The Beal Deal Interview Channel

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Special Summer Edition: The Beal Deal with Rae Hoffman (@sugarrae)



Rae-Hoffman-SugarraeOK, I have a confession and an apology.

Apparently The Beal Deal took its summer break before publishing Rae Hoffman’s interview. This is a huge oversight on my part, and I owe Rae an apology. Sorry Rae.

Anyway, if you know Rae, you’ll know that she’s probably quietly sobbing in a corner clutching her blanky sharpening her knife collection & pulling out the Andy Beal voodoo doll. So, I’m interrupting this summer hiatus to bring you her interview.

Thanks Rae!

Q1. Let’s get you warmed up with a soft ball question. Where did the nickname Sugarrae come from?

I cannot tell you how many people assume it’s after the band (it’s definitely not).

I cannot tell you how many people assume it’s after the band (it’s definitely not). LOL. In the early days of my career, I went by “chrisnrae” in all of the forums – which was a combination of my then husband’s name and my own. I had no idea I was “creating a brand” when I signed up for my forum accounts. When I got divorced, I wanted to change my nickname for obvious reasons. Very graciously, most of the administrators at the big forums in that day understood why I wanted the change and why I wanted to still keep my prior posting history in the forums (vs. simply signing up a new account). So it then became an issue of coming up with a name to change to.

I knew I wanted Rae in the name. I forget the exact circumstances regarding how “Sugarrae” became an option on the table, but I immediately liked the name upon hearing it for two reasons. The first is that I love Sugar Ray Leonard – I think he’s an amazing fighter. The second was that it was kind of ironic. Most people didn’t associate me with the word “sweet”. I’m very much a tomboy who calls it like I see it. I attempted to keep that irony going when I designed my site – the choice of the “girly” colors was very deliberate.

Q2. Are you an SEO that does affiliate marketing or an affiliate marketer that does SEO?

I primarily only did SEO for my own affiliate efforts until a few years ago

In the early days of doing online marketing commercially, I started out as an affiliate marketer and SEO was simply the route I took to promote those sites (mainly because it was free to do – I had no money to invest in websites when I first started out). But, I quickly fell in love with the “game” of SEO.

For the first few years of my career, I was very entrenched in the SEO community and rarely ventured into the affiliate community. In fact, I didn’t attend my first affiliate specific event – Affiliate Summit – until 2009 – six years after I began attending SEO events. But, even though I was more involved in and known in SEO circles, I primarily only did SEO for my own affiliate efforts until a few years ago.

I guess I see myself as a hybrid. I own a successful online marketing agency – however I also not only maintain my prior affiliate efforts, but I still build out new ones. I love helping other companies build their online presence (and more importantly revenue), but there’s something about building my own sites – a bug – that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up.

Q3. If someone asked me to name the toughest woman in SEO, I’d pick you. What’s your biggest weakness: professionally and personally?

Ha! Thanks… I hope. ;-) Professionally, it’s likely that I can be disorganized – like, really, really disorganized. A close second would be that I often work in “spurts”. One day I can’t focus on anything and find myself wandering the net getting nothing done or even abandoning the attempt to get anything done for the day all together. But, then there are days where I’m the most productive machine you could possibly imagine for 12 hours straight. Over the years, I’ve learned not to fight it. It’s simply how I’m built.

On a personal level, my biggest weakness would probably be that I have a hard time trusting people. It takes a lot for someone to earn my trust and once someone does, they only get one chance to maintain it. I don’t give second chances.

Q4. Tell us about PushFire. How is it different from all of the other search agencies out there?

…if we don’t think we can give you a positive ROI for whatever reason, then we’ll turn you away as a client.

When we started PushFire, my main goal was to transfer my reputation as “Sugarrae” to something that was independent of me as an individual. Sugarrae – the name, the brand – is me personally and it’s something I’d never sell or give someone ownership in. At the same time, PushFire is also now my brand and that’s something I take very seriously. When we launched PushFire, our goal was to provide businesses with solutions for SEO and PPC management that would provide ROI for the client.

