You're here because you're looking for expert advice on starting your own SEO business.
You have no time for lurking in the SEO forums.
You care to learn from those who have been there and done it. The SEO masters in the game.
What intrigues you the most about the search engines industry potential?
Is it gaming the system and getting quick wins or…
Starting your own SEO agency, working with big clients and selling your company later down the road to a large competitor for a million plus dollars…
Or maybe freelancing your way into creating multiple niche sites that generate passive income and kiss your 9 to 5 JOB good-bye?
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. ” ~ Napoleon Hill
So, how do you start?
First of all. Learn the basics of search engine optimization for Google. They're still the biggest player in the cyberspace. Secondly, understand the market. Regardless of your niche you have to research and grasp:
- What searchers are looking for and really need — study their behavior.
- What type of keywords get buyers and how to get them on your page — use the latest tools.
- What competitors are doing and how to out-rank them with superior content — spy them.
We have gathered the best SEO advice from these pro search optimizers:
[sociallocker]Thank you for helping spread the word. Here is the PDF, Simply Right Click on the link and ‘save as': 35 Seo Experts PDF[/sociallocker]
Adam Steele, Andrew Glyntzos, Andrew Shotland, Ben Wynkoop, Casie Gillette, Charlotte Waller, Chris Makara, Christoph C. Cemper, David Jenyns, Dennis Seymour, Duane Forrester, Dustin Woodard, Evan Prokop, Francisco Perez, Gabriella Sannino, Gareth Hoyle, Harris Schachter, James Blews, James Brockbank, James Norquay, Jeremy Rivera, Josh Bachynski, Joshua Mackens, Ken Lyons, Kristena Ducre, Krystian Szastok, Lee Beirne, Marcus Miller, Mike Sansone, Nate Shivar, Nick Eubanks, Paul Shapiro, Pieter S Verasdonck, Sarah Lively, Tom Demers
They all had the experience to answer this simple yet critical question:
What would you recommend beginners who are keen to start an SEO business?
I appreciate their insights and support to help create this content packed post so let's get the most out of it, shall we?
Unless you've got a big bank roll, chances are you are going to be doing a lot of the work for yourself, and in my opinion, you should be. Why? You ought to know what you're selling, intimately.
Even if you aren't doing the selling, it's helpful to understand, and appreciate the inner workings of the business you are building.
You don't need to be an Olympic swimmer to be an excellent Olympic swim coach, but as a leader, a mentor, it's going to be hard to have empathy, if you've never wrestled with any of the challenges your subordinates are facing. And empathy is damn important.
As you are making your way through the steps of creating whatever it is you are intending to sell, consider logging the process. Create a manual along the way. A manual that is constantly revised as you learn faster, and better ways of doing things will be invaluable to your future growth.
Believe me, you will be patting yourself on the back for doing this early on.
Not only will you be able to scale faster by doing this, but suppose something were to happen to you? Less grim, suppose a buyer presented themselves, and you were were able to show them this process driven business, that they too could scale with ease.
How much more attractive are you? Not everyone agrees, but I always build to sell.
Finally, SEO isn't black, white or purple. It's extremely subjective, and you musn't allow yourself to shaped by everything you read. Carve your own path by testing, testing and testing some more.
By the time you read about most techniques on your popular SEO blog of choice, those methods have already been around for 5 years, and beat into the ground.
Those guys who got into the expired domain game years ago, they are laughing now, as it is now not only expensive, but bloody time consuming to find any good expired domains.
If this is not up your alley, find someone who will spend the time. It's worth every minute and penny.
In order to begin running an SEO agency or business, you would need to have a vast amount of business understanding and knowledge for many different industries.
I strongly affirm that you must have at least 2-4 years' experience (MINIMUM) commercially working for an agency to learn the procedures at hand. SEO is a complicated, yet easy to understand process from the surface.
What I mean by that is, on the surface SEO is about improving your clients keyword rankings.
But as you deal deeper in a business, you realize that is goes far beyond into competitor intelligence research, customer engagement and journey through the sales process, understanding the demographics of the target market, building and establishing partnerships with the major players in a given industry and an overall dynamic strategy to improve your clients authority and reputation online.
Having tools at hand are handy to help you along but experience and making mistakes are all part of the learning process to run your own SEO business. I encourage all SEO's to have their own learning sites, perhaps run a small businesses on the side to learn the finer mechanics of small business.
SEO can also be used ethically and unethically, and I have written in the past that All SEO's begin within a philosophy and not a strategy.
When you begin your business you will have to make a choice whether you are going to target short term black hat SEO tactics or are you going to climb the more difficult, business building model which focuses on white hat strategies?
I always admit upfront to clients, that personally, I do not perform white hat strategies because Google told me so? Rather because white hat SEO includes the foundational marketing principles that sustainably builds and develops businesses.
Walmart, KMART, Victoria's Secret, etc. did not build their empires on dodgy backlinks from link networks, but on the basis of understanding how they were different, gaps in the market, what the customer needs and providing the solutions they need.
This is why you need to gather the initial understanding of how SEO can work effectively into a company's marketing strategy by working within an industry and among established professionals before taking the plunge and starting your own business.
But only you will know when the time is right and I strongly urge you keep your clients business interests top priority throughout the entire SEO campaign. This will certainly keep you in business far longer than trying to manipulate an algorithm which is catching up to these short lived tactics all the time.
Build your own site, preferably in a niche that you want to target. So if you want to target psychics as clients, build a site about psychics.
Figure out how to get it ranking for competitive keywords. Write about your experience on your site (e.g. “How I Got Ranked #1 For Top Pet Psychic in 30 Days!”).
