1899 – Launch and Grow your Internet Business with AJ Silber

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the Owner of Small Business Bonfire, AJ Silber.

Silber Wide

AJ Silber, a distinguished coach and consultant known for his commitment to empowering CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), shared insights on the challenges and successes of leading an SMB in today's competitive environment. Silver highlighted that the role of a CEO in such settings is complex. They must be strategic thinkers focusing on long-term objectives while being agile enough to tackle immediate challenges and seize opportunities.

The discussion also covered the CEO's journey through various stages of business growth. AJ stressed the importance of recognizing when to alter strategies and how to manage organizational change effectively. This is where the role of a coach or consultant becomes critical, as they provide an external perspective and seasoned advice to assist the CEO during these crucial transitions.

AJ's expertise as a consultant was evident as he discussed the foundational elements crucial for a successful SMB. The conversation focused on essential factors such as establishing a clear mission and values and implementing solid systems and processes. The role of a consultant is to guide the CEO in setting up these fundamentals, ensuring the business has a robust foundation to support sustainable growth.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Insights and advice for small and medium-sized business CEOs
  • The CEO's Journey: Navigating Growth and Change
  • Harnessing the Power of Coaching
  • Strategies for success in the business world
  • Tips for effective leadership and management

About AJ Silber:

AJ Silber is a visionary entrepreneur renowned for his expertise in digital marketing and organic lead generation, with a successful track record of launching and scaling ventures. After obtaining a BA in entrepreneurship from The University of St. Thomas, AJ founded The Guerrilla Agency, a Minneapolis-based firm specializing in SEO/SEM and web design services. His strategic leadership rapidly propelled the agency to the forefront of the SEO industry, culminating in a lucrative multi-million dollar acquisition by Kansas City Web Design & SEO after just four years. This accomplishment underscored his ability to create and grow businesses with precision and innovation.

Currently, AJ Silber spearheads Small Business Bonfire (SBB), a platform dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs through a wealth of free resources, actionable advice, and cost-effective educational courses. SBB is a testament to AJ's commitment to empowering small business owners and solopreneurs, offering them the tools needed for success in today's competitive landscape. When not immersed in his entrepreneurial endeavors, AJ indulges in his passion for motorcycles, snow sports, and quality time with loved ones, reflecting a well-rounded life that balances professional achievements with personal interests.

About Small Business Bonfire:

Small Business Bonfire (SBB) serves as an essential online resource for small business owners seeking to amplify their lead generation and sales. The platform offers an extensive collection of free materials, actionable business advice, and affordable courses designed to empower entrepreneurs to scale their operations effectively. By focusing on a wide array of topics, including startup strategies, work-from-home practices, productivity enhancements, social media marketing (SMM), content creation, finance, and overall business management, SBB positions itself as a comprehensive guide for business growth and sustainability.

At its core, Small Business Bonfire is more than a mere repository of information; it is a thriving community where entrepreneurs converge to share experiences, insights, and support. This vibrant ecosystem is built on the collective wisdom of seasoned business owners who contribute high-quality, practical content that addresses the real-world challenges of entrepreneurship. Whether you're in the nascent stages of your business or looking to expand, SBB equips you with the tools and knowledge to ignite your business growth, offering proven strategies and invaluable resources tailored to the unique needs of small businesses.

Tweetable Moments:

11:34 – “Add as much value as possible and people are going to buy from you once they trust you.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Small Business Bonfire at

Check out Small Business Bonfire on LinkedIn at

Check out  AJ Silber on LinkedIn at

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Josh (00:00:04) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence. Com and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now it's AJ Silber. AJ Silber, you are coach for SMB CEOs. You're found on the web at AJ That's S I L B E R AJ thanks so much for joining us.

AJ (00:01:16) - Josh man thanks for having me I'm really excited today.

Josh (00:01:19) - Yeah absolutely. So what brought you into the world of, you know, kind of SMB coaching and particularly those founders and leaders that that operate at that level.

