pay for seo

At least once a day I get an email from a random person who tells me that my rankings are terrible and that their SEO service could help me get to the front page. Scam? Maybe.

I bet we’ve all received those emails.

For someone who is new to blogging it might even be a little bit tempting. Some of the pitches these “SEO experts” send are quite compelling – and in the beginning when it’s hard to get traffic you often look for shortcuts.

In today’s post I want to take a look at whether or not it’s a good idea to ever pay for SEO services and, if so, what kind of things should we look out for.

Let’s take a look.

NOTE: I wanted to say from the start (especially for any Google employees reading!) that I have never paid for any SEO services and certainly never bought any links. I’ll explain why later.

What exactly are these SEO experts offering?

The first thing I thought we should talk about is what exactly these search engine optimization experts are offering. Like most things, the below vary from excellent to absolutely horrifying.

Some of the common things include:

  • Getting you more backlinks
    The most rudimentary SEO service is one where you pay for someone to get your blog more backlinks. This is totally against Google’s terms of service and is very risky.
  • PPC (Pay Per Click)
    This is where someone runs Google Ads for you and manages your budgets, results, etc. so you can appear in Google in the paid ads section.
  • On-site optimization/audit
    This is where you will have someone look at your blog or website and see how it is performing in terms of your site structure, keyword density, load time and all the other things that affect your SEO performance. For example, the guys at Yoast have an audit service that is quite famous and well respected.
  • Local SEO
    This is where an agency will try to help you rank better on Google Maps and other local results by helping your G+ profile, Places and so on.
  • A full management package
    This is where the agency will develop a fully custom package that includes things like social media, article/content creation, PPC and many other elements to attempt to have a more modern approach to SEO.
  • Negative SEO campaigns
    The darkest of the dark, in my opinion, where someone will essentially spam your competitors in order to have your rankings overtake theirs. To put it into context, this is akin to creating false rumors of food poisoning about a neighboring restaurant in order to get people to come to yours instead.

As you can probably tell, some of these are going to be more useful than others. In fact, some of them will be actually harmful to your blog’s rankings on Google.

And that leads us to our next section.

Should you ever pay for SEO services?

My gut reaction is to write a big black NO and then end the post there.

But, to be honest, that’s not really accurate and probably not all that helpful.

While I don’t agree with buying links or mass commenting, I do think there are some SEO services that you can pay for that are both beneficial and okay with Google’s terms of service.

Here are some things to consider before you engage with an SEO firm:

  1. Did they reach out to you?
    This is not a hard rule but quite often you find that the firms who reach out to you are not of the same quality as the ones that you’d want to approach.
  2. Was the initial email personalized?
    If you receive an email about SEO services that starts with “Dear Sir/Maddam” you can almost instantly dismiss it. It’s a mass generated email from someone with little knowledge of communications, let alone what your business actually needs. Sometimes they’ll even tell you that you’re not on the front page when you are, in fact, ranking number one or two!
  3. What experience do they have?
    When you visit their website do you see a list of clients that they have successfully helped? Can you see any case studies of clients who have had notable and measurable improvements? It’s important to find look at what they have achieved for others.
  4. If they do have clients, can you research them?
    If they do have a list of clients it’s a good idea to get on a tool like Ahrefs or Majestic to see what kind of things they might have been doing for them in the background. For example, look at see if they’ve had a huge influx of links all at once because that might be the exact type of thing you want to avoid.
  5. How cheap is it?
    As a general rule of thumb, the super cheap SEO packages are cheap for a reason. The kind of company that offers a genuinely beneficial SEO service will never do it for a few hundred dollars because it is a very labor intensive process that involves constant management. If they can do a full service package for $500 it probably means you’re getting something en-masse.
  6. What can you Google about them?
    Now, Googling a company is not always a good way to gauge the quality of a service because often reviews are faked or slanderous. That being said, you can spend a bit of time researching any company you are about to give money to just to make sure there aren’t any horrendous stories of bad customer service or outcomes.

So what SEO services SHOULD you pay for?

I didn’t want to end this post on a big old negative note.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of some SEO services and products that I do think are totally worth spending your time and money on. (Note: None of these are affiliate links.)

