Starting An SEO Company? Lessons We Learned Since 2007
It’s 2018. A fresh year to kick-start or grow a business. More than a decade ago, 11 years to be exact, was a crucial year for Tayloright. That year started everything. It started our journey as an SEO agency, and since then, we have been empowering companies one website at a time.
But an 11-year journey is not at all sweet or full of bliss. Although there were times that I felt like “Hey! This is all going too well!” there were also days that you feel as if your luck just ran out and you go “Why in the world did I start this again?” Whether you’re the happy me or the slump-y me, point is, that’s just how business goes. And SEO or not, I’m pretty sure that you’ll get something out of this guide – so long as you’re in business.
Let me begin by telling you something about myself.
I was a talented professional. I got all the work done, got recognized for it several times actually. Long story short, I was well on my way to getting my career running. And, I used to think that was all I ever hoped for.
But one day, I woke up and thought “Is this really how I want to live my life?” Always short of amazing, never the boss, and a slave to the 9-5 grind. Am I really working my butt off so that I can follow someone else’s steps?
Then it occurred to me – no one was stopping me. And even if they tried, they never owned me nor can they contain my ambitions. I was nervous, for sure. But it was the kind that makes you all giddy from being anxious, excited, and restless all at the same time! I was about to start something new. And I knew exactly what it was I’m about to do.
Okay. I’m kidding – My head was all over the place.
However, I did know three things:
- I wanted to quit working so badly.
- The idea of becoming my own boss seemed promising.
- I knew how to do SEO (gasp).
And at the time, I really thought I had what it takes.
Turns out, even someone (me) who truly believes in his capacity for SEO, still doesn’t know everything. But to be fair to myself, nobody else just happens to know everything. In my case, I knew SEO as if it was the back of my hand – I’m quite confident about that. However, I never knew how running an SEO agency would have a staggering difference compared to just doing it.
I learned this the hard way. And those 11 years of establishing, growing, and maintaining Tayloright did not simply pass me by like a breeze. If anything, it was more like a thunderstorm with a beautiful rainbow glinting far off the horizon.
So this ends my story. And, the beginning of this lesson diary. I’m not too selfish as to keep all the lessons I’ve learned so far to myself. Even though I’m an avid believer in “learning through firsthand experience,” there are still some experiences you’re better off learning from others. First, because it might cost you a whole lot of money you know you can’t lose. And second, it will cost you opportunities for growth.
Lesson 1: Walk The Talk
I’ve seen this all too often. An SEO Agency claiming to be the best when almost all of their website’s pages are accumulating dust way back in the SERPs. How can you convince people that you can rank their website, if you can’t even rank yours? It’s simple logic, really.
Most of these agencies are the ones with the most incredible offers. And they usually come banging on your email’s inbox. Call it email marketing or whatnot, but a good SEO agency doesn’t even have the time to generate so many “salesy” emails. Small advice – do your research before you jump the wagon. Google is as neutral as information sources get.
Anyway, if you want to get the deal, you have to be a testament of your work. Invest more on your own website’s SEO. It is much better to have leads come to you rather than you chase after them. Plus, it makes marketing your services all the more easier. When a client says, “Can you show me proof of your work?” You can simply say “You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my work.”
End of that conversation 🙂
Lesson 2: Look Before You Leap
Not every business opportunity is a golden one. After many years of dealing with clients, I have come to find that some of them are totally not worth your valuable time or effort. As an SEO Agency, you should always make decisions that complement your company’s best interests. And I really doubt that having pesky, unreasonable clients is a part of those.
Four Types of Clients You Need To Avoid At All Costs (Not kidding)
The Bean Sprouts
This type of client is running a startup business. No name, authority, or influence of any kind yet. Although we respect and support people who venture into the world of entrepreneurs, bean sprouts do not have the capacity to fund an SEO campaign – yet.
SEO is expensive but it also has rich returns – that’s why every modern business is so into it. But you need the cash flowing to maintain it. Trust me, one or two weeks down the road, bean sprouts will start pestering you for results. They’ll call you incompetent, doubt your legality as a business, brand you negatively, and they might even leave rant-like reviews on websites like Yelp – hurting your business’s name and credibility.
They react this way not because they really do doubt your skills. They’re pressuring you because they know for a fact that they cannot sustain funding your services long enough to get results. It’s a typical attempt to displace the blame away from oneself.
Any non-noob client will do research before they try out SEO. They’ll gather data as to how long and how much it would take before they can see significant results. Expecting SEO to work overnight is naïve – and just downright wishful.
I think you can guess what kind of clients the Cheapskates are. Yep, they like to underpay everything. Like, “Hey, I’d give you $400 a month for my website’s SEO.”
If you’re an SEO freelancer that rate should be fine, especially when you’re still trying to build your name. But for an agency, with officially employed and taxed individuals, that rate is not worth it.
To top it off, the cheapskates are usually the most demanding. A little too demanding perhaps, that most SEO professionals would just succumb to their demands because of extreme annoyance. I personally went through this infuriating experience. I’d come to a point where I’d think “Does this client even know what $400 is really worth in the real world?” It really helped me rethink my decisions from there on out. I definitely don’t want to go through the same thing again.
I don’t know if you’ve already experienced this before, but I certainly have. I’m talking about how some clients talk really big about how you, the professional/expert/specialist, should be doing things.
No offense, agencies really welcome client criticism. We know that our work can still have flaws even after years of polishing it. The internet constantly changes, so it’s unavoidable. But it’s a real pain to have clients who think they always know better – especially when they’re suggesting something completely incorrect,
My initial reaction is always “If you’re so good at this, why don’t you just do it yourself? I’m an SEO specialist – not your coder or typist.”
Then again, this may be just my personal dislike for this type of personality. So if you have the patience to deal with them, you can get them on board.
These clients remain a little too true to the idea of “Better late than never.” Which is why even when the payday arrives, they still choose to abide by this principle. Better-Late-Than-Nevers are typically harmless. They don’t whine too much, nor do they bother you a lot. They also pay the appropriate fees – it’s just that, they have a habit of paying past their dues.
It’s hard to keep the ball rolling when the ball is late. Just like how it is hard to juggle when the bottles do not have synchronized timing. You have a business to run. Your taxes, operational fees, and employee salaries will not wait for your client’s late payments. So you would try to fill the gaps with money supposedly allocated for something else.
This turns into a vicious cycle of borrowing and reimbursing. And boy, will it get exhausting in the long run. Cut off clients who have repeatedly paid late – they’ve given you enough reason to. Save yourself the trouble.
Lesson 3: Quality Over Quantity
As a startup SEO agency way back in 2007, I offered my services cheap. It was only me back then, and without a thick portfolio or a ton of reviews to attest to my skills, selling my services at a cheap price was a necessity. But the key term here is “startup.”
It’s okay to give out your services at low prices to get your name out there and to win client’s favor. Clients who are hesitant or doubtful of the effectiveness of SEO as a marketing strategy will play it safe. With no assurance or firsthand experience of SEO improving their business revenue, they’d test the waters by opting for cheaper services. And we define “cheap” here as costs that are not too painful to lose.
However, as time goes on, and both your name and business has grown, IT IS NOT ALRIGHT TO SELL YOUR SERVICES DIRT CHEAP ANYMORE.
I have three reasons for you:
- There are other clients willing to spend more for quality work. Occupying your schedule with cheap jobs will cost you thousands of dollars’ worth of opportunity.
- In a typical workplace, experience is a big criterion for landing promotions and salary increases. In business, experience is also a big factor for pricing.
- Quantity gives you many short-term clients. Quality gives you a few long-term clients. And in SEO, you have to take into account a client’s lifetime value (LV).
