Those of you who worked for agencies and then went freelance/started your own thing – what was the experience like? Do you have any regrets? Any advice?
I've been seriously toying with the idea of leaving my agency and doing my own thing. I've taken care of all accounts/department up until this point (I'm the SEO manager) and while my current position is strictly SEO, I've also taken care of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) clients and social media clients on my own in the past.
I really like the people I work with, but there are a lot of ways the company is being run that I disagree with. First of all is pay – wages in my city in general are pretty low compared to somewhere like Toronto, even though client billing isn't any less. My boss kind of flaunts his wealth around which to most of us who are living paycheck-to-paycheck because of how insane cost of living has gotten in the last 3 years is pretty aggravating. The other side is my boss doesn't actually know anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In the early 2000's he developed website, and still thinks SEO is the same as it was back then. He's constantly battling me on my techniques ("BUT WHAT ABOUT THE META KEYWORDS?!") and at this point I'm confident enough in my abilities where I feel like I could do this on my own.
The issue is I wouldn't even know where to start. So my question is – if you've made the jump from an agency to doing your own thing, what advise would you give to someone who's thinking about doing the same. Would you even advise it? What should I start doing while I'm thinking about this decision? Thanks!
Be prepared to focus on lots of none SEO things, such as marketing yourself to find and convert leads, keeping clients, accounting, setting up the meetings, etc…Then not shitting yourself when you are out of clients and can't find new ones.
Seconding this. Starting your own gig is a whole different job on top of your regular SEO work
I just had to spend 2 days working proposals for new work, jacked up my whole week and now I'm behind on current work.
Aside from that my best advice is have a runway. I would recommend 6 months to get it started. It takes time to generate self sustaining cash flow and we are in a pandemic.
Yep, once you start an agency, you see why they have to charge twice as much per hour as the employees get paid.
• The work is lumpy
• Sales, proposals, unhappy clients
• Employee turnover
• Legal docs, invoicing, collections
You can skip some of those things in the early days, but eventually you'll stop servicing clients and do sales/admin work full-time as the owner.
Build a site focusing on a niche of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Too many agencies are "do it all" and it shows.
Just build the site, add in good copy n media that doesn't look like you bought a theme, and then reach out on Reddit. Offer a few jobs for free.
That way you'll get a feel for admin, marketing, proposals, contracts, bids, etc without the pressure.
Then keep going, bit by bit. Add blogs 2-3 times a week. You'll grow over a few months.
Create a contract that clients will sign with clear expectations, timeline, and deliverables. The number one most difficult thing is managing client expectations so you definitely want to have this taken care of before you invest the time and effort on a client.
Yeah, currently I'm managing my agencies SEO team and a lot of my day is spent reporting, emailing and talking on the phone with clients so I know how challenging managing expectations is. Priority #1 for me would be to make a contract covering all bases.
So you have a few options…
• stay at your current agency
• look for an equivalent job at another agency
• go freelance/start your own agency
Your post mentioned options 1) and 3), but there wasn't anything about looking for a similar job at another agency which pays better and where the management is more in-tune with your line of thinking (option 2))?
If that isn't an option (because you still wouldn't be happy – you want the freedom to implement your own processes and never be constrained by management), then I'd definitely encourage you to consider going freelance in some shape or form. Otherwise you'll always have itchy feet.
The tips already mentioned are good, particularly being prepared to do a lot of non-SEO admin stuff, especially whilst you're getting up-and-running – but depending on how comfortable you are with accounting etc. and the time it takes for you to do it, you can always outsource this later on.
I did exactly that myself. It's a long term plan. You can't just do it overnight. For me, it was a year. Prepare yourself because it's going to be a hard year.
• Put a word out there that you're opened to freelance. Acquire a few regular clients. Those you will keep. You will also do a couple of one-time projects. They're good for the money, confidence, skills and connections.
• Work on networking. Go to events. Try to lecture on some. Get to know the people. Your competitors. And the whole scene. They can actually help you get jobs.