1. Analysis tools

There are some very smart people out there who build tools and software that helps you dig deeper into how well your site is performing and how well other sites are performing. For example, you might want to see what backlinks they have in order to see if you could even begin to replicate them.


The screenshot above is from Majestic which is a great tool that lets you take a deeper look at your competitors SEO profiles. This can give you some really concrete starting points for your own SEO work. Moz is another company that offers analysis tools of the highest quality.

2. Education and training

The next thing that I absolutely recommend is to spend some money on a quality education and training program. There are a LOT of good ones out there, but the ones that focus on practical knowledge are best.


Aaron Wall started SEO Book in 2003. Yes, 2003. It was one of the first SEO websites that I visited and I have regularly checked in over the years as I am really interested in Aaron’s ideas. Over the years the site has grown from a blog to a course and a community and there is a boat load of value.

Marketing Inc by ViperChill is also another training program where you’re certain the founders have absolutely brilliant knowledge about what works because they are in the trenches every day experimenting. Although it is not exclusively an SEO program it gives you a really interesting approach to SEO through a complete online-business lens.

3. Plugins and enhancements

There are also some plugins and enhancements that you can spend money/time on and get some good results. Sometimes these just make your job easier, and other times they provide a real SEO boost to your website and can help you get heaps more visitors over time.

yoast seo

A lot of bloggers already use Yoast’s SEO plugin to help with their on-site SEO practices, but the premium version gets you some really interesting extras like support and multi-keyword targeting which can be hugely useful.

I think it is also really important to invest in some of the best hosting you can and talk to them about speed tools and scripts. When you start to get bigger you can even consider some monitoring tools that ensure your site is fast and online as much as possible.

4. Human resources

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the human side of SEO. This covers some of the alternatives to those strange blue-text spam emails that we all get. While I don’t think that engaging those guys is particularly wise, I do think there are some viable solutions where a human being helps you with your SEO.


If you know a fair bit about SEO yourself you can always take the step of hiring someone part time to carry out tasks that you would otherwise have to do. For example, it is a very good idea to hire someone to simply write more content for you so you can be more prolific. It might be a ghost writer or it might just mean making your site multi-authored. Sites like Freelancer are perfect for this.

If you do decide that you want to hire a company for the full SEO “experience” you want to make sure you spend some time doing your research like we talked about before. I am inherently skeptical of some of these companies but I do know that there are some agencies that do really good work. Here are some clever questions to ask before you pay anything.

Have you paid for SEO services?

I’d really love to know what (if any) SEO services you’ve paid for and how it worked out for you in end. If you haven’t ever bought anything, would you ever consider hiring a consultant or firm to manage that side of your business?

Please leave a comment and let me know.


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  1. HA! I remember paying someone to do the SEO for my first blog.

    Stupidest $100 bill I’ve ever wasted. hehe

    It was from one of those emails you get from your contact form.

    Yeah, I didn’t know better at the time. I was like 3 months in, I think.

    “First Page Rankings For ONLY $100”

    Thinking about it now…

    Why would anyone charge $100 for all that hard work? Right?!!

    Anyway, I liked the post, man. (Y) <–that's a "thumbs up" in Facebook…NOT a buttcrack!)


    1. What was the result for you? Anything negative? (other than losing the money)

      1. Yeah, I didn’t see anything good.

        1. At least you didn’t get other bad results (except for not getting your money’s worth). I always thought that someone who’s that good in getting a website to rank for no.1 would actually do better with few well niched websites of his own than doing work for small bucks 😀

          No, I have never considered paying someone to do this for me. I try to do my own stuff, even if it takes a bit of time to handle all the workload.

  2. Should You Ever Pay for SEO Services (Especially from a Random Email?) - Internet Marketing on March 30, 2016

    […] Source link […]

  3. I guess your idea on not hiring dubious SEO companies is bang on. But I would say it can be worthwhile to hire a good SEO company and pay them good amount even if it pinches in the beginning.

    Why would I say that?
    1. Most of the new bloggers don’t know much about SEO (something that really works other than general knowledge) and waste a lot of time trying different ideas.
    2. It is better for them to invest time in content rather then try SEO (this applies mostly for off page SEO).

    Though again it is really difficult to find good agencies at a reasonable cost so if you can rather give a list of trustworthy agencies that can be really helpful for new bloggers.

