Peace Out to My Digital Marketing Career – It’s Been One Hell of a Ride

I tried several different ways to begin this post, but it seemed only fitting to be as blunt in this announcement as I have been during my entire SEO and affiliate career, thus the title of this entry.

It's been an amazing ride

In 1998, after my oldest son suffered a massive bilateral stroke, I founded the first international support group for parents of pediatric stroke survivors to ever register with the American Heart Association.

From there I fell into online marketing – affiliate marketing specifically. SEO was the vehicle of promotion I decided to learn to promote those efforts. A guy noticed me asking questions on a message board and contacted me via private messenger. His name was Mike Mackin, and he saw something in me – before I even did. Mackin introduced me to a guy named Rod B. who would become my mentor during my early days in this field. Both of these men changed my life and will forever have my gratitude for it.

I started out promoting telecom services and then moved into the phentermine space. I was a quick study on SEO, and before I knew it, I was ranking #1 for the phrase “buy phentermine” – among others. I'd played in various spaces in my early days – telecom, diet pills, satellite TV, insurance, bankruptcy, etc. – had amazing success with it and did everything “the right way.”

In 2004, many of my sites were wiped out in the Florida update despite “playing by the rules.” I was pretty sure I knew what strategies were working in the blackhat space and figured if I could get screwed either way in an algorithm update, I might as well start playing fast and loose. Which I then did successfully for the next two years.

But the writing was on the wall after a while concerning Google making strides in the war on spam. There was one particular up and coming industry I had been playing in via blackhat methods that seemed to be ignored by quality content affiliates – prepaid cell phone plans – and I decided to make another shift in late 2005 back to the “legit” side of the Google line. I took on a partner I'd met via a conference and had become friends with to be the development side. We launched what would eventually become one of – if not the – biggest review sites for prepaid cell phones on the net (when we sold it in 2013, it had over 30,000 legitimate consumer reviews across 25+ providers).

We worked well together and would go on to form MFE Interactive, which produced several more websites doing a combined 4 million+ page views a month in traffic at their height. I had so much fun with that company, and my partner in MFE – who had much more business experience than I did when we started – taught me so much. He took my raw hustle and gave it a business education. And for that, I'll always be grateful.

Confession: Publicly MFE stood for “Marked for Evolution.” We came up with that “explanation” on the fly when a Fortune company we were dealing with asked us what the MFE stood for. In reality, it had always stood for “My Fucking Empire.”

By 2009, I had been on the speaking circuit for about five years. I never had a “reason” for speaking; I didn't take on clients. I spoke to give back to the community that had given so much to me in those early days. Some of the connections I made at those conferences had made me a lot of money in one way or another, and so I continued to attend them.

In 2009, I would partner up with two people I knew from those conferences – one well and one by association – and form an agency. It would be less than two years before I walked away from that agency. At the time I would have said “without much to show for it” because from a financial perspective that was the case.

In reality, I walked away with some hard-learned, but very valuable lessons. Never go into business with anyone without having everything – including an exit plan – in writing. Never ignore your gut – mine told me things probably weren't going to work out a few months in, and I could have saved myself some time, drama, money, and energy by listening to it. And never go into business with a friend you don't consider expendable in your personal life. Losing money, time, energy – they're all things that eventually fade into the past. Losing a human being you valued from your life sticks with you a bit more.

After walking away from that agency at the end of 2010, I took a bit of a break. MFE was generating plenty of income, and I was trying to figure out what was next. In 2012 I decided it was time to saddle back up, and I partnered with Sean and co-founded another agency – PushFire

PushFire saw immediate success, and I ended up selling off MFE's assets in 2013 to give it my full focus. PushFire has continued kicking ass for the last 5+ years. I'm very proud of the reputation and culture we've built and am excited to see it continue to grow.

Throughout all of this, I continued to produce, profit from, and sell independent affiliate sites I owned outside of all these ventures.