• Do your own Public Relations (PR). Website, local FB groups etc. LinkedIn and other channels for content marketing.
• While doing those 2 jobs, you earn a lot of money. Save it! It's going to be your emergency fund. If things go south, you're secured for at least 6 months.
• Always keep on working on new hard skills or going deeper with already known hard skills. But also: Always improve your soft skills as well. They will be very important as a freelancer.
In my case was everything positive. The only issue i had that i had to get used to is personal ethic on time managment. As when you start working from home you can get distracted pretty easily.
I'm making more money and having much more free time now. Once you have a good client and you do everything possible to make him happy he will give you the best marketing which is word of mouth. from there Its been busy.
Rules I've learned since I've started working as a freelancer:
• Every contract has to be specific. Clients tend to ask more of you that you actually promised you will do. If you have everything signed and written they cant ask you to change things on the website when your not suppose to do it.
• don't promise something you are absolutly sure you can do. Example get rent an aparment in london keyword in 1st position. Just say you will get it much higher as competition of that keyword invest much more money.
• Surround yourself with other professionals (pros no people who say they are) check their project, learn from them, tell them some of your techniques but never reveal everything. Use networking as good marketing tool. I give work to them i don't feel like doing or I'm not as good as them to do, and they give me work.
I'm a freelancer and I've never worked at an agency. I can share with you my perspective.
I also felt like I needed more SEO expierence so I posted on a local SEO Facebook group if anybody wants an intern. I immediately got many offers and I spoke to a few people. I chose one guy because it seemed to me over the phone that he can teach me A LOT. I didn't want any money – just experience.
Turned out that this guy was the best mentor I could've asked for. He taught me so much over the next few months and not just SEO-wise, but digital marketing-wise: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), web design (WordPress only), social media AND most importantly he taught me how to sell myself, how to acquire clients, how much charge them etc.. He provided me with a lot of useful documentation and we were going through live examples together. Sometimes we would spend 3 hours on the phone. The deal was: I was doing dirty work for him like acquiring backlinks and in return he would teach me everything.
Once I felt confident enough to provide local SEO services I decided to get started with my own thing. It was so much work! Creating my own website from scratch, creating Facebook, Google My Business, LinkedIn, Instagram profiles and updating them regularly. Then preparing templates of agreements, offers, reports.
Acquiring clients was a bit tough too. I tried various ways to do it: craigslist, paid Google Ads, paid Facebook ads, cold-calling. Notice that I didn't even try to position my website – competing with other SEO agencies for organic traffic was something I didn't want to do. It would take way too much time and money. During my first month or so I sent about 5 offers to clients with current situation analysis and pricing. I had a few phone calls, a couple of them broke down when it came to my experience.
I quickly figured I need a portfolio. First, I did a couple of projects for my friends free of charge (I was lucky enough that they needed SEO services at that time). The reason for that was because I HAD TO put something on my website to show to other potential clients that I DO have experience. Additionally, doing a couple of projects for free helped me gather positive reviews on Google My Biz (GMB) and FB and it taught me a lot! I got much better at web design and I could finally put my basic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) knowledge into use.
While I was working on that, I signed my first contract with a new client who found me on craigslist. They wanted to redesign their old website, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) it and focus on their brand new product. I got pretty lucky because it was a medium-sized business and they were very professional and keywords they wanted to target were very easy.
From there acquiring clients got a little bit easier. Once you gather some positive reviews and you'll keep on telling your friends that you do SEO – someone will contact you eventually and if you sell yourself right, you'll sign a contract. Protip: genuinely try to help your clients and don't think about them as 'jobs' or 'projects'. They call you to get help – offer them the best help as possible.
Of course throughout this process I have thought many times about joining an SEO agency and work from 9 until 5. So far, I'm glad I didn't do it. I feel like being a freelancer fits me better. I get a good feeling from building something on my own. Maybe If I'd join an agency I would lost my passion for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? I don't know.