    1. Good points. I guess I’m not entirely convinced that an agency is the solution most bloggers need. As you say, it starts with content and an agency is very expensive.

  4. Hello Ramsay:

    Personally, I never pay for Seo services because if “Seo expert” freelancers have the ability to create high-quality backlinks from authority websites they should invest their full time and ability on their own projects.

    Sometimes I pay writers that have access or can publish guests posts on relevant niche authority websites so I prefer to pay 50$-100$ to get the “gold” backlink rather than fake services.

    1. What results are you seeing?

    2. Chris Rice on April 3, 2016

      Paying for high-quality content is a good way to reach established audiences and develop your off-page optimization.

      Thanks for sharing, Loumi.

  5. I grew up reading seobook and yoast and a couple of others. Never paid for any services. But have paid for tools and education. But that’s just how my brain works.

    Back then it was all about SEO. Now with social networking, it’s so much more. Being found is now easier than before, however, for people who think they don’t need to perform SEO work, they are missing a lot of traffic.

    1. Yeah that’s the hard part about Google. You don’t want to want them, but you really do need them.

  6. As someone who runs an online business part-time, it is SO tempting to pay for help improving rankings. So, for a previous website I ran I did, through some of the more popular forums that allow others to offer SEO services. I did a lot of research, checked reviews, didn’t order the cheapest, etc. So I thought I was buying the better services.

    Then later on I had to pay someone to help me remove my negative links after Google slapped a penalty on me. Needless to say I won’t be doing that again with my newest site.

    1. Yeah it seems fraught with danger. Did you recover after the removal?

      1. Got the Google penalty removed, but never really got my rankings back. So I moved on to something different. Sad, but my own fault.

  7. I have tried many SEO techniques. Paying for a promised-magic-in-SEO ain’t one of them. What have I paid for?
    • Content
    • SEO tools
    • SEO training and eBooks.

    And the above seem to work well with me.

    Are sites like a better bet for link building as part of SEO strategy for a new blog? Ramsey

    1. I’m not familiar with that site, sorry. What do they do?

      1. You get to subscribe with them and links will get random links to links to the content in your site at a fee.

        You can choose to sell links from your site too.

        Seems a scam to me though.

        1. I would definitely not recommend that. It is always advisable to use white hat techniques to improve your blog.

  8. James Hipkin on March 30, 2016

    Thanks for this Ramsay.

    We’ve never paid for SEO services but we have recommended them many, many times. Most of our work is building custom WordPress themes for small and medium sized companies. When you are replacing on old site with a new design it’s an ideal time to pay for a thorough SEO analysis.

    There are three areas to focus on. First you want to know what pages already have rank and what keywords are represented on these pages. This is content you want to protect in the new design. You also want to protect these pages by setting up 301 redirects when the site is launched. Finally, permalink structure has a positive impact on SEO but can be difficult to adjust with an established site. An SEO analysis can identify ways that the permalink structure can help SEO, which can be incorporated into the new site map, and the 301 redirects.

    1. All sounds pretty healthy!

  9. I hired an SEO consultant who I found who seemed both reputable and knowledgable. He wasn’t the sort to get you backlinks or guarantee you ranking, but who would do an assessment and give targeted advice that would help improve my site. Which in all fairness he did! There was just nothing earth-shattering in the report. I have a few images lacking alt-tags, I have a few posts competing for the same keywords (I knew this), and like everybody on the planet, my page loading speed could be a notch better.

    It wasn’t wrong and nothing he suggested was black-hat SEO. It was just pretty meh. I hate spending money without a clear benefit. While I didn’t get much from the engagement, I like to believe it was money well spent to learn that maybe I know more than I think about SEO 🙂

    1. Yeah, sometimes it’s also worth paying to know you’re doing the right thing. Good peace of mind.

    2. Pat W. Kirk (Patricia Annalee Kirk) on April 2, 2016

      Sorry. I’m tech-illiterate. What are alt-tags?

  10. Ansa John on March 30, 2016

    I have received many of such emails offering to boast my ranking and social like with $50. Unfortunately they offer to give me a trial to get 1000 likes from Facebook free so I gave in for the try. Do you know this people never gave me even a single Facebook like? I email them back to hear their response but to reply from them.

