Do not let others put you down. Sometimes it is hard to have thick skin. I learned the lesson of being able to swallow my pride on occasion at a young age. If you can do this, you can believe in yourself. If someone is negative (client, employee, family member), distance yourself from them. Life is too short and too valuable. Do not let anyone take your inner strength from you.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Laratro of Tandem Digital Marketing.
Joe Laratro is the president of Tandem Digital Marketing, a company started in April 2006 to focus on the under-serviced areas of Online Marketing. As a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), Joe brings the technical aspect of SEM to the public, exemplified by his role as a significant contributor to the DMA’s search engine marketing certification program by authoring “Module 6: Fundamentals of Site Optimization”. Joe continues to shape the Search Marketing Industry by teaching for the University of San Francisco’s Online Marketing Certificate Programs.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised in South Florida. That is not very common when meeting people in the area. I grew up in Hallandale Beach and still live there today. I watched my Dad buy and sell several businesses. When I was old enough to work, during school vacations, I would spend time at my Dad’s waste management company in Miami, FL — Waste X. Many of the lessons I learned about business come from that time. My work ranged from office support to working in the field on a recycling truck. The value of a dollar was well conveyed to me at that time.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My career happened a little bit by accident. I started a computer consulting company right out of college. I thrived running teams that supported rapidly evolving PC computer systems in large corporate environments. I became an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and an MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) right before the Y2k debacle. Early in Jan 2000, most of the PC consulting jobs dried up. I had two options, head to Tampa and work for the Home Shopping Network as a LAN Administrator or work for a start-up in the SEO Industry as their CTO. Dennis Pushkin and Andrew Wetzler were the owners of the company. They inspired me to take a leap of faith in changing my career.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the biggest mistakes I have made in my career involved Cash4Gold. Tandem was their first online marketing company. Cash4Gold pioneered a new industry. It was a wild ride. Reputation management was a big deal for them. Many people would pull jokes and write online about it for clickbait. There was one particular blogger who outed a process to not accept the first few offers. This hurt their bottom line, and they ranked number 3 or 4 for their brand searches. Right before my mistake Cash4Gold became an advocate with the RipOffReport. Money was exchanged to be part of that program and help clean up their image. When I reached out to the blogger mentioned above to come to a similar arrangement, the email was publicly posted. It appeared that I was trying to “bribe” the results to go away.
I learned that I should have researched the blogger in depth before reaching out to him. He was a real consumer advocate that brought change to products to help everyone out. He should have been brought to the table to work with Cash4Gold to make their process/product better. I definitely learned to always be political (in a good way) when working with clients and addressing their needs/requests.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Well, many people are concerned about ChatGPT, and artificial intelligence, in general. I am not one of those people. These people mistakenly think that AI is going to replace jobs and replace people. This just isn’t true. ChatGPT and other programs like it was made to make humans better at their jobs, not to replace them. For me, all of the new AI and incorporating it into our procedures is one of the most exciting projects my team and I are working on. I think it’s great that technology has been giving us these great tools that we can utilize, not just in the Digital Marketing world but across various industries. And using artificial intelligence enables us to spend more of our time doing those things that AI just can’t do. It’s very useful.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Sure. I think it goes without saying that if you don’t believe in yourself, it will be difficult to get anywhere. And anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit who wants to start their own business or something needs to believe that it is going to work. As for me, when I was younger, I taught myself how to do C programming. You know — old school stuff like 9600 block modems, 2400-watt modems. You can probably start to guess my age by now. But I kept learning and teaching myself, and then I got into computer consulting. That included working for help desks. My technical skills and my background opened up that opportunity for me. After that, I worked for a startup, and one of their main focuses was search engine optimization, or what people now call SEO. I did that for six years, but I wasn’t working directly enough with the clients, making them better. Making their websites better. Making their SEO and visibility better. And as a consultant, that’s when I first started doing some link-building and some pay-per-click. I also did some landing pages and some social media. It just wasn’t enough for me. So in 2006, I bit the bullet, and I opened up Tandem. When it began, we mostly offered SEO services and expanded from there. But that belief that I had, not only in myself but in the services the company was going to offer, is what helped Tandem to grow. It also helped mold me into the person I am today.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Well, you don’t just wake up one morning and go, “I’m going to quit my job and start my own business.” You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, the first time something goes wrong, you’re going to second-guess everything and question yourself. But if you believe you can accomplish something, you CAN do it. Yes, there are going to be some exceptions. There are some things you might not physically, mentally, or emotionally be able to do. Like, if you are 6’2″, like I am, I doubt you will ever become a horse jockey. And it’s important to remember that you won’t automatically be good at something because you want to be. You have to invest time to learn. You have to practice to become better. But if you learn more about what you are interested in, if you invest the time, and, in general, if you believe in yourself, you’ll find that it’s amazing what you’ll be able to accomplish.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
This is tricky to answer. Yes, there are a few times that come to mind. Staying on the business side of things, one time, I was fired for a very careless error. It was hard for me not to believe that my value to the business in terms of their IT support did not outweigh an electric cart vs. glass door incident. This lesson made me question my value and impacted my next job choice.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
Right before starting Tandem, I felt like the company I was working for did not believe in me anymore. It was that simple. I was doing a good job, but something felt missing. At the same time, my first son was on his way into this world. A combination of those two factors drove me to start my own company in a different direction. The responsibility that was on its way for me to be a new father was what really drove me.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
- Balance is the key to being strong enough to believe in yourself. I am a 5:30am gym guy at least 5 days a week since my first son was born (16 years ago). This provides mental health time and physical health time. Starting the day with an accomplishment and kicking off some natural endorphins helps, too.
