From Agency Employee to Founder: Interview with Sterling Sky Owner Joy Hawkins


Ever have that gut feeling that your talents are better off elsewhere? This was similar to what Joy Hawkins felt the day her boss decided to keep her in sales rather than invest in her SEO training.

That didn’t sit quite right with Joy. So she took matters into her own hands. While learning SEO on her own, Joy put in 11 years at two agencies. And while on maternity leave, she took the plunge and started her own business, Sterling Sky, all for—get this—less than $7,000.

Now, she has 30+ employees on her team and is bringing in heaps of new leads for her business through past connections and various published content.

Allow me to introduce Sterling Sky Founder, Joy Hawkins…

So, who are you and what’s your business?

I work in the internet marketing industry, but more specifically, search engine optimization. I own a fully remote digital marketing agency called Sterling Sky, and we focus on local SEO, which is a fancy way of saying that we help small businesses get their websites to show up higher and get more traffic from Google.

What is your backstory and what inspired you to come up with / pursue this idea?

I started in digital marketing back in 2006 and worked for 11 years at two different agencies before starting Sterling Sky in 2017. I never dreamed of starting a company, in fact, in my 20s, the idea scared me. I self-taught myself SEO after my boss decided not to invest in training me because he thought I’d be better off staying in sales. I developed a desire to learn more about how Google’s algorithm worked and became fascinated with how to get a business to show up higher there. I eventually left the agency I worked for in 2016 after realizing that I just had completely different goals and desires than the management team there.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product or service- what was that like?

I decided to come up with how to structure our SEO service while I was on maternity leave with my youngest child. It involved a lot of reading and writing how-to guides and talking to lawyers.

Describe launching the company… Where did you start?

Since my business is fully remote, it cost less than $7,000 to start the agency, which I realize is probably unheard of for most companies. My goal at the time was just to have a sustainable income for myself and maybe hire 2-3 other people. I planned on keeping it small and had no idea it would grow to where it is today (we are currently at 36 employees).

What has worked to attract & retain customers so far?

I didn’t have a difficult time gaining customers because I had been in the industry for 11 years already and knew a lot of people. Connections are everything in this industry, and I had so many amazing people support me and send me business when I first started. All our leads are inbound, and we get them from a variety of places like articles, podcasts, webinars, and conferences.

What books, podcasts, or people have been the most influential on your journey?

The one book that has made the biggest impact, hands down, is the Bible. Other than that, I don’t read a whole lot, but I’ve been particularly interested in the Authority Hacker podcast recently. It’s a great SEO podcast.

Sterling Sky

How are things going today and what does the future look like?

I am really blessed to have success at my agency beyond anything I could have planned or imagined. We’ll continue to hire talented people as long as we find them. We don’t have quotas to fill here based on sales projections or KPIs. Part of what made me leave my old job was that everything was focused on a financial sheet, and I hated it. At Sterling Sky, all that matters is the people I work with and the others we are able to help by collaborating together.

Any advice for others who are just starting out?

Make sure you have a solid network of people that can become customers of yours before you start out. Also, make sure you are an expert before trying to sell a service that requires you to be one.

What’s the best way for people to connect and follow you? Website, Social Profiles, Etc…

Visit Sterling Sky on Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, or at

My mother in law loves to sew.

A few years ago she asked me how to set up an online store.

She wanted to sell fancy throw pillows she was making.

I gave her very basic steps. Enough to get started (I don't know much about ecom).

A few weeks later she showed me her site. It

Everyone wants “yes.”

But they don’t wanna pay the price.

100 Nos is the price of one yes.

You can get as many as yeses as you damn well please as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

I was sad to learn that Charlie Munger died today at age 99.

What a life.

He would likely roll his eyes and argue that none of us should be too surprised, based on the actuarial tables, but we’ve lost one of the 20th century’s greatest investors and businessmen.

Chris and I

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