AJ (00:01:28) - Yeah. So I actually started, so right out of college, I started a digital agency, at the time it was called the launch, and then we rebranded to the Guerilla Agency and kind of early 2018, over the course of four years, I scaled that business, into multiple seven figures. And then I exited that business successfully in 2022. So I've kind of run the gambit, man of the whole thing. Right? I've scaled up to, you know, almost 20 employees, you know, at the kind of height of the organization, you know, I focused on culture, obviously, as a marketing agency. So there's I have a pretty diverse background. And, you know, throughout my time working at the, you know, running the agency, I guess I would say I really found it super valuable and helpful or, sorry, the clients did. You know, outside of even my role as like a, you know, doing marketing just, just kind of general advisement and it always got me excited, you know, watching, you know, small business owners, like, scale their businesses outside of just the marketing, you know, services that we provided.

AJ (00:02:24) - So that's sort of what led me into it. It just kind of gets me, gets me excited, if that makes sense.

Speaker 3 (00:02:30) - Yeah.

Josh (00:02:31) - So, AJ, tell me about, you know, kind of like if you look at the SMB landscape right now, what are you seeing in terms of trends?

AJ (00:02:39) - Yeah. You know, that is a very interesting question. I feel like there's a huge trend now, at least from, you know, some of the, some of my coaching clients and kind of what I've done from that standpoint is a lot of them are seeing a huge value. And really two things. First thing is, you know, marketing from a general marketing standpoint or digital marketing standpoint, a lot of them are, you know, because at the agency we worked with a lot of, you know, roofing, siding, you know, attorneys, you know, things of that nature of service based businesses. And, you know, at the time it was like, hey, I SEO is a nice to have or digital marketing is a nice to have.

AJ (00:03:14) - And, you know, call this like 3 or 4 years ago and now it's a must have. Right. And the owner really the founders of these businesses, they they need to understand kind of the metrics and the, you know, the, tactics and strategies kind of behind some of this stuff so that they can really advise their team to to go out and do it, if that makes sense. So that's kind of a big piece. The other thing is artificial intelligence in AI. So you know, like I mean obviously it's huge and vast and in multiple kind of opportunities there in terms of like investing into, you know, content creation or content production or, you know, streamlining processes and things of that nature. So there's a huge focus on that. I feel like every time that I consult with a small business is like, hey, listen, what can I do from an AI standpoint to really streamline operations? So I'd say those are the two things that I'm really kind of noticing, if that makes sense.

Josh (00:03:59) - Yeah. And, you know, in terms of like things that, small business owners that, you know, in your work, first off, could you maybe just define a little bit about, you know, how you work with leaders, what that looks like, how you typically engage?

AJ (00:04:14) - Yeah. So, you know, it kind of runs the gamut, really. And I would say that on the kind of leadership front, I would say I do a little bit of kind of leadership coaching, like in terms of like, you know, hey, core values, company culture, like things of that nature. But a lot of kind of the work that I do is really more of that boots on the ground, like, how can we get more leads into the business and how can we close more of those leads? so it's a really a lot of like lead generation coaching and then, you know, sales coaching. And then from that standpoint, it's like taking a step back. So I work with a lot of founders on like, you know, how can we implement a CRM into the business and how can we kind of really keep track of the leads that we're, that we're generating? because that's some of the biggest like hindrance on scale is like, how fast can we get leads and how, you know, how quickly we close them, if that makes sense.

AJ (00:05:01) - So I would say I kind of really operate heavily in there.

Josh (00:05:04) - Yeah. What do you see working well in that world? And what do you see as outdated or really inefficient or ineffective today? we have we're just thinking about attracting and growing our customer base.

AJ (00:05:17) - Yeah, it's pretty interesting. So I think a lot of founders, especially the ones that aren't familiar with a lot of the, you know, kind of the nuances of digital marketing strategy, they're really heavily focused on, like social media marketing or, you know, organic social. But just like from a company standpoint. So I just don't think that works super well. So like, hey, I've got my company and we're writing a post a day on social media, you know, there's no face to the organization or anything like that. And I see a lot of founders that are having their team, you know, spend effort and energy on doing that. I think that's pretty outdated. I think that the a lot of my work, you know, especially from a lead generation standpoint, which takes a long time to build up, is personal branding.

