Chaz Cervino and Tom Ottaiano started out as teammates in Hofstra University’s football program. Today, they are the president and CEO (respectively) of Today’s Business—a rapidly growing digital marketing agency that has worked with top athletes, luxury real estate companies, and countless other industries.
Today on Stay Paid, Chaz and Tom offer tips for creating a robust online presence that will take your business to the next level.
- Real estate agents and other businesses should be consistently active on multiple social media platforms.
- Affiliate and influencer marketing can expose your business to new audiences and drive sales.
- When building a team, it’s important not to scale too quickly or to an unmanageable level.
Q: Introduce yourself to our audience.
Chaz: I originally took a scholarship to Syracuse. After my coach got fired, I transferred to Hofstra. Later, Tom came to Hofstra on a full scholarship. When Tom welcomed me into his circle, everyone on the team welcomed me, as well.
That year, I broke my ribs and punctured my lung. They wound up canceling the entire football program. But, right before that, Tom was named captain. He transferred to Monmouth, became All-American, and wound up playing in the NFL.
Tom: Hofstra canceling the program gave me an opportunity to start my football career off in a different way. At the same time, it gave Chaz the opportunity to actually be a normal college student. After I transferred and then had my NFL career, we wondered, “How can we transfer this knowledge to the business world?”
I got cut from the Jets, and Chaz was in the process of trying to take the test to be an insurance agent. We decided we were going to start a business—not exactly what we were doing now, but similar to it. We had the chance to take and shape our own destiny. We didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. Today’s Business was founded on $400. That’s the only $400 we’ve ever put into this company. Eight years later, we’ve built an Inc. 5000 company.
Q: What does your company do?
We’re a full-service digital marketing agency. We either help businesses enhance what they already have or help them create it. We offer services related to digital marketing, SEO, social media, email marketing, etc. Another big part of our brand is managing affiliate accounts and influencer marketing.
We’re a strong resource for any business. We work with large and medium-sized companies. We started out working with mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, and bars. Now, we work with some of the biggest companies in the world. We’ve tried to stay diverse, because we always felt that would make us more creative. We’ve had the opportunities to work with hundreds of different types of businesses.
Q: What has been the hardest part for you in growing this business from the two of you to 50 employees?
The biggest thing is scaling—knowing what your bandwidth is and not running over or underneath it. Because we’re so competitive, all we initially cared about was gross revenue. But that doesn’t mean anything if your bottom line is $0.
The hardest thing about running a business is knowing whether you can scale and then making that decision. It might be easier to run a company at $5 million than at $20 million. We’re institutionally funded, which is great. We started out with all interns. Converting all of them to employees was a challenge.
When you’re scaling up, your clients don’t necessarily want to pay more money, but your employees want to be making more money. In order to retain employees, you need to understand what their expectations are and what motivates them. We’ve experimented with a lot of value-added bonuses—for example: working from home, paid lunches, and Summer Fridays. By incorporating IRAs and other benefits, you continue to bring new things to the table.
Q: If a real estate agent came to you and said they needed help with digital marketing, what are some of the things you would look at?
Don’t get into real estate nowadays if you don’t like social media. The older generation is looking to hire companies like ourselves, whereas young people are looking to create their own brand. We’d get into how to post a picture and tag it on Instagram. There’s not going to be a company that will make or break you as a personal real estate agent. This is all you. You just have to be active.
Q: How do you guys tell stories digitally? How does the process work with a new client?
The first step is creating the planned strategy. Understand that content needs to be distributed every day on each platform. You should already know what you’re going to post two weeks from now. Nowadays, with social media, people want to hear from you. They want to know your thoughts on the market and what’s going on in town. For example, if I’m a real estate agent, why wouldn’t I have my own podcast? You can tell your own story.
Ultimately, it goes back to being able to create the content and put it out there. That’s really where you have to make sure it’s all set up properly and scalable. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your iPhone or a high-definition camera—you have to get the content out there.
Q: What is affiliate marketing, and what does it look like?
The best way to describe it: they’re your online salespeople. They’re selling your crap for you. If you have a really great product, these people can sell this product because of their niche or their expertise. The way we go about it is a little different. We wanted to bring back the relationship portion of affiliate marketing. A few years back, you had a lot of fraud. It left a bad taste in people’s mouths.
We saw the need to marry the two worlds. Just as we focus on bringing value to our employees, we focus on bringing value to our clients. Since then, we’ve changed the game in a lot of respects, as far as how affiliate marketing is done.
Affiliate marketing is performance-driven. People work on a percentage of sales, and that can be scaled differently. But it’s a vertical that’s not meant for everybody. At the same time, it’s been one of the most fulfilling things for us. You can really take the athlete mentality to it.
It comes down to having the right product and the right profit margin. If you have a great business and great profit margins, it can take your business further. That’s where we can really help you grow.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you go back and tell your younger selves?
Chaz: I was just so naïve about this business when we started. We went in pretty much blind. We’d just figure it out, and, obviously, we made a lot of mistakes over the years. But we were able to recoup our efforts. I’d tell myself that it was going to be hard.
Tom: I could probably tell myself 50 different technical things I would’ve done differently. One of them would’ve been to pay attention in accounting class in college. But I would also be more adaptive to people. When you come from a background like I do, with a big family, you have to understand people and how they operate—what drives them. Everybody doesn’t tick like you.
That was really hard for me to do. That was how I went from being a salesman to being a CEO— by understanding people.
All this goes backs to athletics. The most successful teams are successful because they have a strong core and a strong leadership.
- What is your unique value proposition? Figure out the unique quality that you can share across all platforms.
Connect with Chaz and Tom: