The Lucrative Underground World Of SMMA

arlie PEYTON
Sep 10, 2018 · 17 min read

How Countless Teens Are Making More Money Than Doctors

“Just signed another $2,000 a month client. 🔥
I’m so happy right now! Can’t wait to get the next one.

It’s 11:00 PM on a Monday and the Facebook discussion boards are a moving sidewalk of images and text. I’m trying to speed-read everyone’s posts or reactions, but there is just too much activity. This is a typical night here.

In most Facebook groups, people are sharing updates, the latest funny gif, family pictures, or maybe a well-designed selfie. Not in these groups. It’s strictly business.

What is everyone talking about?

They are engaged in the latest online money-making craze: the Social Media Marketing Agency, or SMMA. Of the countless ways to make extra money online, an SMMA is different. It happens to be really popular with teens, and they aren’t just making gas money.

A License To Print Money

One of the members in my SMMA group makes well over $80,000 a month. That’s not a typo. He makes more in three months than most doctors make all year. He took a one-month course and then money started rolling in. Doctors dedicate half their lives to school and training to earn their salary. On the financial front, it doesn’t seem fair but it’s the truth.

We all know that the internet hosts a sea of get-rich-quick schemes. It’s no different with people posing as SMMA owners and gurus. But currently with an SMMA, it’s still possible to make this kind of money creating and managing Facebook Ads (which I’ll explain how later). In fact, several people I’ve met in these groups are making more money with their SMMA than their regular jobs. I’ve seen some Facebook groups that won’t even let you in unless you’re making at least six figures a year with your SMMA.

These success stories are incredibly inspiring, especially to people still in high school. The more teens learn about the SMMA world, the more they are intrigued. Social media makes complete sense to them. Their generation grew up with it, and manipulating these platforms is second nature to them. To make money with it seems like a dream.

Trade Secrets In Facebook Groups

Teens will tell you that Facebook is dead and they use Instagram or Snapchat instead. That’s true for most of them. But the entrepreneurial type are coming back to Facebook because it’s a popular site for businesses and special interest groups.

Facebook is a vital platform for teens creating SMMAs today. They’ll often post up their recent wins and losses. They can also learn about industry updates and techniques to try out. From what I’ve experienced, it’s mostly a place to get the kind of support people need to succeed. And lately, there are plenty of SMMA groups to choose from.

It seems like a new group pops up every day. It has definitely started to creep out of its underground status. I joined a group six months ago when I decided to focus on Facebook ads for my pre-existing marketing company. It was a challenge for me to fit in at first. It’s definitely a “bro culture.” That comes with the average age of members. Even the girls refer to other girls as bro! With some posts, I felt like I was reading the script from the set of the next American Pie movie.

In my SMMA group, I was the oldest of about 300 members. I’m so old, they called me “uncle” but it was endearing. Even though I had the most digital marketing experience, my Facebook Ads chops needed fine-tuning. And despite my experience, it just couldn’t compete with the group creator, Iman Gadzhi. He regularly made over $40,000 a month with his SMMA services alone.

Minors Allowed

Like many, I came across one of Gadzhi’s SMMA videos on YouTube. There are lots of really great SMMA videos created by other people. However, Gadhzi seemed to have a great understanding of the digital marketing landscape and where it was going. Back then, he had just turned 17 and dropped out of high school. That sounds bad until you learn that he was making an incredible amount of money online, and he found a way to sustain it month after month.

Here was this young man who became financially independent before he could even vote. The fact that he dropped out of school seems more like a business decision than a scholastic aptitude issue. Gadzhi took it upon himself to know more about how to run an online business than most adults.

At seventeen, the average kid is doing odd jobs for money and relying on their parents. It’s no wonder why people turned to him. And Gadzhi’s life story is part of his sales hook. It has been an essential piece in his personal branding that has helped him amass thousands of followers online. The more I learned about him, the more I felt like I should have been doing more when I was a teenager. He’s a huge over-achiever compared to most of the teens I’ve known.

Though I was very skeptical, I bought Gadzhi’s course to learn what he was doing. At first, I thought it was a crazy idea. It was the first time in my life where my mentor was practically a kid! Though I questioned some of the curriculum, after a few videos I was learning the finer details of social media that I have been missing all these years.

A New Kind Of Schooling

When you listen to Gadzhi, you keep forgetting that he’s a teenager. He’s unusually charismatic and well-spoken. Before every training video, he throws his hands out like a magician welcoming you into the act. He smiles a lot and always keeps things positive. There is no doubt that he is a likable character.

The online courses Gadzhi creates are a different kind of schooling. You’re encouraged to listen to his videos on 2X speed just to get through them all. For each lesson, he wants you to learn just enough and then take action. Gadzhi is a firm believer that direct experience is the best form of education. That could be a little scary for a teen and even a full-grown adult. Though many of us aspire to do great things, sometimes pulling the trigger is paralyzing.

The good news is that in this group, you never have to do anything alone. You’ll always find someone in the same boat to collaborate with. For example, one of the tasks is to find a partner and role-play sales calls — a daunting task for anyone. This is real-life immersion education. I began to think to myself, if more public schools taught in this way, we’d be much better off. Here, it’s all about viable skills not theory.

Some tasks are easy. Other tasks require you to really think about what you’re doing. For example, his first task for new members is to head to the Facebook group and write a quick hello. Following this, they must then state their financial goal for the year. One member wrote:

“Hey everyone! Anyone from Germany too?
My bold twelve-month goal is to drop out of high school ASAP, visit 7 countries, take care of my mum, and make $100,000.

Within minutes, several other members had replied to this post giving the newbie encouragement and support. (Half the comments were followed by “bro” of course.) For the most part, most of these goal statements sound alike. After seeing a few of these, I began to worry. Is Gadzhi a bad influence on teenagers? Not everyone can drop out and make money like he did.

But then again, seeing how interested these young members were about business and the actions they took made me feel differently. Looking at the state of our millennial graduates and the 1.4 trillion-dollar college debt crisis in the USA, maybe more teenagers should consider starting an SMMA or something similar in addition to finishing school.

We send kids to schools and colleges to become theoretical and knowledge generalists. However, the real world privileges in-demand specialists with commercially viable skills. We have it all backwards and many of the SMMA teachers know this.

The truth is, Gadzhi is not an outlier. Lots of other teenagers and twenty-somethings are making millions doing this today. I saw an SMMA course by Billy Willson that has the subtitle: The Replacement For College. He is a peer of Gadzhi (and a college drop-out), that is consistently making over $20,000 a month himself. And business is booming. Willson is on track for a breakout month that will net him over $50,000.

On a different SMMA Youtube channel, I learned about a sixteen-year-old from Florida named James Brinker who is making over five figures a month. Brinker goes well beyond SMMA. His team offers a full suite of professional digital services that rival many well-known marketing agencies. These services attract clients worldwide.

In India, I heard about a girl who set up a call center to serve American businesses. Her SMMA agency employs five people and a dozen more sub-contractors. This young lady, who is actually a very private person online, is only nineteen years old!

It’s obvious why so many teens want to own an SMMA when countless ordinary teenagers are becoming successful at it. With such a big upside, many teens don’t hesitate about the initial startup costs.

The Cost Of Admission

The majority of SMMA courses and exclusive Facebook groups are not free. Courses cost around $500 to $2000. Many courses have well over ten hours of video instruction. They cover everything from finding clients to mastering the ever-changing Facebook Ad features. Agency owners usually rush through the courses, but the Facebook group is something they really savor. Most say it’s the best part of the course package.

Unfortunately, I’m starting to see lots of courses and groups pop up from inexperienced SMMA founders. Because the reach of online courses, sometimes there is more money in teaching SMMA principles than actually running a real agency.

Like all online business offerings, it’s hard to know what you’re getting into. Every course’s long sales page looks the same. They pack in sales copy, videos, course outlines, and numerous testimonials. “Buy Now” buttons are liberally peppered in between sections. Worse yet, you won’t see very many reviews about these courses or none at all, and that makes sense. They’re created by people in an underground movement started roughly two years ago.

The Origin Of The SMMA Industry

Early in the SMMA movement, people like Tai Lopez were posting their ads on every social media platform — especially YouTube. One video ad with over sixty-nine million views to date is called “Here in my garage.” It’s where Lopez talks about his book collection, which happens to share the same space as his stable of exotic cars. His story has all the hallmarks of a successful online advertisement. Before he made it big, he was dirt poor. He was once confused, but his clarity and focus made him millions. Then he throws in the unscientific anecdotal argument: If he can do it, so can you! Needless to say, his marketing worked.

Lopez is one of a few first-wave SMMA experts. He wasn’t an early innovator in this space, but he was one of the first who really made it accessible to the masses. Through his numerous how-to videos, flashy images, and celebrity interviews from his Hollywood mansion, he attracted millions of followers worldwide. Lopez seemed to have the dream lifestyle that being a digital entrepreneur brought. And because the barrier to entry was low, countless young people all over the world followed him. One of them was Gadzhi.