Find the sites that psychics read to learn about how to manage their businesses (e.g. PsychicBiz.com) and offer to write a post for free about some super interesting thing you figured out about how to market psychics online.
Do some proprietary research about how bad psychics are at marketing themselves and publish it on YouMoz (e.g. “10 Psychics' Predictions About Google's Next Algo Update”). Find a Psychics convention and apply to be a speaker.
In short get talked about by psychics who are interested in online marketing help and by marketers who think psychics are whack-jobs so when you talk about them they will share your content because they think you are a whack-job.
If all else fails, just keep saying to yourself over and over again “I am the best SEO for psychics in the world.” Sooner or later a psychic will read your mind and #ka-ching! (don't forget to turn on retargeting in your medulla for those psychics who are not yet in purchase mode)
For beginners interested to start an SEO business I recommend heavily focusing on learning project and account management in addition to improving their improving their proficiency in the service they offer-search engine optimization.
How to learn SEO
If you are new to the profession altogether and need to learn SEO, two courses to consider are DistilledU and the Google Analytics Individual Qualification. Completing both certifications should take under 90 hours.
A PMP certification is the highest echelon in existence and universally respected in the project management world as the CPA is in accounting.
While you don't need the letters “PMP” after your name to efficiently begins practicing this discipline, keeping a well-organized project management template, such as this Google spreadsheet is a good solution to get started.
In my opinion on the job training in a digital agency is the best place to learn account management.
Quite a bit can be gleaned by seeing an experienced account manager deal with various aspects including: pushing back the on deadlines, communicating with clients, coordinating with various departments within the agency and meetings.
Getting a constant stream of clients can be difficult. Several ways agencies acquire new business include: spending thousands each month on digital ads, referrals, guest blogging and speaking.
Overall make sure you over-deliver to your current clients to build a sterling reputation and thus generate referrals.
Referrals can result in landing a “big fish” such as a high budget enterprise-level corporation. Try the mentioned channels and see what works for you.
I think SEO is a hot topic right now and truthfully, one of the issues lies in the fact there is no barrier to entry. Which means anyone can start an SEO business.
It also means there are still companies out there sending terrible outreach emails, getting sites penalized, and overall, giving SEO a bad name. Sigh 🙂
Honestly, one of the biggest challenges of SEO is the ability to scale. Very rarely are two client needs the exact same and in turn, each SEO program is different.
A person looking to start a business must understand you can't take a cookie cutter approach. You must have the ability to adapt and be able to provide recommendations based on the client needs.
This can range from giving technical advice to writing content to providing customer service recommendations. It's pretty difficult to be really great at everything.
To me, the key is gaining experience in each discipline and identifying your weaknesses. What are you good at and where will you need help? And then surround yourself with the best people.
Start by taking projects you know you'll be successful at and play to your strengths.
Additionally, consider creating partnerships with larger agencies. We often get inquiries from smaller companies and are looking to refer them elsewhere.
It's a good way to get business and a good way to find clients who you know you can help.
If this is you, I'd suggest that – given the way the landscape is going – to get a background in good old fashioned marketing.
The pricey way would be to do a degree or formal qualification, the more cost-effective way would be to make a small trip to Amazon.
I believe digital is becoming more and more aligned to traditional marketing these days.
With regards to the specifics of SEO, just get out there and learn.
I still think following Rand Fishkin is one of the best things you can do – he knows it all and is always looking to the future and basing his recommendations with that in mind.
Follow the Moz blog as there's a real mix of talent that publishes content there and Rand's stuff too.
Having a good grasp of code and HTML is also handy as there's definitely a technical aspect to the industry.”
I would say the most important thing would to have a case study to show you can get results.
When you are starting out, you need to prove you know what you are doing. In fact, you don't want to make this basic rookie SEO keyword research mistake.
In the end, there's no better way than showing you are the real deal than with the results you have achieved.
However, you will need to rank for phrases that people actually search for. Not some random super long tail phrase that anyone can rank for.
But what if you don't have any results to show?
I would recommend doing SEO for free for a handful of semi-competitive keyword phrases for a small business. Perhaps 5-10 keyword phrases at most.
Sure working for free might not sound ideal, but doing this works for you on two fronts.
- It gives you the chance to build up your portfolio of ranking keywords.
- Should you rank by working for free (and proving yourself) with this business, there should be little issue in them paying you moving forward for your work. (Yay! Your first client!)
With this under your belt, you can not only show you have been able to get results for a client, but you could even use them for a testimonial.
In fact, I've seen companies I've done work for refer me to their friends who also own businesses looking for results.
Do this a time or two and you will have a good foundation to help get your SEO business moving in the right direction to attract and maintain clients.
Internet is one of the greatest human achievements. It is a unique place, where it is not important where do you come from, how old are you or what is your education.
There are no borders on internet and only what really stands between you and your success is your creativity, hard work and will to continuously keep learning.
SEO, as well as the internet, is a very dynamic industry. Whether you are small business owner, webmaster or SEO expert, you must adopt to these changes in order to survive on internet.
Although, sometimes in a theory can sound very simple, the world of SEO is highly complex.
Where to start?
A man can learn a lot from books, videos or articles, but if you really want to understand SEO, I would suggest to start your own projects. The best way learn something is to learn it from your own experience and from your own mistakes.
Even a simple blog will help you to learn basics, but my advice would be to buy some decent server and few domains.
In this way, you will learn all aspects of internet marketing and SEO: market research, content creation, optimization and monetization.
It is pretty normal that the most of your projects fail, especially in your beginnings, but that is not the reason to be sad. But don't let that discourage you. You have lost nothing.
You have just learned a lot. Every new project will be better and better.
Just keep learning, make new connections and never lose a pace with new quality standards and innovations. With hard work, success will come sooner or later.