I think we differ from a lot of other agencies in several ways. First, if we don’t think we can give you a positive ROI for whatever reason, then we’ll turn you away as a client. We also don’t lock anyone into long term contracts – we only want to work with people as long as they want to work with us.

We’re also very conscious and adamant about not scaling so fast that we lose quality. That’s why our link building services page has had a message saying we currently have no openings for that particular service since the day we launched the company (the prior agencies we merged to form PushFire already had a full roster).

We do our best to hire because we see amazing talent and not because we need to hire the first acceptable person we can find because we’ve taken on a new client. Typically, we only have new openings for link building clients as we find new awesome people to hire – and we pull from our waiting list to fill those openings. Luckily, we’re been able to find great talent here in Houston, which has allowed us to grow at an awesome pace.

Q5. You’re down to your last 6-pack of Coors Light. Who are the 5 industry people you hand a beer and toast with, and why?

First and foremost would be Mike Mackin. I don’t want to say that I wouldn’t have my career at all without him (he always used to tell me I’d have succeeded even with an anchor tied around my neck when I used to say that), but he definitely helped put me on the fast track to where I am today. Seeing him be awarded the Affiliate Marketing Legend award this year was something I was honored to witness and be a part of.

I’d definitely hand one to Christine Churchill as well. At an early SES, I invited her to lunch one day. I admired her success coupled with her appearing to not lose “her roots” so to speak. She graciously accepted. I learned three things during that lunch. First is that Christine is far smarter than most people even realize (and everyone knows she’s smart). Second is that she is one of the most genuine, down to earth people you could ever hope to meet. Lastly, she instantaneously became a model I wanted to aspire to mirror in many aspects as I moved forward in my career. I’m very lucky to be able to call her a good friend.

Greg Boser would get one, though he’d definitely balk at it being a Coors Light, LOL. He’s hands down one of the most talented SEOs I’ve ever met. And surprisingly, we’re actually a lot alike personality wise in a variety of ways. Greg and I don’t chat daily, but some of the most memorable talks I’ve ever had with anyone in this industry have been the ones I’ve had with him – on both a personal and professional level. I kind of see him like my older industry brother in some ways.

Missy Ward is another. She’s simply inspiring in so many aspects. She’s self made and self paid – two qualities I very much admire. Her business skills and her business instincts are amazing. Her dedication to her charitable efforts sets a new standard for the rest of us to live up to. And she does all of this while doing an amazing job at raising her two boys. I have very few people in my life I’d declare a “role model” but Missy is one of them. And I couldn’t ask for a better friend – “industry” aside.

Lastly, but definitely not least, would be Michael Gray. I don’t even remember how Michael and I met. But I know that he’s been my partner in crime, one of my best friends and my number one confidant (cue the Golden Girls theme song) about anything and everything for a long time now. We bicker about SEO and affiliate marketing like an old married couple. He’s constantly challenging me on a professional level and he’s the person I trust most in this industry on a personal level.

Q6. Tell us about your passion for helping the Houston American Heart Association and how our readers can help.

In 1997 my oldest son had a massive bilateral stroke when he was two weeks old which gave him severe brain damage on both sides of his brain. It’s actually how I got started in this industry. Unfortunately, his stroke was atypically severe and he was severely handicapped – both physically and mentally – as a result of it.

My son’s stroke was initially missed by the doctors. At the time, there wasn’t a ton of education in the medical community in regards to childhood stroke. Had they caught it when it happened, his outcome may have been different. The American Heart Association (AHA) has been one of the biggest pioneers in educating the medical community on pediatric stroke. I can’t change what happened to my son, but I can try to ensure that other families – and children – don’t have to repeat our experiences.

In November of 2012, my son passed away due to conditions he’d developed as a result of his stroke. He was 15 years old. I’m determined to have the impact of his time on this earth continue to educate and inspire. If people would like to help with that, I’m walking in honor of my son this year as I’ve done in past years. Previously I’ve walked in honor of him. This year, it’s in his memory.