A big downside of being a freelancer is that it's harder for you to network with other digital marketing people. I need to start attending more events etc.
I think that's pretty much it. It took me 30 minutes to type this. Hope it helps.
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Am a SEO specialist that worked for a digital marketing company, now that I've gone freelance not sure how to charge clients
Hey there, I'm a SEO guy with 4+ years of experience. I've gotten a lot of SEO projects since I've gone freelance however it's difficult for me getting to price them as before I was paid a good salary which was really enough for me. Now i'm just asking clients budget and going with the flow, so far it's in the range of $250-$500 range.
I was wondering what's the best way to price my SEO? i also noticed lots of freelancers doing monthly retainers (e.g; $500 for monthly SEO), basically do they do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for the same keywords or different keywords every month to get them to #1 page?
would appreciate the help. thanks!
It's hard. Depending on how long you could make a contract for will depend on the price. Always, add in a 3 month closing time I. E. They want to cut the plug you have three months of money left and to find a new client.
Other wise you can charge a basic low rate and ask for a percentage of the business/sales.
most of these clients sign up for 3 months as that's usually enough to get to 1st page. Never thought about asking for percentage of business/sales, will try that. if you've had any experience, is it worth partnering?
Unlikely at the moment. I haven't time I'm afraid. Even while furloughed.
Also, the 3 month safety net is bc you usually stop looking for clients or taking on clients. So you need to cover yourself. Also, the business/sales is only ever good when they are unsure (they think SEO is a scam or do understand it etc) and it gives them comfort. Also, it only works if you can deliver.
Also, first page in three months when it's not a niche?
depends on the site, most sites I worked with were already established and not new sites so it's very easy to rank within that time period.
$500 p/m seems on the lower end for a retainer honestly in a western country. I'd say most freelancers are charging $75-$120 p/h so at that rate that's only like 5 hours per month per client, which is not much time considering that 1 hour is usually a monthly meeting and reporting time. Not much link building, content writing and tech SEO fixes get done with half a days work per month.
Personally, I'd want to be able to spend a decent amount of time per client, so that I know that I have enough time to make some kind of impact in a reasonable time-period. Say you have 20 days a month work-time, I'd probably want to spend at least 3-4 days per client. So that's really only 5-7 clients you need to find and you're just straight selling your time for $. To go beyond that kind of income, you'd either need to do something dodgey (claim more hours than worked) or start building up an agency, or contracting out cheap/repeatable tasks at least.
I would say in general, calculate your pricing on a realistic estimate of time + buffer. But don't charge on time, charge on value/deliverables. That way you leave room to improve profit margin through process efficiency over time. That's pretty much what did when I helped my old boss start up his SEO agency where I learned the ropes.
Also there are always digital marketing agencies with demand for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but without specialised SEO users on staff, so you could approach a few and get some whitelabel contracts at a decent hourly – I know a few guys doing well like this and have had some offers myself, but agencies get approached all the time, so you better be legit and have some good personal branding for that to work.
basically do they do SEO for the same keywords or different keywords every month to get them to #1
That's weird, I mean to each their own but IMO too much focus on keywords can lead you down the wrong rabbit hole. Maybe it made more sense when a Search Engine Result Page (SERP) was literally 10 blue links and 2x ads at the top. But SERPs are crazy dynamic now and keyword rankings + search volumes alone are more and more misleading due to massive variations in pixel-depth. I know from experience that when you have clients freaking over what are actually minor ranking changes (in the scheme of the SERP in question) it's not good and takes time away from actually doing work. Also you run the risk of them dropping you over a simple misunderstanding, rather than a properly informed business decision.
Clients will still ask "how many keywords" or "how long to rank blah blah". But I think it should really be about understanding what outcome a client wants (usually just more leads or checkouts) and just working towards what's important to their business, not their ego. Keywords are a small (but still important) part of a much larger puzzle of visibility, clicks and conversions from organic, and it should really be you taking them on this journey and educating them to focus on the right business outcomes.