Be the best example.
When starting out, the first website you should work on is your own. Ensure it's rock solid and follows Google's best practice. It's best to lead by example and often times it's the first thing a prospect will ask – “how are you ranking?”
We all know SEO is a competitive industry so geographically target businesses in your local area can be a great place to start. Simply putting your city name in your domain name will also get you some quick wins.
Deliver more value that #1 rankings.
Never build a business that's 100% reliant on factors that are outside of your control. Google and online marketing is an ever-changing game – you never know what's around the corner.
Accordingly ensure you're always delivering value outside of just the number of rankings or which keywords are ranking #1. Help clients improve their conversion rate, create videos, content, paid marketing and/or other areas you're already competent in.
Don't chase the algorithm.
Stop looking for loopholes and strategies to beat the Google. The algorithm changes too quickly to capitalize on loopholes. You're much better off creating good long-term value for your clients. Play for the long term by providing value and focusing on user experience above all else.
Google is very clear on what it's looking for these days publishing guidelines and best practices here.
Most websites fail to get even the basics correct. Get these right and you'll be on your way to building a successful SEO business.
SEO is a huge space. It covers a lot of sub-specialties and customers have their own perceptions of what it is.
Couple that with the intricacies of starting a service business then that can easily overwhelm the biggest, baddest entrepreneurs out there.
* Niche Down
As you already know by now with SEO (since you are starting a business about it) – it has a lot of different components under it.
From technical, on-page SEO, off-page SEO, a combination, consultancy, blog specific work, e-commerce specific work and so on. Pick one that you like and enjoy.
While the rest of your competitors are busy offering every type of service under the sun, you should niche down to a specific craft before moving to other service types under SEO.
Build a name for your brand on that space and be awesome with your work.
The money will follow.
Once you niche down, you will see that your service will be limited to your TIME.
Start looking at processes, your results and how you can document what you do.
Streamline your service into a product and offer that to a specific set of customer types. It will take some trial and error but you will eventually get to the point that you can delegate… which brings us to…
At this point, you need to start hiring so you can delegate the work that you just productized. This will allow you more time to market your services/brand or build new offers.
Focus on building a small team at first and try your system with client work.
Iron out the kinks and bam! You have a well oiled machine!
Now, you can scale. My main problem with service businesses is how I can scale them up.
My personal preference is to keep my team small and service a limited number of clients, well, because I want to work on more of my own stuff (and family stuff) rather than put more time into building a bigger team and managing them.
On your end, the sky is the limit! Blow up your team and scale it up as much as you want.
At this point, you have the processes in place for the work and hiring phat down, so it's up to you now as to where you want to take your business.
If you are asking what is the most important thing for those starting an actual SEO business…
Then I'd have to say a good, old fashioned business plan is the most important thing.
Skip this step and you're flying blind.
Something important is going to come along and crush your dream because you failed to plan for it. next up I'd say Is hands-on experience running a business.
This is tough for those first starting out, but I can tell you from personal experience, you'll spend as much time running your business as you will doing the work for your clients. Maybe more.
Accounting, interviewing, performance reviews, firing, payroll, marketing, pitching, speaking, traveling – all things that take time and that you'll need to do or have done.
All easier to manage when you have some experience. Doable without experience or while you're learning the finer points, but all things that take time.
Final point here: lean on your network. reach out to those you know when a problem stumps you. Just be sure to record the answer for later reference when you hit the same problem again with another client.
If you are asking what is the most important thing for those looking to start a career in SEO…
Then I'd have to whittle it down to a single word: experience. And do not for one minute think your two years as an SEO previously makes you a hot-shot SEO.
Let's face it, not much in the world of actual SEO work has changed in the past few years in a meaningful way.
What does make a difference though, is your broad experience base and how much you can apply it to the work you and your coworkers are doing. experience with things like managing social media campaigns, email campaigns, and usability.
Things like the ability to understand how to run A/B tests and focus groups.
The experience you have understanding devs and designers and how they work. The experience you have seeing how the work you do accrues to the all-up goals of the business, so you can shape your work appropriately.
Having a career as an SEO today is very different that it was 5 or 10 years ago. Today, businesses need more than just “technical SEOs”. They need digital marketing experts, with all that such a title implies.
If you are asking what is the most important for those new to SEO and looking to do work on their own website/business?
Then I'm going to say you need, first and foremost, to align the work you're going to do with the goals of the company.
You can find a bunch of technical issues with your site, but if the company is removing the content completely, not selling that product in the future or moving into something new, fixing those old technical issues could be a waste of time and resources.
So focus first on the areas of highest value to the company. Which pages, content or products offer the company the highest ROI? Prioritize work on those items first, then the rest.
If you have a content problem – or a lack of content problem – then this needs to be fixed. If you haven't had a chance to implement markup yet (Schema.org, OpenGraph, RDFA, MicroFormats, etc.), this should be a priority.
And if you're not already mobile friendly, clear your plate, tell your family you won't be home this weekend and get it done.
It can big a huge change for you, understood. It could be costly, also understood. It could also be the difference between you succeeding and failing in the not-to-distant future. Do you understand that?
An SEO is only as good as their experience. I put in over a decade as an in-house SEO before I started my SEO consulting business (SEO Naturale http://www.seo-naturale.com).
Certainly you don't need to put in that much time, but the thought of a beginner starting an SEO business worries me and can't be good for our industry's reputation.
I wouldn't hire a beginner to build my house, so why would I expect a beginner to help with something even more valuable? If you are a beginner, reading up on SEO isn't enough. You need real world experience.
I suggest you:
- start your own site
- help friends with their sites
- look for opportunities to work with a mentor or experienced SEO
- and consider working as an in-house SEO or at an agency to gain valuable experience.
