresh (formerly Search Friendly Web Design). Sam still builds and maintains websites, primarily WordPress and WooCommerce sites.
Eventually, Sam was extremely busy with ecommerce sites and I was doing some collaboration with an SEO consultant and web designer Ron Cripps. GrowMap developed a database issue (as older, very large sites running complex plugins are apt to do). So we moved it to Ron’s server to diagnose that issue.
Now that Ron is moving his sites to an Australian server, my plan is for Will Patton of PattonWebz to assist with a redesign and move GrowMap to his server. No one knows more about hosting companies than Will. And he is the current WordPress Theme Review Team lead.
Cloudways: Who manages your websites? Have you outsourced your websites to agencies or have an in-house team that looks after website management and server issues?
Gail: I have always outsourced the technical aspects of my websites to others as explained above. Anything design-related that I need tweaked I have them or a collaborator change for me.
I handle image creation, editing, and publishing of content myself, although I did have an assistant editor for about a year. Videos and SlideShares for GrowMap are created by Julie Weishaar of NewHorizons123.
Cloudways: You describe yourself as a Small Business Marketing Strategist. What advice do you give frequently to new startups?
Gail: I don’t get involved in how they choose a business type, set up accounting, or handle their legal requirements. What I do is explain which marketing options will give them the fastest results for the least effort and cost.
I give them a pre-populated Trello board to keep track of what they’re doing and teach them to use it.
The most important marketing strategy for small businesses — and especially the very small businesses I advise — is prioritization. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you could be doing and end up not doing what is most important.
For example, any business that has a physical address should focus on their local listings first — even if they are selling only online.
All businesses must choose a brand name that is short, easy to remember, can only be spelled one way and understandable over the phone.
They need a matching username. Use Knowem (free) to make sure their desired username is available on at least all the major platforms.
Then they should register a domain and have a website somewhere, even if it is only a free site to start with.
I recommend never having domain registration and hosting at the same place (because if issues occur with one company, the site can be recovered).
It is essential to use exactly the same name, address and phone number (NAP) everywhere online. They need to write that down and always maintain consistency.
If they use LLC after their business name, always use it. Addresses are particularly problematic because they could write 1234 Main St. or 1234 Main Street or 1234 Main. Pick one, ideally the version used by Google Maps, and stick to it.
Even if they do not have a local shop or office, these are valuable incoming links to the brand’s website. Once they have those, the next step is to claim the same username on every social platform and bookmarking site.
They don’t have to be active on all of them; just use them to be found easily and direct people to where they are active.
It is essential to use exactly the same username everywhere because even if only two are used, people cannot remember which is used where.
There are five important reasons businesses should always claim their username everywhere:
- They make a brand much easier to find.
- It prevents someone else from impersonating them using their best-known username.
- These are easy and valuable incoming links they can point at their site.
- They enable them to dominate searches of their brand name, insulating them from most bad publicity. Only the Ripoff Report can outrank most social networks.
- Funnel visitors to the brand site and the social network(s) they are most active on.
Cloudways: Which podcasts/podcasters do you really like and why? As a public influencer, what was your last talk about? And where will you be speaking next?
Gail: Because I spend so much time at the desk and not commuting, I never got in the habit of regularly listening to podcasts.
But I have been a guest on Martin Lindeskog’s EGO NetCast podcast and others. Listening to that episode is a good way to find out more about BizSugar Sharing and BizSugar Mastermind.
He has prominent BizSugar members as guests so our community can get to know each other better. Most recently, ghostwriter David Leonhardt of The Happy Guy Marketing was on.
I’ve known David for over 10 years which is how long we’ve both been using BizSugar Sharing. He is everywhere and explains why in his podcast episode.
We have discussed podcasting at length inside the BizSugar Mastermind Community. I had shared a list of podcast directories there. And members shared their favorite podcasts. You and your audience are welcome to join us there.