The first two are kind of self-explanatory so I’ll focus on expounding reason number 3.
Supposing I’m running SEO Company QL and my competitor is SEO Company QT. I sell my services at an average of $2000 per month (full-package) while QT sells their services at $500 per month. Let’s say we both follow the 30/70 rule (30% expense/70% profit). Obviously, QT will get more customers than QL.
Say, QT gets 10 clients per month and QL gets only 3 clients per month. You might think that QL is on the losing end here. But if we really do the math:
QL has 3 clients paying $2000/month, that’s a total of $6000. Thirty-percent of the $6000 goes to operational expenses so QL has $4200 left as profit (ideally).
QT has 10 clients, each paying $500/month, so that’s a total of $5000. Again, we take thirty-percent off QT’s earnings for operational expenses so QT has $3500 left as profit (also ideally).
So who wins in this situation? Obviously, it’s QL. And QL wins in more ways than one.
Supposing that everything else is equal, and both companies stuck with the 30/70 rule, QL still wins because:
- QL received higher profit so that equates to a higher ROI.
- Company QL did not have to exert as much effort as QT – the company had time to spare.
- Lastly, QL had a lower chance of encountering “undesirable” clients. Clients who actually value quality know how important SEO is for their business. And they know that ranking their website takes hard work and a lot of patience.
Also, if you show quality in what you do, there’s a good chance you’ll get clients who’d actually want to collaborate with you for a long time. And the longer you keep engaging in the world of business, you’ll realize that long-term clients will become the foundations of your company.
Lesson 4: Good Times Don’t Last Forever
The biggest difference between running your own business and being employed its security. Being your own boss basically means that all responsibility and accountability rides on you – and only you (unless you have a business partner). And every time you wake up in the morning to check on your business, you can never predict what’s coming next.
One day you have 100 leads, the next day you have none. Last month you earned $100,000, this month you earned $1,000.
But does this mean you should give up on the idea of running your own SEO Company? Definitely not.
I’ve been through this, so have several others, and we still thrive to this day. True enough, when companies are suffering financial losses, the first thing they’ll drop off the bat is SEO. And you have to run your business knowing that this is an evident possibility – each and every day. You’ll lose clients – that’s a no-brainer. Some will lose interest; others would think they’ve done it enough. But when one door closes, three more open – right. However, in order for that to happen, you need to keep your business growing.
Lesson 5: You Can’t Please Everybody
The most challenging thing about running a service type business is that there is no exact recipe to make everyone happy. You are dealing with a diverse set of clients that although you use similar ingredients (SEO methods), you still need to keep each flavor unique.
In this line of work, it’s normal to feel slumpy. It’s normal to feel frustrated at how things still go wrong even when you’re doing everything right. Point is, no matter how good you are or how great your service is, you are bound to come across trouble. I’m pretty sure I have – more times than I can count on my fingers and toes, really.
The most important thing is to never let a setback get to you. Mistakes happen naturally – learn from it and move on.
Lesson 6: Never Rest On Your Laurels
Because the moment you do, the SEO Agency you’ve sacrificed so much to build will crumble before you know it.
Businesses survive when they faithfully follow the product/service cycle. Traditionally, it goes like this:
Introduction of Product → Growth → Maturity → Decline
And the same cycle applies to a person’s career. However, in modern times, a new model has emerged and it remedied this whole “death of a business” dilemma. Now, the cycle looks like this:
As you can see, it’s a never-ending cycle of introducing, harvesting, dying, and reinventing of a product or service. And the only way to oppose the decline is to introduce something better. This reboots the entire cycle and makes it run its course again. This means that the only way forward is up. To keep growing, you have to be better than you were in the previous cycle.
Growth is a natural process in life. And learning facilitates growth. So never rest easy and keep on learning.
We hope you were able to learn a lot of helpful lessons from this article. So go start your own SEO adventure – we’re all with you!