I got a desperate call from my friend, Philippe.
He and his wife are massage therapists in San Diego. Their business got wrecked by COVID– mandated to be shut down for over a year. Thus, income went to zero. They had to take out loans to pay their bills.
They heard of this local internet marketing company called GoBeRewarded run by a kid, Aaron Gobidas, eager to sell them packages. $12,500 and 6 months later, they had nothing to show for this investment.
I asked Philippe to show me what this agency did and give me access to their account, so we could do an audit. Here is the contract, where you can see that Philippe got sold a $5,000 website that generates no traffic, social media posting that gets nearly zero reach, and a few other things.
Looking at Philippe’s sales, we see that it’s been a flat $2,000 a month– from before starting with GoBeRewarded to 6 months in.
Taking money from clients and not delivering is common among agencies. Not because they are scammers, but because there is a breakdown in process. We could clearly see what happened here– and I wanted to help Aaron.
So I flew into San Diego on my own dime and donated a full day of consulting. Plus offered to coach this agency for 60 days to help them drive sales (at no charge, since Philippe is a friend, plus is a mutual friend who runs the largest conference in our industry– Social Media Marketing World).
But with one catch– I’d donate my time if they agreed to let us film and document the entire experience. It would be a turnaround success story. Mark, who flew in with me to film, joked that I was like Gordon Ramsey in Kitchen Nightmares– helping a struggling restaurant owner get their business in order.
When we walked into the GoBeRewarded offices, this big kid with slicked back hair and a vest approached me. This was their CEO, Aaron Gobidas, I assumed, who named his firm after himself.
After going around the room with introductions, Aaron dipped out and never returned. This wasn’t important to him– though he was happy to shoot the bull with Mark for over an hour, while we were having a serious discussion in the other room of their two room office.
His team did remain, to their credit. And these 3 employees I found to be honest, talented, and diligent.
Aaron’s creative person had not only a strong understanding of video, but cared about delivering a great video that currently lives on his homepage.Unfortunately, this excellent video got no traffic in the last 6 months. Building a shiny new website for a business that didn’t get traffic before isn’t going to suddenly change things.
The social media guy was smart and knew how to navigate the Facebook Ads Manager and Facebook Page Manager. He dutifully made a bunch of posts which got no traffic. Not because the posts were necessarily “bad”, but we didn’t have a clear offer or ads to drive them.
The paid traffic guy, who was the closest we could find to be an account manager, was competent with Google Ads and Google Analytics. The ads were run targeting a 25 mile radius of Philippe’s office in north San Diego. That targeting stretched all the way into downtown, which has the bulk of the population– people who would not be driving 45 minutes up to see a massage therapist, except under special circumstances.
I asked the team what their assessment was of the situation.
They blamed the client– saying that Philippe should have cancelled during the first 6 months.
Each of these 3 employees asserted that they did their jobs, so they couldn’t be blamed. And I 100% agree with them.
The trouble was, as you can see from the video recording of the meeting, wasn’t with the employees– but with the sales guy who sold the deal and moved on to the next customer to close. Nobody was watching out for Philippe.
And all of us in the room agreed. Aaron’s employees even mentioned that Aaron was interested mainly in selling more customers, so there was a gap between what was promised and what actually happened.
And they mentioned that they were trying to hire a project manager to help take care of clients– since there was no clear account manager here.
If you’re a business owner, you know that the buck stops with you. No matter how good your excuses are or how well you think you can blame the client for not being pro enough at digital marketing to spot the nonsense.
I’ve witnessed this situation played out hundreds of times. The agency owner blames the client. The client asks for a refund. The agency refuses, and so forth.
So to prevent that from happening, I suggested that the team go find Aaron so we could discuss options going forward.
I saw Aaron was outside shooting the breeze with our video guy– he didn’t want to come in.
We waited a brief moment more, as you’ll see from the video evidence, and then I proposed two options:
A) Give a partial refund of the $12,500 that they spend of Philippe’s money, of which $10K was fees and the rest was ads.
I would have allocated the blame at 30% on Philippe and 70% on the agency, but we felt that Philippe should eat 50% of the cost for having waited so long and not firmly holding GoBeRewarded to driving actual sales. And if Philippe chose the partial refund, he could then put that money into campaigns run by an agency that specialized just in massage therapists. We know quite a few– and they have the advantage of knowing exactly what ads to run, what leads should cost, and so forth– since serving massage therapists is all they do.
B) Continue to work for 60 days at no charge. Even though 6 months had passed, we would have a fresh start. After all, the agency folks didn’t know what Philippe did (functional medicine and pain management specialization– not just a $29 massage from Massage Envy). Philippe said that it wasn’t until this meeting that he felt someone understood what he did. To be fair to the GoBeRewarded employees, how could you expect them to be adept in what massage therapists do, then be familiar with details in running campaigns for a personal injury attorney, then a restaurant, then a garage door company, etc…
Aaron’s team strongly favored for Option B, since they said they thought they could turn things around, now that finally had some clarity on the goals. I mentioned that often in this situation, the fault is mainly with the client– who we call a “nightmare client” in industry terms– because their expectations are unrealistic, they don’t cooperate, don’t answer the phone, don’t make videos, complain all the time, or something like that. They enthusiastically said that Philippe was not a nightmare client.
All this time, Philippe was quiet, until he felt it was his turn to finally speak. He said that if he even got 3 new clients a month, it would have been something promising. But the fees that GoBeRewarded was charging was even more than his total income– which remained flat at $2,000 a month.
70% of his sales came from referrals– repeat customers, which is normal for massage. The remaining 30% is from organic Google (Google My Business) and other channels. He didn’t see an increase in any of those channels, which we verified when we were in the Google Analytics.
I asked “So why did you continue to charge Philippe each month if you didn’t know much about his business, didn’t know if your service was actually helping him, and didn’t even know what benchmarks were for massage therapists running digital marketing campaigns.
The response: We can’t make any promises, of course. So as long as we gave it a try, you can’t fault us.They had never run campaigns for a massage therapist before.
I ask them– if they needed to see a doctor for knee surgery, but that doctor had never done a knee surgery before, what would you think?
And what if that doctor went ahead and tried to do a knee surgery, but botched it.Would saying that “at least he tried” be good enough?
We ended the meeting with a recommendation that GoBeRewarded come back with two options, so Philippe could pick.
A few days later, we got a defensive note from Aaron– the first time we had heard from him since the first 5 minutes of the meeting.
He proudly asserted that he did everything that was in the contract, that his team did great work, and that he refused any sort of refund. It’s true that he did the items in the checklist– to build a website, put a video on the website, do some social posts, and run some ads. But what he refused to understand or cannot understand is that Philippe trusted him with his livelihood.
I tried a few times to reason with Aaron, but he was too busy with expanding his business to want to take care of a client that he burned.
I feel terrible for Philippe, who is not the kind of person to complain. He knew something was quite wrong, but didn’t have the digital expertise to get to the bottom of it– which is common to most small businesses.
Let what happened to Philippe be a warning to any client who is considering giving money to Aaron Gobidas of GoBeRewarded. It’s not that Aaron is evil. It’s that he sees nothing wrong with rewarding himself, since the name of the game in digital marketing is playing fast and loose, tricking small businesses into signing contracts they don’t understand.
UPDATE: Aaron Gobidas responded:
And then his response to mine. You be the judge:
UPDATE: Ardeshir Kohnouri, who works at GoBeRewarded, has launched a smear campaign against Philippe.
About the Author
You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.
You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.