Sometimes life throws a curveball – that hits you right in the face

My oldest son, CJ, was severely multiply handicapped as a result of the stroke he suffered as an infant. Making sure he had the best quality of life possible had always been the biggest force driving me to obtain success in life. In 2012, he passed away after getting pneumonia. He was 15. We always knew that he wouldn't outlive us, but nothing truly prepares you for that moment.

Losing a child changes you. It calls everything you thought you knew about life into question. It makes you re-evaluate things and re-examine your choices. It also reminds you that life is short, you only get one, and you'd better fucking make the most of it.

As I began looking at things through this more critical lens over the next few years, I realized that being an SEO had become mundane for me. I was going through the very familiar motions and – frankly – I didn't have a passion for it anymore. But, I'd been doing SEO and affiliate marketing for almost half of my life, had built myself a killer brand in the space, and I'd had so much success with it. I'd be crazy to walk away from it because I find it a little boring now – right?

One. Fucking. Life.

Luckily, success gives you options, and I decided to choose not to do something I now found monotonous. I decided then that it was time for something new. And so I began the hunt to figure out what “that” might be.

It had to be something worth walking away from this industry – something that excited me. Something that made me want to eat, breathe and sleep it. Something that made me feel the way I did when I first got involved in the affiliate marketing and SEO industries almost two decades ago.

Finding what that new focus would be proved no easy task, and the search felt futile at times. In the end, I stumbled upon it accidentally the same way I did the online marketing industry. But we'll get to that in a minute.

Retiring from SEO consulting & affiliate marketing

It’s hard to write those words wrapped in H2 tags after almost two decades in the space, but there they are.

For the last few years, I’d been selling sites from my stable of affiliate sites in preparation for dedicating myself to something new. I’d brought the focus down to a handful of sites that were my favorites. Those sites will be dormant moving forward. I’ll continue cashing their commission checks until they stop coming. I won’t be selling them because I view them as keepsakes of my long-time affiliate career – a career I’m very proud of.

My retirement from SEO consulting has been in the works for a while, and hints at it had probably been noticed by people who had been paying close attention.

In June of 2015 I stopped committing to new speaking engagements, and in March of 2016, I spoke at my last national conference and announced I wouldn’t be speaking at any future conferences.

We stopped taking ongoing SEO clients at that same time and began transitioning existing SEO clients to trusted partners. We then removed ongoing SEO services as an offering from the PushFire site. PushFire now moves on – focused exclusively on paid search and social advertising management.

However, I'd be crazy to leave my SEO skill set entirely in the rear-view mirror. I'll still have to stay up to date on the parts of the industry that stand to benefit my personal needs, but any execution of my SEO knowledge and expertise will be limited to my new ventures moving forward.

Before moving on from this topic, I'd like to make one thing very clear; I don't think SEO or affiliate marketing is dying. My departure from the fields is not a reflection of the opportunities I believe they contain. I simply felt as if I’d been there, done that and needed a new challenge.

My new ventures

So what will I be doing now and how did I finally figure out what “that” would be?

Audrey Marie Investments

PushFire has had multiple clients in the real estate investing industry and had since its inception. One of them is local to us here in the Houston area. In February of 2017, Sean asked me to come to the first day of a new weekend seminar series they’d developed in support of its launch.

If you know me, you know I hate big cities, so driving into Houston on a Friday morning during rush hour did not sound like fun to me. But a few friends of ours were also going to be there, so I reluctantly agreed to go. We showed up, found some seats with our friends, and the event started.

I. Was. Captivated.

Before the day was out, I knew. I told Sean: I’d found my new mountain.

I ended up attending the entire seminar that weekend. Within two weeks, I had two houses under contract to hold as rental properties and Audrey Marie Investments was born. The deeper I got into the real estate investing industry, the surer I was it was what I'd been looking for.

In October 2017 we bought a third rental property, and in early December, we closed on a fourth – a flooded home that needed a full rehab. In January 2018, we closed on number five, and in February we closed on number six. Sean and I both own AMI, but I will be the one running it as Sean remains fully focused on PushFire.