Once you get beyond beginner status, a great way to break into the business is to specialize in one or two aspects of SEO then broaden your offerings over time.
Whether starting an SEO business, joining an agency team or working in a large enterprise, I think that there are certain skills that are characteristic of any good SEO practitioner.
While by no means an exhaustive list, I think if SEO newbies can master these three areas, they will be well on their way to success in search engine optimization and many other disciplines in the digital marketing industry.
Learn to write well
- SEO tactics can be the secret sauce that helps good content reach a larger audience in search, but stuffing keywords or pointing links towards mediocre content won't cut it anymore (thankfully).
Learn web analytics and reporting
- Web analytics are the key to understanding what's working, what isn't and where the biggest opportunities are. Reporting and presentation skills are integral to communicating data driven insights and recommendations to clients and company decision makers.
- Put these together and you have an SEO expert who not only makes great recommendations but gets the critical buy-in to see them come to fruition. That's a potent combo.
Learn digital marketing best practices
- Done correctly, SEO doesn't live in a silo, but rather is tightly integrated into a company's overall digital strategy. The best SEO professionals are well rounded digital marketers who can see both the forest and the trees.
Starting an SEO Business is just like any other service company or agency.
For one, the most important thing you should be doing is to build your credibility.
Building credibility is no easy tasks but it is essential if you want to succeed. The reason why having credibility is so important is that you need to stand out from the rest.
Hint: I started to engage with a community of WAHM (Work At Home Moms). I offered them help and in two cases, I actually gave them help for free. Today they write for Huffington Post and have their blogs successful.
Guess who they recommend when someone asks them for suggestions? Do yo see what I mean!
Anyway, and in addition here are some other considerations:
- Before offering anything, understand what you potential clients needs are. Make it a point to learn about his business to make sure that you can offer them help. There is no such thing as “one size fits all”. Making them feel that they are unique and important is what will help you gain their trust.
- Never ever guarantee anything. Tell them that your services are based on your best efforts and depending on a series of factors, results may depend on both timing and costs. Steer away from promising high rankings in 30 days or less. That will kill your business and you did not even start yet.
- Whenever possible, show them your expertise by proving you know what you are talking about. If you have testimonials, social following, even your own rankings, those will be a great help when they have to decide.
The above is were I recommend you to start.
Professionals go on about SEO, but how can you actually rank higher on a search engine results page? The way everyone makes it sound, it's easy to see why a beginner would perceive it as a magical concept.
We wrote a few funny posts about becoming an SEO a few years ago. Almost as if you need some specific gifts to impress King Google — after all, you certainly end up with a few court jesters:
- The Excitable One:She'll think “I wonder if…” and jumps right into action without testing the market.
- The Cautious One:She'll also wonder, but she will carefully consider all perspectives first, causing her to miss opportunities.
- The Keyword One:She'll find one keyword to latch onto and stuff it in every single sentence on the article.
The truth is that SEO isn't that complicated; it can take a long time to master, but you'll only get there by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty with experimentation.
In fact, beginners can get started with the basics in just a short read. The first tool in your bag of tricks is your brains and using it.
The three most important things to delve into are:
- Content Strategy
- Social Networks
- Link Building
With those three disciplines you can get your feet wet and see if you can find the balance between critical thinking and working a crowd like a PR agency.
When you are considering the different aspects of SEO remember it's an integrated framework that uses a high end content strategy to establish your authority; social networks will gain traction for your promotion with smart implementation; and focus on earning those links to build long-term equity with your readers and search engines.
Setting up an SEO agency can be tough and challenging, but the rewards can far outweigh the headaches of the first 12 months. In order to succeed, there are a number of key things to remember.
Growing a successful business all starts with you and the people around you. It goes without saying that you should be an expert in your field, or employ somebody who is.
Bringing in the right people in the early days will help catapult your new business to success and will also help align your employees expectations with the vision of the business.
This being said, even an expert needs some help now and again. Don't scrimp and save on the tools you invest in.
Fill your armory with best and latest industry tools and software, which will really help when it comes to pitching for work, delivering work and making campaigns successful.
The starting point for any SEO toolkit should be: Majestic, Ahrefs, LinkRisk, Open Site Explorer and SEMRush. These tools will stand you in good stead and will allow you to effectively analyze and rank client's and competitor's sites.
Starting small and growing as you learn is never a bad thing. If you can prove your worth to a smaller client, there is always room to grow an account and turn it into a real success story.
Get your fundamentals right from the beginning and use your successes as case studies to win new business.
Starting small will also allow you to learn how to manage the inner working of a business – your business.
Starting with just a handful of clients will allow you to put effective processes in place, which can be scaled up when taking on more, or bigger clients.
Getting to know other people in the industry is vital, as your business will not succeed without making allies along the way.
Even if it's just meeting up for a coffee or a beer at a conference with some of your contact; engage with your contacts whenever you have the opportunity.
These chats will help to shape your ongoing strategy and the insight and thoughts of fellow peers will become invaluable when working in the minefield that is SEO.
This being said, attending conferences is also a great way to network, meet suppliers and get the latest industry insights.
Here at Marketing Signals, we use conferences as a way of not only generating new business by exhibiting, but also as a way of constantly refreshing our knowledge and skills.
The final piece of advice for any budding agency owner is always remember to keep the client and the campaign at the forefront of your mind.
- Managing expectations and being open and realistic with clients is key.
- Being transparent will win you the trust of your client.
- Be realistic, be fair and never undersell yourself, just to win the work.
First of all, I have to say it is risky for beginner SEOs to start an SEO business, because it is very hard to learn a new skill and sell it at the same time.