Cloudways: How do you see the future of WordPress? Have you ever experienced any WordPress hosting-related issues? If yes, what changes would you propose?
Gail: Personally, I believe WordPress was much stronger and better off before Automattic made Gutenberg part of the WordPress core. That has created a rift pretty much down the middle and made the future of WordPress shaky.
Cloudways: In your blog, “Huge Changes Coming with 5.0 Gutenberg” you mentioned possible issues with Gutenberg. How do you see the future of Gutenberg as the default WordPress editor?
Gail: Right now, a large percentage of serious bloggers and especially those of us who write long-form content are running the Classic Editor plugin.
What concerns me is that at some future date, Automattic may try to remove that option. So the solution is to immediately start supporting the WordPress fork ClassicPress.
They need us to get behind them now to make sure they survive and thrive. Moving GrowMap to ClassicPress is part of what Will Patton will be doing for me.
But what they really need is someone like Neil Patel, champion of really long posts, to promote them to his audience.
Cloudways: What tools and processes make up your workflows? What apps, gadgets, or tools you can’t live without?
Gail: I’m a huge fan of project management systems, partly because I detest email because of all the spam!
For complex collaborator projects, I build extensive custom workflows using Wrike Enterprise. Freelancers like me often work on many projects all at once. Wrike is how I can do that.
I have mentioned that I use Trello for client brand strategy. It is also what I use daily for less complicated projects including keeping track of pending content for GrowMap.
And I have built dozens of boards to keep track of collaborators, talent and any tools and SaaS platforms clients may need.
Much of my time is spent connecting businesses that need work done with experienced freelancers capable of doing it.
We use Word Docs to share content with each other. And Zoho Sheets for some collaborative projects.
For BizSugar we use Zoho One. The main site is built on Zoho Sites and the BizSugar Small Business Mastermind Community runs on Zoho Connect, Zoho’s project management system.
By running the Mastermind Community in a project management system, our users learn how to navigate and the value of project management.
I use Zoho Connect Tasks (similar to Trello boards) to manage what I do for BizSugar.
All writers can benefit from using:
- BuzzSumo for researching topics, influencers, and the most popular content
- Co-Schedule Headline Analyzer
- Neil Patel’s UberSuggest for keyword research
- Viral Content Bee and BizSugar Sharing for getting more visitors and social shares
- Canva and Venngage for creating custom images
Cloudways: How do you keep track of what you have to do? And how do you recharge or take a break?
Gail: As I mentioned above, I use Wrike, Trello, and Zoho Connect Tasks to keep track of what I have to do.
I work from home as a freelancer and set my own hours (except for scheduled events and meetings). This gives me the freedom to take frequent breaks.
Staring at computer monitors is hard on your eyes. So I go outside and water the plants. Or pick micro-greens and harvest sunflower sprouts for lunch.
Every day I get some exercise outdoors walking to the mailbox (almost half a mile round-trip), feeding the horses, taking my Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) puppies out to run, and feeding and watering the ducks.
I also forage for wild edible plants and mushrooms. Some times of the year, I might be doing some training on the puppies or horses. In the fall I’ll be building huge compost piles.
Cloudways: What are you currently reading, Any recommendations?
Gail: Probably not what you had in mind, but I’ve been reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Piano, 3rd edition. It came in the bench of the antique piano I bought. It is good enough that I recommended it to a young friend just learning to play.
For now, I’d rather read sheet music and play the piano during my non-work time rather than read.
I used to read books constantly, but now I read online so much I want to give my eyes a break and not read too many books.
Start Creating Web Apps on Managed Cloud Servers Now
Easy Web App Deployment for Agencies, Developers and E-Commerce Industry.
Salman is a software engineering graduate and digital marketer by profession. He works as a Digital Marketer Strategist at Cloudways. He loves to create value for the Startup community & help entrepreneur reach their goal. He is a big fan of cricket and does play AAA games in his free time.