Back then, the best SMMA course to get was Lopez’s. In his group, people were talking about their recent wins within days of receiving the course. Students who weren’t even finished with the course were already getting clients and posting up images of the checks they received from local businesses as proof. It was unreal. I can only imagine what the fast-moving Facebook discussion board was like then.

Pretty soon, those teens were posing in front of luxury cars they rented for the day or outright bought. Others started posting Instagram pictures from exotic locations. The Internet was seeing mini Tai Lopez’s all over the world. And because they wanted to be online famous like him, they did something key. They documented their journey on social media. In our age of digital influencers and online millionaires, there is nothing more click-baity than showing off things that people can’t have (at least today). These teens knew that. Within months, their lives changed because they learned how to create Facebook Ads for local business clients.

The Importance Of SMMA Services

This business opportunity naturally evolved from the increasing need for local digital marketing, and the application of Facebook ads in general. Getting online traffic is the real challenge. What small businesses have realized is that the golden days of SEO are gone. Ranking on the first page of Google or making bids for their ads to show up is really expensive now. Where search engine marketing campaigns used to cost under a hundred bucks a month, now it costs them thousands.

Local businesses have also seen a sharp rise in social media effectiveness. Before it looked like a big waste of time. With all this tweeting, poking, liking, vlogging, and hash-tagging it’s hard to believe those simple fleeting actions could be valuable to a business.

But thanks to people like Gary Vaynerchuk, social media has proven to be a viable platform for local and global brands to bring in new customers. And with today’s tools, analytics, and storytelling tactics, smaller companies can compete with much bigger ones using Facebook Ads.

This is all great news, but the whole process to do this is time-consuming for business owners. Hiring a typical brick-and-mortar marketing agency is an option, but with them you’re paying for the huge overhead. A qualified virtual SMMA seems to be the perfect solution.

Facebook As The Gatekeeper

A t over 2.2 billion active users, businesses are realizing that all their ideal clients are on Facebook. So why not advertise there? Sure, it’s a different environment. Unlike Google search, people are not on Facebook to do research or to shop. They are there to socialize and share pictures. Facebook is trying to change that by putting up local classified ads. Maybe in the future, people will see Facebook as a place to socialize and shop too. But for now, most people dismiss ads on the website.

There is one exception.

If you put out a compelling or irresistible ad — I’m talking Groupon style here — it’s just human nature that people are going to click on your ads.

This is the tradecraft of SMMAs.

They know how to interrupt people socializing and how to market on Facebook. This includes image selection, video editing, copywriting, audience targeting, and sales funnel mapping. With a few tests and tweaks, SMMAs make data-driven changes to allow Facebook’s algorithm to send their clients massive traffic.

How effective are these ads? With one of Gadzhi’s clients, his team spent £3,700 in ad spend to reap over £110,000 in sales. After fees, the client made around £96,000 in 30 days. It’s hard to beat that kind of return on ad spend.

On the surface the concepts of Facebook Ads are easy to understand. However, there are a lot of ways to screw up a Facebook campaign. Many businesses try out a few ads and end up wasting thousands of dollars. They get lots of clicks or views, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. After the basics of creating Facebook ads, the learning curve is steep because the sheer amount of options and strategies.

However, businesses do see the tremendous value of Facebook. It’s a platform they have been dreaming of: Reams of data on their ideal client and direct access to them. Facebook knows how much money people make, where they work, and what they like to do. They know what they click on, when they view it, how much they view it, and if they shared or liked it. If they click off of Facebook, they can still be tracked because of a little device called a pixel.

As we all know, nothing is sacred online. From Google and Amazon listening in on your conversations to tracking random pages you visit, everyone is collecting data and creating consumer profiles to sell you more stuff.

It all feels a bit evil.

If it weren’t so common in marketing, people would probably hesitate to create their own SMMA. However, we’ve all given up our privacy by agreeing to the terms and conditions on the websites we visit. And if you work with a company that truly ads value to the world, using Facebook ads to extend their reach is mutually beneficial. There are worse things to use it for like rigging elections or harboring hate speech. So in the grand scheme of things, most SMMAs don’t get too deep with their online ethics and just focus on the prize.

And the sell is easy.

Compared to traditional media or SEO, generating leads on Facebook is clearly the way to go. You can reach more targeted people for a fraction of the price of other methods. This is something all these entrepreneurial teens seem to know, but older local business owners are just getting around to learning. The SMMAs that are successful at letting local businesses realize the opportunity here are making lots of money doing it.