You want to make sure you can feasibly deliver on what it is people are paying you for.
On the skills side, you should let your family and friends know you won't be seeing them for a while. You'll be reading books, articles, and running test websites will every drop of your spare time.
Learn everything you can from trusted names in the industry who provide unique perspectives on the practice.
Go to conferences, ask questions, and experiment as much as possible. The best way to learn is by doing.
On the business side, I would recommend taking some free business management classes through Coursera or reading a few books strictly about business.
You'll want to learn the ins and outs of:
- how to price yourself,
- what work you can realistically take on
- your expenses
- your account management processes
- and your workflow process.
Some of this you'll also have to learn as you go along, but if you've never owned a business before it is particularly important to know what to expect.
Talk to small business owners (marketers or not) and ask about how they got started and how they met their challenges to become successful.
Ultimately, for beginners in the industry starting a new consulting business, my personal recommendation would be to not start an SEO business until you've had sufficient experience doing it.
Take your time, hone your skills, and run some small sites by yourself to create your own classroom. It's simply not practical to offer services you don't have yet.
Finally, once you are confident enough in your skills, I'd also suggest to not go it alone.
If I were starting from scratch and didn't know anything, I'd be keen to partner up with at least one other person to share the workload.
It can be very overwhelming to start a new business, especially if you're simultaneously learning how to do it.
1 – Know the difference between SEO and SEM “BEFORE” talking to clients
SEO is all about onpage and internal issues with your website.
This includes formatting, meta tags and information, the page titles and even internal linking.
The definition of what SEO methods are can even include what your content is linked to, and internal content structure and attributes (image names, downloadable names, etc.).
SEM, on the other hand, deals with actions that will gain traction in search engines during a search that are not in your hands. This includes link building, content marketing and other externals.
The distinction will allow for you to have more clear conversations with your clients.
It can also open up more opportunities to aid those customers with services that they actually need that they are not initially familiar with.
2 – Your learning never ends, but you need to put it into practice
A working knowledge of SEO and SEM will gain clients. That won't be in question. However, staying current as to best practices from Google and Bing might change.
While learning what is working, or gaining traction for those using SEO and SEM, you will eventually need to put this into practice.
Without using the information that you are collecting, you are simply recycling what other SEO and SEM professionals are preaching.
If you were a client, would you choose a knowledgeable industry-leader, or someone simply recycling what the pros are saying?
3 – Take some basic business, business management and business ownership classes if possible
Knowing how to set up a structure for your business might seem basic; “I'm going to start an SEO business because I know SEO”. However, there are things to consider that are involved with your business.
What kind of accounting system are you using? Are you using software for your accounting?
Will you be an LLC or incorporated? What is your ownership structure?
How many employees will you have? Will you hire freelancers? And if so, what tax issues will you need to confirm before employing them?
Running a business creates even more question than these. However, answering these very basic questions above can you put you in a more solid foundation when you are ready to start taking in clients.
4 – Make sure you are ready to be a business owner
Owning a business isn't for everybody. You have a lot of overhead when you are a business owner; taxes, customer support, accounting, etc. It's all on you now.
That initial excitement can very quickly turn to anxiety and stress; and those can turn very quickly into fear or depression.
As much as it might seem like a dream come true, starting a business is also not guaranteed to make you a success.
Over 50% of businesses are closed within a year of opening, and Bloomberg has stated that almost 80% of businesses won't make it past 18 months. If your business doesn't last past the first 12 months or 18 months, will you able to handle that?
James Brockbank // @BrockbankJames
When considering starting your own SEO business, it's important to consider a number of primary factors, these, as far as I'm concerned, being:
Agency or Freelancer?
What are your long term goals? Are you wanting to build up an agency (albeit starting off small) or remain a freelancer?
You'll likely be in a position to win bigger contracts as an ‘agency' but the fight for that work is harder.
Go out as a freelancer, on the other hand, and you can start to build your business by picking up overflow from agencies currently at capacity.
It's a tough decision to make and generally paves the way for two different paths, however one which needs making from day one.
What Makes You Different?
We all know how many SEO and digital marketing agencies there are out there so you need to stop and ask yourself what makes you different?
Why should someone work with you as opposed to an established agency or freelancer? It's all about creating your own unique selling point.
As an example, I set up as ‘James Brockbank,' not as an agency! Why?
I did this to offer what I believe is something unique – one point of contact with one person, who has years of experience handling campaigns from start to finish.
There's no account manager and certainly no sales person and clients love it! No bulls**t, just successful campaigns!
What Will You Charge?
Setting your price point is one of the hardest things to get right and always a difficult task for those just starting out.
Do you go in at the bottom of the market and underprice competitors or do you stick to your guns for what you know your service is worth and sit up at the top with the long-established agencies?
In reality, it's likely to be somewhere in the middle at first, however be wary of going in too low. A low price often means low quality so be sure you set a price point which reflects the level of service and quality which you're offering!
My advice to anyone who is looking to start an SEO business is actually learn how to do SEO on your own sites for a period of time before actually taking on clients, test numerous things and actually do some heavy research first.
I would also invest a considerable amount of time into training before you take on any potential business.
The worst type of SEO business owners are the ones who have absolutely no idea what they are doing and they take on 20 clients and cause 20 Manual penalties on these sites.
I have seen this type of thing happen first hand and it is usually a nightmare to go and fix and can take time to repair.
So many times you see the “Used Car Salesman” turned SEO as his friend said SEO was an “Easy” way to make quick money, the individual has no technical background and outsources all link building on Fiverr it is a recipe for disaster.
My advice to anyone who wants to start a business is read everything you can on sites such as MOZ, Search Engine Land, etc., and also do not be afraid to go to local meetups and conferences.