AJ (00:05:58) - So like, you know, getting a personal brand for the founder and having them become kind of the face of the business, I think is a huge part of what I see, continue to continue to work long term. And that's part of what I'm doing actually, currently is that and part of the reason why I really have an emphasis on that is because for the longest time, I wanted to be, like quietly running, you know, the gorilla agency. And then it wasn't even until like a year ago or a couple of years ago that I was like, hey, listen, I need to start building my personal brand, you know, today. And that's. It's actually paid off in dividends. You know, for me, from a coaching standpoint is like I'm able to work with a lot of diverse founders and business owners, and I think I kind of instill that message into them, too. So I would say personal branding for sure is like very huge. You know, moving forward, you've got to become like the face of the organization.

Josh (00:06:42) - Yeah. what if someone says, well, look, I want to exit this company in 5 or 6 years. if my name is and face is plastered everywhere, that's going to hurt my exit ability.

AJ (00:06:54) - Yeah. And, you know, it's kind of interesting that you say that because I feel like it only enhances the exit ability. And the reason that I say that is because A, you're going to get more attraction from, you know, people that are attempting to acquire the business. Right, like, oh, AJ runs a really successful, you know, digital agency and I know who AJ is because I've like engaged with his content. I know him from a personal branding standpoint. so I think you're going to get more entertain more offers that way. The other piece of it is that yes, if you have like your personal brand is the way that you're, you know, generating leads, right? Like if it's only from like, hey, I want to work with AJ like, okay, well, you're going to actually work with the organization.

AJ (00:07:29) - That's obviously a big no no. Just generally speaking, it's like, okay, well, I don't want to buy the company because if AJ leaves then all you know leaves. All of my leads are gone, right?

Josh (00:07:37) - Yeah I don't want to work with this non AJ guy. It's agent. It's AJ's name on the side of the building I want AJ right right.

AJ (00:07:44) - Exactly exactly. So what I say to those folks is like hey this is only going to enhance your brand and you want to become synonymous with the brand. So it's like, hey, that's a you know, right now it's AJ from AJ But when I was running the gorilla I was like oh that's AJ from the Gorilla Agency right. In the same way it's like this is Jeff Bezos from any obviously he runs Amazon. So Jeff Bezos is a huge figure right figurehead. obviously this is using like a, you know, a mountain top example. But that doesn't take away from Amazon if that makes sense. And I think the biggest thing is bringing in kind of that like diversity of lead generation and, you know, kind of sales and building out the team and, you know, taking yourself out of the day to day operations and more working on the business, not in it.

AJ (00:08:23) - I think those are the factors that are going to enable you to sell. Not so much like the personal branding. I think it's just really going to harness, you know, your your ability to sell, if that makes sense.

Speaker 3 (00:08:32) - Yeah.

Josh (00:08:33) - you know, getting back to business development or sales development or, you know, lead generation. So I think a lot of times when we think about, you know, the tactics involved, you know, there's kind of inbound and there's outbound. You know, I think what you're talking about in terms of brand building is is valuable for everything, particularly inbound, I would imagine. But, do you see any strategies in terms of someone says, cool. Yeah. Okay. I'll work on my brand and my, you know, I'm going to make sure everything looks good, but I really need to drum up business in the next 60 to 90 days.

AJ (00:09:04) - Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And that's where, you know, that's where I'm a huge proponent of I'm a workhorse.

