When Richart Ruddie got started in digital marketing, he didn’t set out to serve as a reputation fixer.
But as his business grew, he found that to be a lucrative niche for his agency, and he established a track record that kept clients calling.
The kernel of what became The Reputation Management Company began in 2010, when Ruddie worked at a hedge fund by day and practiced online marketing skills in his free time. He advertised his services on Craigslist, and after a few months had enough clients that he decided to quit his job.
“I was in a situation [where] I wasn’t making a lot and wasn’t happy, so the decision to break free was easy,” he told Voyage LA in an interview. In 2011, Ruddie focused his marketing services on online reputation management, and by the end of his first year, he had monthly recurring revenue (MRR) of $60,000.
Ruddie kept The Reputation Management Company lean at the outset, utilizing freelancers to grow the business while keeping expenses low. “We even used a free Google Voice number for years as our only phone system,” he recalled.
During that time, he focused on client success. But rapidly changing algorithms meant that Ruddie and his team needed to pay attention to avoid falling behind the curve — and avoid disappointing customers who were relying on the company to improve their online image.
“There was a point [where] with ease I could rank and un-rank any search result that wasn’t to our liking. I started to have the thinking that Google’s algorithm was going to be that easy to manipulate for the foreseeable future,” Ruddie recalled in his April 2020 Voyage LA interview. “Then reality set in, and now the work to fix issues and to rank web pages is magnitudes more difficult than it was previously — and that’s been a big obstacle when working to satisfy our client base.”
How the Reputation Management Company served its clients
The company had to think creatively to develop content that positively highlights a client while counteracting negative — or in some cases defamatory — online claims. For the Reputation Management Company, success didn’t just mean satisfied clients: It often resulted in referrals to new clients, as well.
One client Ruddie described in a 2022 interview with Grit Daily was a former professional basketball player. The player had been arrested for driving under the influence in the past, and was afraid the previous incident would interfere with their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, along with the growth of their current nonprofit project.
Ruddie’s company couldn’t remove every negative thing ever said online about a client, but they could employ marketing and branding strategies to bring positive news and reviews to the top of search results. Each client engagement might last for several months or longer to achieve the desired result. That allowed the agency to develop a recurring revenue stream, which is the gold standard because it’s predictable.
When it sold in January 2023, The Reputation Management Company had served more than 3,800 clients ranging from individuals to major corporations. It had a full-time staff of 10 and a slate of freelancers supporting it. Monthly revenue was in the 6-figure range.
Ruddie started to consider offers to buy the business before he was sure he was ready to sell. When he was certain it was time to start looking for a buyer, he chose to work with Quiet Light brokerage. They connected him with the private equity firm that ended up buying his business. Both the buyer and terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“I’ve sold smaller businesses and websites in the past, and that was nice and easy,” he said. “Whereas a big digital marketing agency was a bit more complex especially to a buyer who did not own an agency prior.” Working with an M&A broker to express the strength of the business helped him get a valuation that made him more comfortable handing over the reins.
Ruddie advises others to focus on business growth even if you’re already starting to talk with potential buyers. And only pursue a sale, he said, if you’re truly ready to move on from your business.
After selling The Reputation Management Company, Ruddie co-founded Captain Compliance, a firm launched in spring 2023 to help businesses make sure they’re following data privacy and security laws.
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