Real estate investing has a lot of parallels to affiliate marketing from my perspective. Anyone with the drive to learn it can, you only eat what you kill, and hustle will get you far. Strong negotiation skills increase your income and networking is a big part of furthering your success in the business. Going to investor meetups reminds me a lot of the old days of SEO conferences – almost everyone is in the trenches, and most people are willing to foster any raw talent they see.

And almost all investors agree that finding the deals – the marketing aspect – is the toughest part of the business – and is the one that comes most naturally to me thanks to my background. In March of 2018, we launched the AMI House Buyers website and brand as our marketing vehicle to find off-market properties.

Game on.

The real estate life

Loving every moment of being in the real estate game, I decided that becoming an agent was my next logical step. I took and passed the national and state exams in November of 2017 – officially being issued my license in March of 2018. There are numerous reasons behind my choice to become an agent. But, the two biggest reasons were that it helps me in my real estate investing efforts and also allows me to use my skill set to do commission-based lead generation for other real estate agents in my area.

What can I say – old habits die hard.

This lead to the development a website centered around my newfound status as an agent – Roots & Wings Realty Group in Katy – that I launched this morning. I'm looking forward to building both its rankings and its brand.

My future involvement with PushFire

I will continue to co-own PushFire, but I won't be its CEO anymore. I'll remain employed as an advisor to the company and oversee the generic stuff for it concerning finances and paperwork – and the occasional internal SEO checkup for the PushFire site. But I'll have no public-facing or client-facing role in the company and no involvement in its operations. In reality, it's been that way for almost a year now. None of our clients will notice a change.

Sean is now PushFire's CEO, and he will be the “face” of the company with regard to the industry, clientele, business development, promotion, etc. And it's a role he's more than qualified to fulfill.

The Sugarrae site moving forward

So what happens to the Sugarrae site? Honestly, I have no idea. Sugarrae is and always has been my personal brand. As I evolve and change, it will too. I've moved it to a minimalistic design for ease of maintenance. I may never publish another post here, or I might shift its focus onto my experiences with entrepreneurship in general. Time will tell.

For now, many of the prior posts on the blog will remain live as I know there are folks that still read, reference, and use the content on the site.

The only thing I know for sure is that I won't be blogging here about affiliate marketing or SEO anymore.

AMI House Buyers and Roots & Wings Realty Group will be my primary focuses moving forward.

Sugarrae Sound Bites bites the dust

Pun completely intended. Based on the feedback I've received regarding the newsletter over the last few years, this will be disappointing news for its readers. But it is what it is and was an inevitable casualty of my moving on from the industry.

A dedication

On February 26th of 2017, my Dad was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. By March 8th of 2017, he was gone. For the last twenty years of my life, my father was the best Dad that I could have ever asked for. He was an amazing grandfather who was deeply loved by his grandchildren. When my son passed away, he was my first phone call.

He was a proud Marine – and if he were reading this, he'd correct me and say that I shouldn't use past tense when referring to him being a Marine – because “once a Marine, always a Marine.” He is where I inherited my drive and my resolve. You can also blame him for my stubbornness. He was my biggest cheerleader throughout my entire career and always believed in me.

So this next run is for you Dad. OORAH!

A final word

This industry changed my life. I will be forever grateful that I found it. That I fell in love with it. That I learned from it. My time within it taught me more than any university education ever could have.

I wouldn’t trade a single experience in my career – even the failures and flops – because I have learned something from every one of them that has made me a better marketer, a better businessperson, and a better human being in general.

I’m especially thankful for the friendships it made me.

“I always said that when it was time to retire, I would know it, and I would just tip my hat to the crowds.” – Willie Stargell

Thank you to everyone who was ever a part of my digital marketing crowd. It’s time.
Official press release.
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– Open graph photo credit.

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Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is a veteran digital marketer and SEO consultant. She is also a serial entrepreneur. You can find out more about her entrepreneurial efforts here. Rae is most active on Twitter.