I started my company out of desperation. At the time my company was just a website with no traffic or reputation. I knew I had to change my situation and work towards financial freedom so that I could be my own boss. I was barely making enough money to survive, working full time as an web developer/assistant for a famous music producer. I was underpaid, over worked and tired of being somebody's errand boy/taxi driver. It seemed like a great job because I met a lot of famous artists and musicians, but that didn't amount to much at the end of the day. I thought to myself, if I could just make enough to match my salary I would be in a good position to leave.
Before that job I was working at a local SEO company as a web designer and quickly realized that the real money was in driving traffic to sites. I learned a lot about how to talk to customers and how things should be structured on proposals. This all played a role later. I left that job to work for the music producer because it paid more. It wasn't until I had a lot of down time to start reading through forums like this one where things really started to come together. I spent countless hours researching and gaining knowledge about what works, what doesn't, and everything in between. I started realizing very early on that it was much better to read entries from members that had thousands of posts then it was to read everything from everyone and try to form an opinion. There's just so much bad information and contradictions in these threads that it becomes very confusing. If you open any thread it'll pretty much be split 50/50 with people arguing both sides. If you can find a few of the top members that know their stuff (have a lot of thanks and posts) and follow their replies to topics it can be invaluable. That's what I did. I stalked the top posters and read everything I could get my hands on. Their replies to topics were always super concise and consistent.
I went to work applying my knowledge from the forums and trying to rank my own site for competitive SEO related keywords in my city. It's a major city so it wasn't easy to say the least. At the time it seemed impossible. How could I ever compete with these huge companies that had hundreds of employees.
The first time I saw in increase in my rankings was when I started adding my exact match anchor text to the footer of sites I was developing for clients on the side. These sites had established authority so my rankings started moving. I know it's an old technique and a bit spammy but what did I have to lose at this point. It was working and my site starting moving up the serps slowly but surely. I kept building sites for people and adding my tag and the more I built, the higher it ranked. Simple enough right? The problem was, it wasn't a good long term strategy and I could get swept up by Panda at any point. Also, this wouldn't be a viable strategy for doing SEO for clients. There had to be a better way. I built a few sites to test on and tried everything under the sun. Blog comments, black hat tactics, spammy link farms and directories. It would work for the short term, then 3-4 months later the site would tank. I was getting discouraged. At this point my own site had finally reached page 1 with nothing more than footer links from clients sites I was building. I knew my phone would probably start ringing once I got in the top 5 and I had to figure something out quickly.
I started PMing some of the reputable posters on Warrior forum and begged them to do a consultation with me for a small fee. Let me tell you something. That small fee was the most important money I ever spent in my entire life. This was over 4 years ago. It completely shaped my strategies that I still use to this day to dominate my industry. Without that knowledge I don’t know where I would be.
Out of all the messages I sent I got 1 reply. Enter Mike Friedman. We agreed on a consulting fee and that first phone call changed my life forever. The guy was a wealth of knowledge and taught me everything I know about building a network. At the time I kept reading how everyone was dominating using a PBN and Mike’s name kept popping up on every thread with great insight about the topic. He taught me the right way to do it without cutting corners. It was an investment I had to make. This was way before he started his Spartan Marketing Academy that teaches you everything you need to know. I saw a tremendous difference within the first few months of building it out. I realized that building a network gives you complete control over your link building efforts. If you have the money and time to do it the right way it’ll give back beyond your wildest dreams. Out of all the techniques I tried over the years it was the first time I saw a massive improvement in rankings and quickly. I still do a fair amount of blogger outreach and the occasional directory, but in my opinion nothing is more powerful than a PBN.
Now I had a viable way to rank clients and my own site for that matter. Within months of building out a small network I got my own company site inside the top 3 results and started getting phone calls and closing leads. This is where my previous experience from the old SEO job I had came into play where I would just listen to them talk to customers everyday. Everything was coming together. I was able to provide value and manage clients efficiently. Once I got to $4k/month I was able to quit my job for good and never look back. It was liberating.
Getting to over $54k/month took 5 years and a lot of hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s been growing month over month for a long time. It’s more than hard work though. A lot of people work hard but don’t see these kinds of results. What is the difference? It’s more than rankings and gaining leads. These are the main differences I want you to focus on in this post.
Client management is an art.
Managing business owners is tough because most of them have big egos so you have to tread lightly. There’s nothing wrong with having an ego, they just know what they want and you better be able to deliver. It’s equally important to know how to deal with them. Not being accessible is where most companies fall short. I’m always available 24/7 even on weekends to my clients and they love that about me. They know when they pick up the phone I will be there for them. That is something large SEO firms can’t compete with and why smaller boutique firms end up winning. The second they feel like you aren’t listening, they will find somebody that will.