AJ (00:09:11) - Right. So like I like to put in, you know, 40, 50, 60 hours a week. And really if I'm putting in the time, effort and energy to grow a business, like I can spend some of that time like for the kind of on the long term strategy, right, that like brand building piece. But if somebody needs to drum up business in the next 30 to 60 to 90 days, I'm more of like, hey, how can we get outbound rolling? And I'm a huge proponent of outbound. I love outbound selling. And I think that's where that like, again, that personal branding piece comes into play because it's really easy from like a social selling standpoint. I think social selling is like the wave of the future. So like I'm going to put out super valuable content. People are going to engage with my content. I figure out what my, you know, customer segments are right. And then I connect with those folks on LinkedIn, for example. And then I'm like quietly selling them.

AJ (00:09:57) - And eventually, after I've engaged with them enough times, I might reach out to them. It's far easier to get to sale that way than to do the, you know, like smile and dial approach. I do think that that that works to some extent, but I think it's a lot easier from like a, you know, a social selling standpoint, then sending email blasts, picking up the phone or that like LinkedIn. You know what I mean? When you like, I've got like 500 LinkedIn, you know, emails in my inbox. So I just haven't read, if that makes sense.

Josh (00:10:23) - Yeah, yeah. And here's the dirty little secret. Neither does any other top leader I know. Like. Right. I don't look at my emails. I don't read my DMs as, yeah, an email as well. Like I've got many email accounts that come into the company that might get to Josh or not. They don't. Right, right, right, right. Email. And trust me when I say I do not do much business in that email.

Josh (00:10:46) - I'm mostly just unsubscribing from lists in that email account 100% 100%.

AJ (00:10:50) - You know.

Josh (00:10:50) - I just leaders need to maintain their focus. But leaders also know what they want and need like so if we treat our, you know, potential customers, you know, like the sophisticated smart leaders that they are, I think that that's, you know, just more of a position of mutual respect for one another rather than, hey, I know you don't know me from Adam, but you want to discovery call so you can discover how you can reduce your IT expenses by 10%. Like. Yeah, right.

AJ (00:11:18) - Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, to go off of that, I think it's really interesting because again, I don't want to go back to this like personal branding thing, but it's like give away the secret sauce. Like add value. And the more value that you can add for, you know, a potential customer, like if they're reading a blog post or somehow they do end up on your email list.

AJ (00:11:34) - And I'm like throwing out all of the, you know, all of that secret sauce, all of those like, you know, tips, tricks, strategies, stuff that's really worked well for, you know, for that kind of customer base. I think that they're more, you know, they they develop that trust and they're more likely to buy from you. So again, like my my goal is really to like show founders and tell people like, hey again, give away the secret sauce, add as much value as possible, and people are going to buy from you once they trust you.

Josh (00:11:59) - Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit more about tactically what that looks like if we say okay, all right I'm going to focus on my personal brand. What does that mean. Like how do you start that process.

AJ (00:12:08) - Yeah. So I think I mean, you really start your personal brand. And really if we're talking about like, call it, you know, a business owner, I would say you want your personal brand to be kind of synonymous with the business.

AJ (00:12:19) - So a lot of times what I'll do is like, you know, if I'm pulling out, like, again, if we're starting from square one, it's like I might build out a style guide that kind of matches my, you know, style guide, my branding style guide of my company. So I'm using orange over here. I'm probably using orange over here. I'm using the same fonts, you know, things of that nature. I might use my company logo like in all of, you know, in all of my imagery beyond my like face, if that makes sense. And then from there, really, like boots on the ground approach is like I'm developing a lot of content, so I'm probably writing like a piece of content a day. So right now I post, you know, six days a week on LinkedIn. And so a lot of that's like personal branding stuff I've gotten, you know, I picked up like 6000 followers in the last like three weeks, you know, just from that consistent kind of like constantly putting out content.

AJ (00:13:02) - So I probably put out a bunch of content. It's engaging with those folks too. So figuring out who is your target customer, and if I'm specifically talking about LinkedIn, like I'm going to go to Sales Navigator, I might talk, you know, I might punch in like, again, if I'm targeting coaches, I might type in like coaches, right, in sales Nav. And then I would see all of the coaches in there. I would connect with those folks. I'd engage with them in the comments. It's it's a lot of work to build a personal brand. And then at the end of the day, like the biggest thing is each piece of content I'm putting out, each comment that I make, I'm adding as much value as possible. So more value adds the better. And then the the beauty of it is that when I see someone who fits my, you know, ideal customer profile and they post a question right, then I'm going to go to the DMs and I might say like, you know, hey, Josh, I saw you posted a question about this.