I have been running the Online Marketing Sydney event for a few years and we provide free training for anyone who wants to learn more about digital marketing; there are many events around the globe such as the one I have listed here.
When you're thinking of starting an SEO business you need to correctly value your own time and your capabilities and be sure to leave “margin” that will account for any time that you end up spending during meetings.
For a real life client example I was just working on an audit for a company called Culer, and we ended up going really far in depth during our audit presentation.
If we hadn't accounted well for that time in the pricing we established for our services then we would have had to eat that time and really have gotten paid less than we'd actually charged for the audit.
It's actually really hard to value yourself correctly, as things like humility and doubt cast a shadow over you and your judgement of your worth.
You need to:
- step up and ask for what you are worth
- and work to deliver that value through your services.
Know how to differentiate yourself.
Know how to maximally mitigate client risk.
Know how to read between the lines of both what Google says, or what SEOs say.
Know how to use statistics, and scientific thinking.
Or know that this job ain't for you 😉
The biggest advice I could give them is a piece of general business advice which is to go full throttle after 1 business idea.
If this is their 1 business idea, then great, move forward, stay the course, and don't get distracted.
People too often split their time, attention, and resources between multiple projects.
If they're quitting their current venture, why? Does the grass look greener?
The grass always looks greener but people who constantly shift fields are hardly ever successful. If they've decided on an SEO business, remove all distractions and go for it.
If you're starting an SEO business, it's important to generate leads and try to keep a steady flow of leads coming in.
Spending a lot of time and effort to try and rank for hyper-competitive, service-related terms may not be the most effective means of generating leads.
We've often found that leads coming in via search are aggressively price shopping and will generally go with the cheapest vendor they find on page one.
That's probably not how you want to build your business.
A more effective way to generate quality leads is to line up a recurring contributor gig (or gigs) with a search-targeted publication and publish thought leadership content there on a regular basis.
This helps demonstrate your expert knowledge of a particular subject, and with the pubs distribution and syndication channels helps gets you (and your business) exposure and promotion at scale. And the only cost is your time.
With new online businesses and e-commerce sites popping up every day, starting an SEO business can be a great way to profit using your expertise in generating organic traffic and maximizing revenue potential.
SEO is far from an exact science- it is constantly evolving as old internet trends fade out and new ones emerge. The key to starting a successful SEO business is to stay on top of new developments and advance along with the industry.
A common mistake with many SEO newbies is to focus solely on the technical aspects of SEO- keyword research and rank tracking, link building, and link profiling – with no real consideration of the quality of the content on your site and the natural flow, or how visitors take their journey through your site.
Another thing to keep in mind is that SEO is a long term game.
My work for STDcheck's website, started wheen the site's SEO was in the very beginning stages and, while there were quantifiable results in those early days, I'm still coming up with new strategies two years later.
In that time, our sales revenue has increased almost five-fold as a result of work we did two years ago. To maintain the results you achieve through solid SEO, you must continue to demonstrate the relevance and quality of your site.
How search engines operate and the factors that determine ranking are the fundamentals of SEO; quality content and well-built, information-rich websites are the masters level considerations that elevate your tactics.
Starting a SEO business isn't as easy as most think. Here are my few thoughts:
Having a USP
One of the biggest trends I see is lack of an USP.
There are hundreds of small SEO businesses – be it freelancers or small agencies and not many distinguish themselves by having a strong Unique Selling Point.
You should clearly know how you are different than other SEOs and what is your speciality.
A great example of that is Aleyda Solis who's speciality is the international and mobile SEO.
I've actually done a very similar round up on my blog.
Another crucial part is to network. Often times the best leads to fuel your new business will come from other (often larger) agencies.
If you don't have many connections within and outside the SEO industry you mat struggle to develop enough of a momentum to keep yourself afloat.
Start networking on Twitter – build up your relationships and just be active helping the community. Some of the best friends online I made was through helping when someone needed it, people really appreciate it.
Similarly networking with your clients and developing great case studies works in your favour.
It's difficult at the start to have case studies from proven client work, but develop some of your own.
Create a good piece of content that gains traction in the SEO niche – this can then serve you as a case study to your potential clients to show your skills in generating placements, traffic and engagement.
A good example here is this map by Ned Poulter with the digital marketing events for 2015.
I think starting an SEO business is tricky unless you already have potential clients ready to go.
If I can offer advice to anyone that is thinking of starting their own SEO business is to find your niche to start with.
There's already a lot of firms that do general digital marketing, but if you can pick something you are passionate about, this will help you in the sales side of things.
What is your USP? This is the big one. I've come across this question more than once. Be ready for it at any time when in a meeting with potential clients.
You have to realise that every company has a sales person come and try to sell them a website or digital services, so what do you offer that the other ten that came before you can't?
Once you have the contract and it has been signed, keep to your promises and projections.
There's nothing more valuable than the relationship you have with you client, so taking their money and burning it on something that isn't helping their company will not only destroy the contract, but also your relationship with the client.
Accept that clients move on.
I've struggled with this when clients have moved to another agency. Especially when I've done such a great job. Sadly, it's just part of the agency cycle and can be for many reasons, such as a new marketing manager that has worked with a certain agency in the past and had good results.
Don't burn any bridges because you're pissed that you lost the contract.
If things don't go right with the new agency, they may very well come back to you.
Above all, communicate. I can't stress enough about how important communication is when it comes to clients.
They may not need or want to know everything you are doing, but keeping in touch once a week via a phone call puts the human element back into the service. Even if it's just to ask how they are.
I help businesses use search and the digital landscape to go big.
I have three main recommendations. And maybe a warning – like one of those signs you see in horror movies – go back, do not enter, trouble ahead. This is no easy gig so you need to ensure you are up for the task.