    So I think having an seo company contact you for seo services is really a no-no as they are mostly fake.

    thanks Ramsay for this post. I’ll start now to stay clear from them but what seo practice would I implement? I read Neil Patel post few hours ago on long tail keywords implementation. In his write up he encourage using a long tail keywords for post even if it has low search volumes than the short tail keywords as one can easily get rank for long tail keywords with low search volumes than one with short tail keywords with high search volumes (not high competition). What’s your take on this?

    Once again thanks

    1. That is totally correct. Whatever Neil says is whatever we should do. HA.

    2. Emmanuel on April 6, 2016

      Hello Ansa,

      I do have a similar experience as well but different dimension. I was offered some likes but the funny thing was that, all those who liked my page on Facebook had no profile picture.
      Not even a single one of them.

      1. Ansa John on April 6, 2016

        Really? these people can be funny, lol…

  11. Alex Efremov on March 30, 2016

    Many years ago I paid for on-site optimization/audit. To be honest, that was a terrible experience – just wasting money. I received some feedback, but overall, it was obvious tips that can be found online for free. After that, I do SEO for my sites myself. It’s much cheaper and the same time results are much better.
    I agree with your list of the services you should pay for. I think it’s OK to pay for SEO for a person who has no experience with SEO, but it’s important to choose a good agency/freelancer.

    1. Can I ask why it was a terrible experience? Just not very good quality?

      1. Alex Efremov on April 2, 2016

        The guy had access to editing the site articles. He made changes, which seriously worsened the readability of the articles for my visitors (you know this old spammy style with an enormous number of repetitions). Then I had to edit the articles, so as not to scare off my visitors

        1. Far out.

  12. Teresa Berg on March 30, 2016

    Over the years I have wasted lots of time and money on boosting my rankings… mostly from companies that call me and promise fantastic results. Later I find all sorts of negative posts about them online and find that I’m getting little to no benefit. I wish I had your blog 8 years ago. I would have saved thousands. I will share your link with my photographer friends. Thanks.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Teresa. How has your SEO been going since?

      1. Teresa Berg on March 31, 2016

        I’ve been trying to do it on my own and by paying attention to my keywords, links (legitimate ones) and blogging with better content — I’ve seen progress. I’m no wizard, for sure — but it feels good to at least have MY hands on the steering wheel. As a photographer in a large metro area the competition for ranking is fierce and I need improvement but your blog and a couple of groups that specialize in SEO for photogs have been a big help. Thanks!

  13. I paid $100/month for SEO for a retail merchandise website that basically sells one product and that was for about 8 months. My sales were good but I could not tell if it had anything to do with what the SEO folks were doing.

    The two times I called to cancel it (because if I buy a horse, eventually you have to show me the horse) I got the following “If you look at the google webmaster tools report on how your website is performing…we would use your site and this report as an example to our prospective customers that wondered what SEO would do for them?” This was still smoke and mirrors to me.

    Since I have stopped using them my sales have dropped off. I hope this is not because they hacked my site as I fired them. I know, should have changed my password….that did not matter as I was purchasing SEO from the web company I bought the site from.

    Time for an audit.

    1. Hi Murph.

      I am wondering why you’d think it was due to them hacking you and not due to the SEO work dropping off? If they could point to some clear indicators in your Webmaster Tools it may have been a good deal. Perhaps they weren’t very good at explaining it?

      I’d be curious to know the details on this one.


  14. Guillermo on March 30, 2016

    I considered hiring someone but I checked a bit the pricing from a company and it was too expensive at the time. Now I’m considering again, probably getting the services of a freelancer would be the best fit for me. I receive at least 1 e-mail per day from so-called SEO experts but I never seriously considered paying for them, as they look pretty scammy… As you said in your article, who would massively approach customers if their business was running well? This is not a legit way to do it. Thanks for the article!

    1. Getting help from a writer is usually a great idea for any blog. You can achieve a lot more content goals at a faster pace.

  15. Jason Moore on March 30, 2016

    Hi Ramsay,

    Great post ! As usual I really enjoyed it. I think you are totally correct in that you should be suspicious when you get impersonal emails promising grandiose results.

    I also really like the idea of Analysis Tools. I knew there are reputable companies out there but I did not know where to start. So thank you for the suggestions.