That's true, however its really hard to find such clients that offer good rates as a freelancer – since before I never had to worry about finding clients before, all I did was work. As a freelancer, its very hard to educate clients as the only thing they've in mind is ranking #1 on search engines (mine do). I will try reach out to such agencies and see if they can offer such contracts, thanks!
You can't let clients set the rate. This concept is 100% right if you don't make an impact you will go through clients like water. Sit down create a plan on what you would want to do for a client each month that you know would bring them results. Once you have a list of activities you would complete, figure out how much time it takes to complete all those. Then decide what you want to make per hour and hourly rate X amount of time to implement a plan that bring results. If a client doesn't want to pay it they aren't the right client. If you can't provide results for your client they won't stick around anyway so why set both of you up for failure?
Really great answer. i forgot to realize the value I bring to businesses, makes sense to charge more since they will be making twice or more anyways. Thank you so much for the detailed response.
That's a bit narrow minded.
You are running a business, you should charge market rate. Market rate is the most you can charge. If you can't find any clients willing to pay it you either don't have enough leads / interest or you are charging too much.
It's not about how much more they make using your service. They are seeking an Return of Investment (RoI), but it's not a static formula.
I suggest you read the book called the EMyth. In a nutshell, you may be the best SEO, but you need other skills when you own a company.
Yeah it's hard finding clients. Even harder to find good ones, but that's your goal. Sometimes you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel at the beginning when you have no other choice.
Eventually you'll get to a point where you can afford to be picky and count out clients who are a bad match for your services. And you should 100% do this. Pick clients with a realistic expectation that they'll stick around from anywhere from 1 month to 2 years (but you want to try and keep them forever), and whatever their tenure, you want them to be happy at the end of your relationship. You want a good referral, positive reviews, and you want to leave the bridge intact if they ever choose to come back.
IMO using Private Blog Networks (PBN)s/owned link-farms without properly disclosing risk and focusing on keywords tends to not build this type of lasting professional reputation as a freelancer or agency.
Most of my clients just focus on keywords that will bring them business, what else can I tell them to focus on?
Change in number of monthly transactions / leads from organic search over time. Get average cart values or average sales values and closing rates to also provide an estimated revenue amount from organic.
Or if they are a retailer and you're doing local SEO, perhaps measuring total footfall from Google My Biz (GMB) (clicks for directions can be a proxy here). Later you can work out a approx ratio of GMB directions clicks to foot traffic and multiply by average in store checkout value to give them an approx revenue from organic.
Things like keyword rank, crawl issues, links built are all important to monitor closely and react to where appropriate, as an SEO. But ultimately you need to highlight your business value first, those kind of technical details are secondary and easily misunderstood by clients who don't always have the right context.
First of all, where do you get these clients and how have they been qualified? It seems that you seem to be getting clients that are Low-budget, high expectation.
Mostly social media & referrals. Yeah true, so far that's how it is. I will just make a portfolio website & rank it for SEO buyer intent keywords to attract high paying clients now
I feel that a lot of the big ticket clients actually come from referrals as well, so if I were you, I'd bet on that. I don't know how your social media works, but if you'd like to talk about your whole process of getting in a client, feel free to drop a message.
Consider how much you spend on tools + spend on contractors to help in a project + your value you can provide to clients. The ideal flywheel is to get a few clients where the cost per client becomes less and less (think of how a tool like SEMrush that can handle multiple clients on one budget as an example, so the cost of working on clients becomes less expensive overtime.
For example: SEO Tools on a Monthly Basis ($600 a month) + $400 for freelance writers + You can get page 1 rankings in 3 -6 months = ~$1.5k per month (so you make $500 each month, but can scale with each new client)
Thank you for the advice, will follow this.
