Sole Trader Case Study: Running a SEO business

Sam Wright started SEO and web content provider Blink in 2010. He talks to about starting up and how the lifestyle of a sole trader suits him.

What led to you starting your own business?

I did a degree in creative writing and then worked for a business magazine. WhenI left there after a year I set up freelance, initially doing copywriting and journalism. Blink kind of started from that, most of the enquiries I was getting were web content-based and relating to SEO; it was where the work was. I’d learned about SEO in my previous role so I had the confidence to go into that sector. Also, the advantage of SEO work is the work is done on monthly contracts which is quite useful when you’re starting out.

Did it cost you anything to get going?

There were no overheads; I worked from home so didn’t have to commute. I had a laptop and that was all I needed. I used pretty much exclusively open source software to start out which kept my overheads really low, for image manipulation there are all sorts of free solutions out there, all the accounting stuff was done using open source products. There was pretty much zero investment really.

What was your first consideration as a functioning business?

Making sure I had enough work coming in. The procedural stuff came later, it happened when it needed to. In terms of tax returns, because I only had two or three clients the first year the accountancy stuff was really simple, but now my turnover is around £70,000 so I have help with the accounts.

Choosing a name is obviously an important decision, particularly for an SEO company. I wanted to move towards the more copy-focused aspect, Blink is quite a good one because it has ‘inc’ in it. A lot of the major SEO terms were unsurprisingly already taken.

Were there any early challenges?

I launched the site in January 2010, and after I got the website up and everything was looking nice I saw someone else had the same name. I started getting emails from past clients of this company complaining about the business. I had various people warning me about the guy who ran it. He offered to buy the site off me for a fiver and I ignored him and eventually the problem went away.

I hadn’t registered the trading name at the time which I have done now, but there’s not too much you can do in those circumstances. When there are two start-ups launching within months of each other you don’t have much recourse to say ‘I got there first’.

How did you market your company?

Initially freelancer sites were good for alerting people to my services. For the journalism stuff, people contact me through Gorkana and once you do a bit of work and get a reputation word of mouth tends to takes over.

Are you planning to take on staff?

A couple of years ago I took on part-time help for copywriting, writing blogs for clients, guest blogs for link building, site copy, marketing communication stuff, and any text for the internet. I’ve got three regular writers at the moment, and I’ll be looking for more.

What are the ramifications of having different-sized clients?

Working with small clients you tend to have a lot more control but a lot less capacity for work; your budgets are smaller. When you are working for a big company your budget is bigger but the speed you can do things is a lot slower.

With a big company if something goes wrong it can take three or four weeks before you can even start working on the problem, by which time the issue might have compounded.

Our biggest clients have come from people noticing the work we’ve done for other companies. We’re pumping out so much content people tend to take notice of it. Once you start working for a big company normally they’ve got lots of departments and you can offer your business to these other departments.

There’s always an element of luck when it comes to attracting business from big companies. If there was one piece of easy advice I could give I would probably be selling that instead of doing this.

How does the sole trader lifestyle suit you?

It’s great, I don’t think I could work for anyone ever again. Knowing there’s always work to do day and night can be a bit draining sometimes but the plusses far outweigh the negatives. The flexibility is a massive perk; I can pop out of the house whenever i need to, take the dogs for a walk. However, I’m probably going to get some offices next year [as the business expands].

Any advice for would-be sole traders?

Have something you can do. If you’re starting a business for the sake of it, it’s not going to go anywhere. You need a skill, or a product that’s viable and the rest is just ploughing away. The thing about the internet is there’s a market for most skills. Anyone can find it in themselves but it’s whether they can build on that and turn it into something.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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