    1. Hope those ones help!

  16. Emmanuel Aniekan on March 30, 2016

    Howdy Ramsay,
    Thanks for this post. You just reminded me of those silly emails I got when I first registered my domain name.

    I still get them though, always pitching their SEO services. It’s very tempting to sign up for their services but they promise very unrealistic results which doesn’t go down well with me.

    Just like you, I’ve never used the services of an SEO service or bought links. I believe getting rankings isn’t rocket science. By providing valuable content on your blog and promoting it the right way is one of the best ways to build a high traffic blog.

    1. I like the way that sounds!

  17. Michael Pozdnev on March 30, 2016

    Great article, thank you Ramsay!

    I am one of those who used to provide SEO services. I was both a freelancer and a business owner. When I started 15 years ago the most difficult thing was to explain to my clients what SEO is 🙂 Now the times have changed, and SEO is a part of content marketing, so the rules have changed as well. I’m very glad that they’ve changed, as a lot of phishers came to the market (black SEO).

    In my opinion, every blogger and site owner should know the basics of SEO. There’s no top-secret knowledge in it. The basic principles haven’t changed in 15 years.

    Create some quality content, follow the rules of on-page SEO and work on getting the links.

    For some reason, some experts bulldozed regular bloggers so much that they’re not even thinking of searching for the information on how to promote their website. The quantity of search queries on promotion, SEO etc is significantly lower than, for example, on how to choose a right name for a blog, how to launch a blog or where to go on the weekend (it’s important, I know, but…)

    My advice: read the basics of SEO, choose a couple of bloggers that you like (like Ramsay), pay for some tools they advise – and that’s it. Later you can hire an assistant as an extra specialist. If you’ve got a big company, the one who hires a freelancer or contracts a firm should also understand SEO (otherwise you’ll just be fooled).

    1. Yeah this sounds like very reasonable advice. I like it. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. Scott Kindred on March 30, 2016

    Great cautions and advice here – thanks, Ramsay! Like you, I detest people who take advantage of other people and then make a buck off of it, too.

    I agree for most bloggers and solopreneurs, self-education is the best path to take. Avoiding unsolicited SEO emails is a must. Working with an unproven consultant is risky. Hiring a reputable SEO agency/company/consultant can, indeed, be expensive.

    On the flip side of that, I do advocate the benefits of hiring a reputable SEO company or consultant if you’re a business who has reached the level of needing to have SEO “done for you” in a competent, ethical, trustworthy and results-oriented way. Disclaimer: I advocate it because that’s part of what I do in my own work.

    The results we have achieved do include some of those page 1 & position 1 success stories (even for competitive keywords in a crowded market), but I *always* make sure the client understands those kinds of results cannot be promised. Lastly – because this kind of comment could go one forever 🙂 – I’ve found that good content really is the key to everything. Things like website structure and other on-page optimizations are vital, and natural backlinks are fab, but they should all be ethically and professionally strategized with one thing in mind: user experience; is it valuable, relevant and organic?

    1. You’re one of the good guys, Scott. Thanks for being around here.

      1. Scott Kindred on March 30, 2016

        I’m thankful for the place you’ve created here.

  19. Should You Ever Pay for SEO Services (Especially from a Random Email?) - Internet Wealth on March 30, 2016

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  20. Chandan Sah on March 30, 2016

    Excellent post, although I have never used any of these services but I do receive tons of emails regarding so called “seo services”. I prefer to learn new things rather than wasting my money.

    Keep posting new info. Best of Luck.

    1. Good choice!

  21. Thanks for sharing Ramsay.

    I have been receiving this kinds of email. Before it was tempting for me to use their services but one time I did my research and found negative results, comments and reviews. Since then I always treat this cheap offers as crap.

    Nowadays I just ignore their offers but I read their email thoroughly to see if I could pick some ideas in their copy or sales letter.

    1. Ha ha! Clever.

  22. Shelly-Ann Smalling on March 31, 2016

    Hey Ramsay,

    Thanks for the analysis tools.

    I’m a newbie blogger and as you know it takes a lot of work and time. I read tons of content every day to make myself more knowledgeable.

    A point when shopping is to check out if the service being offered has a free version or trial period. This will allow you to use their service and assess their efficacy all at the same time.