AJ (00:13:46) - Here's the answer to that with the beautiful white paper that I made, you know what I mean? And they're going to be like, oh my God, thank you so much. This is actually super great. continue the conversation and eventually they'll, you know, if you're doing your job correctly, like they'll want to buy from you as opposed to you and having to ask if that makes sense.

Josh (00:14:02) - Yeah, your LinkedIn game is pretty great. So if nothing else, listen. Friends, go to LinkedIn, search for AJ Silber Silber or go to AJ and click on the link to AJ's LinkedIn profile. for example, I'm just looking at one post. You have 700 likes comments, you know, whatever. Let's, you know, write 70 comments, 134 reposts. Dang AJ, what are you doing?

AJ (00:14:34) - Yeah, no. And I feel like the biggest thing, you know, and this is I guess if we're talking about like LinkedIn secrets, it's I feel like if you want to build the biggest audience like go broad you know, go as broad as you can.

AJ (00:14:44) - Again, this is like a way from selling. This is more like building my personal brand. But like, so what I choose to do is I, you know, I post a lot of like leadership frameworks or personal development or things that, you know, solopreneurs, small business founders, they're going to like, need and see value in. And so and it's very applicable to like a wide range of audiences. So that's like a big part of my strategy. I also am a smidge of a graphic designer, so I'm able to kind of create some of these templates and cheat sheets and things of that nature. And it's also like figuring out what works, right. Like this works now, you know what I mean? Six months ago is carousels. It's like continuously being kind of up to date on what's currently working now on the platforms that you're, that you're really focused on, if that makes sense.

Josh (00:15:23) - Yeah. If someone reached out and said, hey, listen, can can I hire you or your team to just help me with my LinkedIn strategy? Is that something you can help with?

AJ (00:15:32) - Oh, 100%? I don't I wouldn't, I would, I would help them with kind of the strategy portion of it.

AJ (00:15:36) - I wouldn't do the work. We don't do the work. But yeah, but 100%, man. I mean, I feel like I've got I've got the LinkedIn game figured out and I'm going to say this and this is going to be super egotistical. But like the way that LinkedIn works is that once you hit sort of that 10 to 15,000 followers range, that's when things start to like escalate and roll themselves. So like by the time this airs, I think I currently have like 12,000 followers. I'll probably have like 30 or 40, you know, something like that. just because I know how things work and I've seen other creators kind of do it. so yeah, no, I could definitely help with something like that.

Speaker 4 (00:16:09) - Wow.

Josh (00:16:09) - Very cool. AJ Silber again, your website AJ When someone goes to your website, what would you recommend they do?

AJ (00:16:16) - Yeah, sign up for the newsletter is the big thing. So I have a newsletter that I put out every single week, and it's really like everything that I've learned over the last four years that helped us scale and exit the agency I'm giving away again, kind of, drinking my own Kool-Aid, if you will.

AJ (00:16:33) - I'm giving away all the secret sauce. I'm adding all the value that I possibly can. I mean, it's everything that I've learned over the last 4 or 5 years in terms of, you know, lead generation, sales leadership, you know, things of that nature. It's all, you know, really packed in and combined into, you know, something that really small business owners and founders could really see beneficial. So yeah.

Josh (00:16:51) - Well, AJ Silber again, coach consultant to SMB leaders and founders, your website AJ Silber. Dot com. On the website, you'll see exactly where you can subscribe to the newsletter. Also going to highly recommend you follow AJ on LinkedIn. See what he's doing. AJ, really, really high value content. Thank you so much for spending your time with us.

AJ (00:17:15) - Hey man, thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Josh (00:17:23) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence.

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