What It Takes For Teens To Make It As An SMMA Owner

The odd thing about SMMAs is that you need very little to succeed. You don’t need a fancy website (the highest paid member does not have one and his clients are international brands). You don’t need to master Facebook Ads. In the beginning, you’re encouraged to outsource that expertise while you learn to do it. You don’t even need big testimonies. Local business don’t care about praise from faceless corporations.

What teens need the most are intangible things: drive, sales skills, and administration skills. No one can give you drive, of course, but it’s essential. The people that do well with their SMMA simply don’t stop until they are successful. They know the road is long and bumpy, but they persist. There is a lot of excuse-making with SMMA owners, but people with drive shrug all of that off to get results.

Sales is the one skill set that is often lacking with these teens. Where do they learn it? What’s the ethical way to apply it? These are a couple questions everyone has to ask because schools refuse to even talk about sales, conscious capitalism, or value creation. Ironically, those are exactly the lessons they need. Even universities do a poor job of talking about these topics, and not knowing this keeps them in the poorhouse.

The idea is simple: no sales, no business. To stay in business and make a profit, you literally have to make a bunch of sales. Deep down, everyone knows this but they would rather do dozens of other things except for this one task.

I see this as the biggest hurdle.

Teens don’t want to hop on the phone or shoot out an email to book appointments. The ones that do well understand there is never any selling on the phone. It’s just about convincing a business owner to have a sit-down and talk about their business. All the selling and consulting happens face-to-face. Even that part mortifies some people. It’s safe too say, if you can’t sell (or at least learn to sell better) than an SMMA is not for you.

Mostly this business is about sales. You can always hire a contractor with a decade of Facebook ad experience to run your clients’ ads. However, your job is to qualify leads, call them, and get the sale. It’s one of the simplest things, and yet untrained people find it incredibly frustrating. The Facebook discussion board is full of stories about how someone fouled up a sales presentation and left empty-handed.

This is a let-down for many would-be SMMA owners. The temporary sales and rejection keeps them from making more money than their parents ever dreamed of. However, mastering these skills would set them up for life.

We’ll always be selling something, whether it be products, an idea, or yourself in an important interview. This is reality education. And handling failure is essential too. Schools are simply not interested in teaching this important lesson.

Where The SMMA Industry Is Going

A s I write this, the third wave of young SMMA owners are making their mark. They are the students of teachers like Iman Gadzhi. Many are starting to launch their own SMMA groups — or leaving the industry entirely because they couldn’t make it work. It’s a shame because of the innovation this industry is developing.

As it becomes mainstream, creating Facebook ads and running an SMMA is becoming a science. There are plenty of supplementary tools, tests, and techniques that can predict an ad campaign’s success. And while many local businesses are already using Facebook and Instagram ads, it’s clear that countless businesses aren’t. In fact, many companies making well over $5,000,000 a year have yet to even touch Facebook Ads. These are easy marks for teens with a successful SMMA.

At last count, there are over 20 different SMMA online courses being offered. These teachers often have $100,000+ course launches and they re-launch their programs a couple times a year. That’s a lot of students. With millions to be made and droves of teens signing up, isn’t it saturated by now?

To make matters worse, cynics believe that the SMMA equivalent of LegalZoom or Canva is just around the corner. This would make creating Facebook Ads incredibly easy and inexpensive for business owners. I’m even starting to see local businesses trying to learn these ads themselves, thus removing the SMMA middleman.

However, the SMMA industry has a lot of room to grow. Business owners who are trying their hand at Facebook ads are struggling to keep ahead of the constant Facebook Ad changes and competitive marketing tactics SMMAs know. And every day I read how someone in my group closed yet another big client.

It’s likely that in the next four years, the industry will be saturated and some brilliant SaaS product will shut down most of the mediocre agencies. But that’s plenty of time for teens to make good money and provide real value in the marketplace. I’m excited for them and digital entrepreneurs of any age that are learning about SMMAs. In this economy, creating an SMMA is another lucrative option to explore so get on it, bro!

Arlie Peyton is a coach for personal brands and online businesses. He has served as Oregon’s state representative for vocational education and strongly believes that everyone creates their own brand of intrinsic and commercial value. Peyton is based in Portland, Oregon — a magical and mysterious city enveloped by a Douglas Fir rainforest. Learn more at

Thank you for reading. 👏

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arlie PEYTON

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I’m PEYTON, a writer & brand advisor on a quest to help serious writers & remarkable clients boost profits. Affiliate Disclosure & Stuff:

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