There may be a lack of any specific qualifications so there is seemingly a low barrier to entry – you can't do a PHD in search engine optimisation and even if you could it would be horribly out of date by the time you had finished it.
- Learn your trade & pick a niche
This is a huge business – what the hell is an SEO nowadays? In many ways SEO has become an umbrella term for online or digital marketing and many SEO's will provide an overview of what the opportunities are online and how you can execute on them.
Ideally, this should be a top down approach that looks at the goals of the business and determines where the opportunities are in search and the wider digital landscape. There is a good Whiteboard Friday on this over at Moz.com.
Certainly, the pick a bunch of keywords and rank for them approach to SEO is all but dead and a more nuanced approach led by content is often the order of the day.
So my first bit of advice is to pick a niche. Decide what type of SEO you are. Are you a consultant? A strategist? A link acquisition expert? Content marketer? All of these things come under the SEO banner.
- Learn your trade and stand on the shoulder of giants
This one is kind of obvious but get an SEO gig and learn all you can. Ideally work where there are some experienced consultants that you can learn from.
There are lots of new SEO companies that come out the gates, do a load of dodgy link building and rank for their head terms (SEO company in Birmingham, etc.) and then think they know all there is to know.
Time and experience and having lived and worked through everything from the Florida update in 2003 to Penguin and Panda will help banish such naive opinions.
- Build your personal brand
Build your brand. Blog. Guest blog. Comment. Get out there. Have opinions. Have discussions. Be ready to learn and accept the wisdom of others. Do experiments and talk about them.
Try to focus on whatever niche you have decided to work in. Help people around the web who are having problems. Give freely and learn as you go.
Then, once you are ready. You are experienced and you have got your name out there a bit start small. Try to get one or two clients and really smash it out the park for them.
Get some reviews and testimonials. Write some case studies. Work on your credibility and always, always, always do great work for folks.
3 Keys to Starting a Successful SEO Business
There are plenty of copywriters and web designers who get asked by their clients to add SEO tasks to a project.
Sometimes, SEO becomes the core offering and the writing and designing get put on the back burner.
If you're taking on SEO responsibilities for your clients, or perhaps starting your own SEO consultancy, there are a few things to consider as you build your business.
Find Quick Wins
Most business owners will have one goal in mind: get to the top of the SERPs they are targeting.
It's probably not a good idea to promise or guarantee to deliver on their desire, but you can find quick wins. In many cases, an owner might be missing a keyword phrase or ignoring a local market.
Find quick wins to show some success, allowing you to build a relationship to develop and deliver on long-term results.
Don't Drown in Proficiency
With such a specialized knowledge, it's tempting to show some of your chops and know-how with jargon-heavy solutions.
Every owner wants to understand without necessarily learning what you know. Look for ways to simplify explanations and process using understandable metaphors or drawings.
Don't let your proficiency in the trade become your deficiency in getting the gig. Keep it simple.
While there are quick wins in SEO, the real success can sometimes require patience and continual improvement.
Creating a subscription-based pricing model could create a long-lasting relationship, allowing you to develop and deliver success to your clients while maintaining a budgetable, recurring income for your business.
When you first meet prospective clients, put a price on your initial meeting.
While some may offer a free discovery meeting, your specialized knowledge is worth more than a free “pick-your-brain” session.
Charge for the first meeting and consider putting that cost as an initial payment to the total project price.
Most business owners – your potential clients – get a headache just thinking about SEO. You're in a position to heal their pain.
Consider small doses of cure: successes, projects, and payments. The pill will be easier to swallow, and your patient will keep coming back to remain healthy.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a very attractive business.
It has extremely low barriers to entry – all you need is a computer, an internet connection and a client. There's no credentials, no licenses and no capital needed at all.
And you can drive huge value for clients, which of course, means good returns for your business.
However, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you're set up for success. To actually succeed, there's a couple things I'd recommend.
First, I recommend doing SEO for your own websites. You need to learn, experiment and actually implement ideas.
It's one thing to know what keywords are.
It's another to map and target keywords with real pages.
It's one thing to know what a promotion plan is.
It's another to actually write and respond to real emails.
Doing SEO for your own websites doesn't have to be just for education though.
You can also share the experiments that you're doing, which positions you as an expert.
You can build a portfolio of successes.
You can learn about specific areas to specialize in (i.e., promotion, technical, content, local, etc.).
You can even make some money if you can actually build an audience.
Either way, you need to actually do SEO and succeed on your own before starting a business.
Second, I recommend working for an agency or consultant who already has a solid SEO business. And yes, I know that not working for someone is often the whole goal of starting an SEO business.
But here's the thing – there's a whole world of pricing, positioning, deliverables, communication, client management, project management and more that beginners have no idea about.
And to start an SEO business that will succeed, you need to know how to run the business part of the business. As a bonus, you'll also be able to grow professionally and learn SEO 10x faster than you would on your own.
If you are already doing SEO for your own websites, have tons of curiosity, and can communicate well, you should be able to get a job in the SEO field (and getting a job is easier than getting a client regardless).
Keep learning and keep the end goal in mind, and you'll know when you're ready to take the leap with your own SEO business.
If I had to go back to when I first dipped a toe in the client services side of the SEO business, and was able to give myself one piece of advice – it would be to carve out a specialization and focus on it, hard.
SEO is a collection of competencies and processes, each of which requires it's own individual experiences to develop into a specialization.
I've chosen to focus my own personal brand on keyword research, which has allowed me to build products like my book, and more recently my keyword research training course, but in addition to develop specific services.