I’m also a very straight shooter when it comes to talking with clients. I tell them how it is, good or bad and they appreciate that in world of snake oil salesmen that tell everyone what they want to hear. If I can’t provide value I will straight up tell you. I’m not here to take your money. I’m here to provide value and get paid accordingly. Business owners are smart. They know when you are trying to appease them just to get their business. Be real and honest with people. Clients have told me over the years that I’m very easy to talk to which makes the sales process almost effortless. Maybe it’s the way I was raised, or my Midwestern values, but I am incapable of lying to someone to earn their business. Be transparent and it’ll pay huge dividends in the future.
One last thing, you’re going to lose clients sometimes no matter what. Sometimes they want to put money into other advertising platforms, their budget ran out, or ranking for certain keywords didn’t produce the kind of return they anticipated. Don’t get discouraged. It’s part of being in a service based industry. There will always be churn.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
I make a habit of telling clients that it’ll take months to see results, then I turn around and improve their organic search by over 50% in less than 30-45 days. They are always blown away. You have to set realistic goals with what you can achieve for others. There’s nothing worse than promising one thing, and not following through. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and promise the world in a competitive market and underdeliver. A lot of times you may not see measureable results for 6-9 months down the road. Make sure you manage the client’s expectations so that you don’t look like a fool later on.
Never stop learning and evolving.
In an industry that is constantly changing, you too must evolve with the times. The only way you can do that is to be a student of your craft and never stop learning. It’s vital that you don’t become complacent. There will always be somebody out there gaining traction on you if you take your foot off the gas pedal. Subscribe to all the major blogs, industry sites and forums. Read, read, read. You don’t know it all just because you’re making a few bucks. Ask questions in forums and participate where you can. Most people are nice enough to respond without you having to pay them. Forums are a great place to get feedback about what you may or may not be doing right.
Big results produce big referrals and bigger budgets.
Reputation is everything in this business. I have more positive reviews on my social accounts than all my competitors. It helps to establish credibility with potential prospects and proves legitimacy. Most of my success hasn’t been from closing the countless leads I get every month through my site. It came from delivering big results for a client, and in return that client referring me to another client. At that point, all the hard work is already done for you. No need to sell him on anything. He’s ready to sign on the dotted line at whatever cost you propose. Big results also bring larger budgets. A lot of my clients started on small budgets and increased it by 4-5 times the original investment after they saw substantial measurable progress. Even if I lost all my organic leads tomorrow that I get from my site, I could live off the business I get from referrals strictly based on my reputation.
Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Do not take on every client that comes across your desk. Not everything will be a perfect fit. I’ve learned this the hard way. Taking on too many clients will not allow you to give that specialized attention that clients so badly want and need. It’s vital to the success of the campaign. If you’re in a position where you’re getting a lot of leads, it’s ideal to take on a smaller group of higher paying clients than it is to take on more lower paying ones. Right now I’m managing 23 clients and I’ve found that to be about the most I can handle. Especially since I’m handling all the phones, emailing, link building, keyword research, content, PPC, etc. My older brother is my only full time employee. Other than that, I hire writers and web developers on a contract basis for extra things that I need. Most of the elite SEO’ers that I know have right around 20 clients as well. Granted, most of my clients have been with me for years so it’s not a tremendous amount of work like it was in the beginning with them. I’m not even taking on new clients at this point. I refer all my business out to only a handful of providers that I know can do a great job. That allows me to focus on giving the best possible service I can to the clients I currently manage.
Hard work pays off.
Everyone says that but there’s a big difference between working 40 hours a week and 120. I’m talking about 18 hour days, working weekends, holidays, birthdays and staying in while my friends were out drinking. Most internet marketers are inherently lazy from my experience. They work just enough to cover their expenses and have no real desire to go above and beyond. The people I know that are making $20k+/month are all workaholics. My wife will tell you that I’m the hardest worker she’s ever met because even when we are hanging out on the couch I’m researching something that can help my business or a client’s business. I’m obsessed and completely immersed in what I do. You need a certain fire inside you to make this kind of money. A fire that constantly tells you that settling is not an option. I think part of my fire comes from being broke most of my life and not having much. It doesn’t hurt that I love what I do as well. That makes life so much easier and rewarding. When you find something you’re good at and love doing for a living, it’s the ultimate win-win. Also, I’m infinitely curious and never satisfied with the knowledge I have. I always want more. I’m always striving to be better for my clients and that is the kind of attitude you need to really succeed.
My intentions with this post are not centered around trying to brag or boast about what I’ve been able to accomplish. It’s about giving back to a forum that gave me everything. This is the least I can do. If it helps inspire or put one person on the right path, then it served its purpose.