    With a limited budget, it pays to be cautious. That money could be better spent on creating pillar content through a freelance service.

    So, no I haven’t paid for any SEO service, and would think very hard before I do in the future.


    1. Yeah, making sure products have a good money back policy is also a really good idea.

  23. I get several of this kind of e-mail every single day, generally always from a gmail address (I’m guessing so their domain based e-mail doesn’t get blacklisted?) and with no proper e-mail signature with website and company name.

    I’m always tempted to e-mail back and say if my SEO is so bad how did you find me? Plus to point out that the fact that I get over 50,000 hits a month from Google and have over 100 no1 and no2 slots in the search results means I must be doing something right. But it’s not worth the argument.

    Like you say if they were so good at their job they wouldn’t be reduced to sending spammy e-mails to try and drum up business. They also would use their domain based e-mail and be happy to share their business name and web link. The fact they don’t is a definite sign they are not a company you want to work with!

    I do my own SEO and always have, I knew nothing about it when I started but I try to read up as much as I can from reputable sources like MOZ and experiment to see what works. I’m no expert but it’s getting me good results and my stats grow month on month so I’m happy.

    1. I like your level-headed approach to this. I think you’ll go far, even if it’s a bit slower than the big results people often want.

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  25. I’ve paid for SEO twice. Once on fiverr…. lol. Once for some decent backlinks that lasted a year or two. Wouldn’t do it again, which is why I ended here at your website. Thanks for sharing a great post.

    1. Glad it helped! Did the fiverr stuff have any negative results?

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  28. Frank @ Panda Paper Roll Company on April 9, 2016

    Hello Ramsay, It is very interesting topic. I think the answer to this question is not simply “yes’ or “no”. I ever worked with some individuals & agencies priced from $100 to $1200. My experience is:

    -1. Say no to “cheap service’. Most Indian agencies are offering very cheap price (even from $100). But don’t try to pay $100 to buy a LV bag. You cannot expect anything from their ‘cheap” service. Everything is worth its value. For these companies, they just help build some spam links, they even has negative effect on your website.

    2. But to be honest, SEO doing by ourselves is a time consuming work. We must learn to outsource the work to relax ourselves. For graphic design and others not so important work, we can hire an agency to do.

  29. I would highly advise staying FAR away from buying PBN links from people who are already selling to thousands of other people. I can’t think of one link network that’s stood the test of time on a large scale. Once a network becomes public, it’s no longer a PRIVATE blog network. Do you guys agree?

  30. Bill Achola on April 13, 2016

    Perfect post Ramsay, i think (not sure) you’re the first one writing a detailed post about “these scam email SEO services”.

    I’ve been getting those emails and i was like “how the hell did he get my email address”

    Anyway that’s a good post.


  31. Ramsay,

    I have time and again, come back to your blog exactly for such information! I am a novice at blogging and this piece on SEO from you is an eye opener. A constant learning for me. This is exactly why I consider you as an inspiration to me! Thanks man!

  32. Susan Smith on April 13, 2016

    Just a cool stuff to read. Yeah we are paying for the SEO and the work is effective for us as well. The complete search engine marketing package is necessary when you are into a big industry like us, but before making a choice always check for references & case studies. Never go with fake promises. The guarantee of top ranking will finely tell you not to go with the firm.

  33. Farhat Abbas on April 20, 2016

    Great stuff it is and will be helpful for any SEOrs. Thanks for sharing it.

  34. Haiming Jiang on April 21, 2016

    See, SEO is not easy (though I am sure many of us think it is!). To rank high in the search results and to drive alot of traffic to the website, it is important to follow all the search engine optimization rules and tips. A common person will have little or no knowledge but an SEO agency will know what needs to be done to get the desired results. SO yes, I think we should pay for SEO services if we want to get relevant traffic.

  35. Ryan Biddulph on April 23, 2016

    Hi Ramsay,

    Nope, never.

    And it has nothing to do with the delivery. Even blind pitches can work well if SEO folks are clear on their approach.

    It’s just an interest thing.

    I’m not an SEO guy. I see its benefits yet anything that isn’t fun for me, I never go that road. At least the new me feels that way.

    Nice breakdown on the email too. I see ’em 1-2 days 😉

    Thanks for the share.

    Signing off from sunny NJ.


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