SEO has become awash in “consultants” who want to provide everything from keyword research (which can now be sourced through fiverr ::barf:: to enterprise content marketing and link building) all of which is delivered as complete shit that provides ZERO value and doesn't move the needle.
Where as if you look at SEO's in high demand, they are specialized in one particular aspect of the SEO process, keywords, content, on-page, off-page, technical, audience development, blogging, etc.
Find your niche within the SEO space, spend the time and energy to get *good* at it, and then go and build your service brand around that and ONLY that.
Whenever someone asks me for some advice for starting their own SEO business or they are thinking about doing some freelance work, I immediately direct them to a much frowned upon medium in the SEO world, a book.
Danny Dover's Search Engine Optimization Secrets, although not updated in a while, is still relevant and awesome.
Best of all, it is the most comprehensive reading about starting an SEO practice.
Chapter 7 goes into great detail about the consulting process from dealing with difficult client question, establishing a price point, drawing contracts, and understanding the type of deliverable you should be creating.
I highly recommend the book.
The advice in the book is of course contingent on having a firm grasp of SEO, and I wouldn't advise starting an SEO business unless you know what you're doing. It can be a legal nightmare if you aren't careful.
The Search Engine Optimisation industry has changed drastically over the past 10 years.
Google and Facebook are always looking for ways to minimize the effectiveness of organic (free) channels by limiting its real-estate predominance (80% of Google SERPs, above the fold, are paid ad listings) or reach (Prepare for 0% reach for Facebook posts).
The two brothers, Google and Facebook, are also limiting useful information that SEO's use to create their strategies (e.g. Keywords: Not Provided or Google Keyword Planner doesn't show phrase match data anymore, etc).
Some of this information can be still deciphered through cleaver tricks of the trade, subscribing to industry tools or by paying for it… (AKA Google Adwords).
Working in this industry always feel like David fighting against Goliath and that's what fuels us.
It's almost like a “Cat & Mouse” game of maximising “free” traffic by implementing “outside the box, creative left brain” ideas that are safe and future Google algorithm update proof.
Saying that, SEO industry has become a team sport where we need numerous skillsets and channels to play ball together:
- Content marketing efforts needs Social Media to explode its reach.
- Developers should always incorporate SEO techniques into the product build to maximise its online visibility potential.
- PR can help to establish relationships that earn backlinks back to the website.
- Customer Services team can relay frustrated customer messages problem solving content ideas.
- Analytics and listening tools show what your customers really do instead of guess the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
- Paid advertising should always be directed to specific landing pages that are optimised for desired conversion, etc.
So if you really want to start a inbound marketing business (AKA SEO company), make it a great one because its success relies on:
1)Your ability to find and retain magnificent staff that are truly industry veterans and experts. This way you inherit proven workflow processes and templates.
2) Investing time in proper research, planning and knowledge transfer.
Understanding the clients business processes is paramount to insure total clarity of goals and fulfilling business needs. So clients internal weaknesses can me eradicated as soon as possible and fortified.
3) Integrating all marketing & sales channels (traditional and digital) to work in unanimous military regime that is fully aware who is doing what and how they can help each other out towards the common goal.
4) The ability of your staff to Play and have Fun! The more they test, try and fail on your/their pet projects or affiliate sites… the better results and performance you deliver to your clients websites.
The road is hard and it can be a steep slippery slope… but the journey of creative innovation will be a highly rewarding one.
What creating any SEO business, it's vital that you start with developing your personal brand. The first thing I would recommend is to decide who you want to be in this industry and how you want to differentiate yourself.
Whether you're looking to build a full agency or just specialize in consulting, it's still going to be you owning the brand, and you want to control that brand from the beginning.
Start by creating your website.
The domain name you decide on (and what's available within your budget) will help guide this process.
Maybe you want to create a brand using a name not easily associated with SEO, like Ross Hudgens at Seige Media.
Creating your domain name, and actually buying it, will help you work through some of the basics of who you want to be in SEO.
Once the website is built, it's easy to go from there to make sure your social media profiles reflect your brand. Consistency across all platforms is key when you're developing your personal brand.
This goes beyond just NAP, but the essence of your brand should resonate through your picture, your tone and the theme of your content across every platform.
When your social media profiles and website are ready, start positioning yourself as an expert!
Follow industry leaders on Twitter, rack up endorsements on LinkedIn, build up your circles on Google+, and, most importantly, start creating content that solves the problems of your target audience on your website.
No one is going to trust you to market a company online if you can't market yourself there, so by starting with you, you're set up for success.
I think for any SEO business having a proof of concept and a rough plan is important.
You don't need a 35 page business plan (a lot of the economics of a service based business in particular are fairly straight forward), but you do need to work on lining up a few clients first (if you're planning to start a services business)…
Or work on generating some revenue (if you're pursuing a publishing model), and have an idea of where your leads will come from (again testing this out and seeing if you have enough lead flow from word of mouth or other advertising is important).
The nice thing about these businesses is you can “moonlight” and build out a stream of revenue without quitting an existing job, and start to get a sense for where additional clients / revenue will come from once you're full time and building a business.
The other thing you'll want to spec out is the services you'll offer and how you'll fulfill and charge for those (how long do various activities take you?
Can you outsource those or do you need to do all the work yourself? When will you want to hire, and what for? What can you charge for those services? Is the value going to correspond to your pricing?)
Again: you don't need to have completely solved the puzzle, and with SEO particularly a lot of these could change over time..
But you want to have a rough idea of:
- what you'll offer as deliverables
- how you'll fulfill those
- and what you'll charge
So you can understand roughly the types of leads that are good leads and which aren't so good (and won't be good clients).
Again doing some of this work as a freelancer before you move off into your business can help you gauge these factors as well and make you better prepared to start an SEO business.
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