- The power of positive thinking is very real. Believe you can do it. Believe you can accomplish it. I remember looking at my first substantial office space and knowing that I would be able to increase the revenue and workforce to justify the space.
- Accept failure, forgive failure, learn, and grow from failure. If we do not fail every now and then, we did not try hard enough. Our client retention is off the charts. When we lose a client, I take it very personally. I try to find our mistakes and get better for them.
- Find your inner strength. What drives you? The Covid years presented a lot of time for self-reflection. I know what drives me — making people happy. “Being of service” to someone makes me feel accomplished. It could be for clients, my employees, or my family.
- Do not let others put you down. Sometimes it is hard to have thick skin. I learned the lesson of being able to swallow my pride on occasion at a young age. If you can do this, you can believe in yourself. If someone is negative (client, employee, family member), distance yourself from them. Life is too short and too valuable. Do not let anyone take your inner strength from you.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
Being able to focus our thoughts is extremely powerful. There are plenty of times I can tell my mind is wandering to dark places. Change your thoughts. Focus on something else. Talk to yourself in your mind and focus on anything that steers you in another direction. This does take practice and discipline, but it goes back to the power of positive thinking.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
Are there any misconceptions? There are probably a few. I think the most important aspect is some people mistakenly believe that self-confidence and believing in yourself are basically the same. They’re really not. There are plenty of people out there who are completely confident. But as confident as these people are, that doesn’t mean that they are as skilled or as knowledgeable as they make themselves out to be. You’ll see this often in narcissists or people who enjoy gaslighting others. Why someone would maliciously do this, I don’t know. Either way, someone who believes in themselves or has self-belief they are different. Because these confident individuals understand that they want to change and are going to try to change, they are realistic and know they might have some limited abilities. Having limited abilities is not a bad thing, either. It just shows we’re human and gives us something (or even a few somethings) we can work on to grow and get where we are going.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is not something I was familiar with until COVID. I started hearing colleagues talking very personally about it. It’s very easy to feel like an imposter during times of self-doubt. That’s why it’s important to believe in yourself and your abilities. Before COVID, I spoke regularly at many conferences across the US on SEO and PPC. After two years of not doing, I doubted myself. Then in February, at Pubcon Austin, I was back at the front of the room. When I finished presenting, one of the attendees said it was the best presentation he had heard so far. That is a serious compliment considering all of the speakers. The simple praise reminded me of why I like teaching — and that I certainly was not an impostor.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, use me as an example. I would have thought more about building a product than a service if I could have. I grew up in the service industry. Actually, my dad was very influential on me. He had a waste management company in Miami when I was a kid. I would go and help out. My job was pinning the board, not going to trucks. In my heart, I knew the service business, and I wanted to serve. I still love what I do, but in terms of making money, I think back on this once in a while. If I had built a tool way back then, this tool could have gobbled up big bucks. As much success as I have seen, I genuinely believe I would have amplified my success quite a bit if I could go back and build tools. But that doesn’t really answer the question. The point I am trying to make is — you shouldn’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t just think of what you know now, but what you can learn. What can you do to make things better? And how can you better yourself and your position while at it? I hope that motivates someone to start their own company using their big idea and become as successful as they wish to be.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Jon Favreau. I admire all of his skills and talents. He has made the world a better place through his characters in movies (like Rudy, Chef, Couples Therapy, and all the Happy Hogan roles in the Marvel Universe films). Jon’s producing and directing success is very inspirational to me. His vision and contribution to the Star Wars Universe are off the charts.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I was recently asked a similar question, so I guess I should give a similar answer. Before my dad passed, there were 3 Joe Laratros. Now there are 2 — me and my son. So, you can do a Google search, and you’re bound to find me. I occasionally post on socials, like LinkedIn and Facebook. Let me warn you, though. If you look for me there, you’re going to see a lot about boats and fishing. But probably the best way is to follow Tandem. Anyone can reach out to me directly via email at [email protected], or here are the links:
Personal — https://www.linkedin.com/in/joelaratro/
My book, The SEO Diet –
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.