How did you get started?
I was coming out of a display advertising company as an employee and decided to use my industry experience to set up on my own as a contractor in SEO. I had such good relationships with the people at my old company that they allowed me to walk away with a couple of their clients which helped me get started.
I always did private consulting work on the side outside my job. When I made the jump to go full time I already had a company incorporated. I started networking and letting people know what I was up to.
How did you finance and market it?
I relied on savings mostly. I only took out a small business loan to buy a laptop, so I could build up the credit rating of the limited company. Marketing was through word of mouth and via the website. I built up case studies [to act as testimonials] as it’s convincing to demonstrate what you have achieved with other clients.
Surviving on working capital is difficult and I had to be choosy about the clients I took on. Rather than employ a desperate tactic of snapping each and every client up I took a calmer approach of interviewing potential clients and not taking on too many new ones each month. This meant that by the time I got paid I had enough working capital to service any existing and new client work without breaking the bank.
What has been a big challenge?
Finding your own voice is difficult; SEO is such a competitive industry. At the beginning you’re trying to work out where you sit in the scheme of things, but eventually you start realising what it is customers are looking out for. In SEO, what sells is not necessarily ethical. A lot of SEO consultants will sell a bag of tricks that may deliver a short-term boost to a business’s group of websites but the performance may be short-lived.
A lot of consultants also tend to agree with what the client wants rather than stand their ground and impose their expertise. I’ve had to turn away quite a bit of work because the way I see things from a professional point of view is often different to the client’s vision of what SEO is, and if I cant educate them I’d rather not take them on as a customer.
Are you diversifying?
There’s a particular project I have in mind which could be quite cash intensive. I’m in the process of looking for funding to bring on board a scientist in machine learning (a brand of artificial intelligence) to look at resolving SEO problems and come up with interesting statistical insights. I feel a bit out of my depth so I need someone with experience in the sector and of selling software as a service.
Any SEO tips for small businesses?
Companies are not blogging enough. They need to be blogging three times a week so they develop a readership and a broader customer base. Your website in the view of Google is like a book, and a book that’s updated frequently is more interesting and gives people a reason to come back.
Also, that blog needs professional writers, not people with SEO experience who will pack the content with keywords. The way things are going it’s more important to pander to the user and engage them rather than think primarily of the search engines.