Coming from development background, I learned SEO in the last few months and got my first client, actually he was a development/care plan customer before converting him to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I sell content + off page (guest posts, Citations, outreach, etc.) + monthly $100 for on page, so I come up with a nice 600 – 700 a month. I know it's not that much for the time being spent, but I am considering charging more after seeing some results.
I'm a software engineer by degree so I feel ya. I do web dev + SEO and that is a pretty impressive income since you just started, so keep it up & wish you all the best!
Thanks bro, I wish you the same.. Keep up the good work 👍
As a small biz owner with a little SEO understanding I can say that I'll never work with an SEO on a retainer again. It never works out in my experience.
If you come to me with a pay as you go or even better a pay for performance model. Even if it costs more I am immediately much more interested. Digital marketing side note: this is so easy to measure for search and social ads etc.
But paramount for me would be to come with a strategy that is tailored to our industry and business. You need to start with the low hanging fruit and create value and a return for that business so they can access more of your time and services as they grow. The churn rate of retainer based SEO must be getting more and more awful…
I agree with this, hence why I don't really charge retainers although the consistent monthly income is nice and gives a sense of stability.
As long as you're good at budgeting I would encourage you to look at contracts over an annual basis with a performance based payment (potentially as well as a base rate monthly). It would be more akin to an annual dividend payment. I really think if you have a relatively small portfolio of clients with good growth potential this gives a very secure, and lucrative option with a distinct Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It's more like having another member of staff that grows with you and is as invested in the business.
First off, don't get hung up on your hourly rate. If you're trying to make money, it's probably best to regard everything as a negotiation.
If you need 1500 bucks, there's no shame in working at 40 bucks an hour.
I'd also share that my experience with anyone looking to spend less than a thousand bucks a month. Lower SEO budgets typically come from people who are afraid to invest in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Those same clients are the ones that are going to nitpick your every decision, be impatient for results, and more likely to jump ship after two or three months before seeing any real results.
There's this really shitty position that an SEO can get into: doing two three months worth of really good work, setting things up for success, and then having a client bail ship. The first thing that clients going to do is go to another SEO. No matter who they go to, the timing is going to be such that all your hard work is starting to really get traction and it's going to make the next guy look really good.
With that in mind, we usually require a 6-month contract for new accounts which can move to a monthly rate afterwards. The monthly price on those 6 months can be catered to meet a businesses need but the underlying point is that they can't go anywhere during that time so they get to see the actual value of your work without the risk of attributing to the next guy.
They want to jump ship after that then you should fully support their decision.
Never thought of it this way. Thanks for the advice, will surely follow this & be upfront with clients.
The basic rate for any freelancers/consultants:
• Write down your expected in-house salary
• Divide by 52 (weeks) and again by 40 (hours/week) – that's your hourly rate in-house
• Double this – that's your hourly freelance rate
• (Later) When you or your clients question this, remind yourself/them that you're sparing them taxes and sick pay and office costs and anything else they would be expected to pay for an in house employee. They can turn your services on and off – they're paying extra for that convenience and flexibility. Also you need to account for finding new work, getting sick or going on vaycay.
Price yourself right first and get rid of clients who don't know your value. Charging too little for sustainable living is the end of too many freelancers.
Hi there, I work on an in-house team for company and a freelancer on the side. For me, it REALLY depends on the client. Some local businesses are purely looking to rank #1 yesterday for as cheap as possible while some are more established brands that understand SEO and are willing to invest in the long term. With that said, when I started out I was charging like $100 a month to help a blog site with basic content ideas, on-page SEO, duplicate content, etc. but x years later, having worked with dozens of clients and on inhouse teams of 2 large corporations, I am able to charge much more confidently. I've gotten to the point where I am willing to turn down clients if they have out of touch expectations. Of course, freelancing isn't my full-time work so it isn't a matter of being able to pay bills or not.
Basically, each client will be different and you have to feel it out for each but try to find the ideal clients who have the right mindset around seeing SEO as an investment.
Great advice, thank you!
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