Pick His Brain!
I'd like to introduce one of our members, Zach, for our next 'Pick His Brain' session, and I want to thank him for his participation.
Zach runs a successful SEO boutique agency and works only 2 hours a day running a multi-six figure business without spending a dime on ads. His primary client acquisition method is UpWork, and he has perfected the skillset.
His current client list includes Emerson Electric (Fortune 500 company), Design Pickle, Raydiant Digital Signage, Yankee Capital Partners, Cybri Cyber Security, Kids Care Dental (has 18 locations), Purpose Built, and Callscaler (Call Rail competitor). He never runs out of quality prospects and can easily land high-paying clients with one call. I can personally vouch for the list as I've been helping him with some of the projects.
If you have any questions on his system or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), please feel free to pick his brain.
If you want to learn his client acquisition method, you can visit:
Here are the rules.
1) I'll let the thread go on until he asks me to stop. Theoretically, this thread can continue until the Facebook stock value goes to zero.
2) Please, no snarky remarks. I will not tolerate any intentional negativity. We are here to learn from each other's successes and strategies.
3) Please do not PM him and bother him. If you have a private question, ask for his permission on this thread when appropriate.
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What do you with your 2 hours each day? Is it a set per day schedule? Do you schedule out the month(s)? Or do you prioritize tasks where you believe is utilizing your time the best?
Great question! I'd say most of my time is determining the ongoing strategy for each account, managing my team, refining Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)s, and client communication. I have recurring meetings, and I like to schedule my tasks out a week or 2 in advance. But I have my team do all the "grunt work" which includes tech audits & fixes, keyword research, content audits & implementations, schema, etc. But all are based on the SOPs I've created. I used to work 80+ hours per week doing everything myself; then I started documenting everything I did as well as my thought processes behind why I'm doing what I'm doing. After that, I slowly pulled myself out of the day to day operations into more of a managerial/strategy role. The next steps for my agency is to hire account managers / customer service reps to take over the client communication.
How did you get started with Upwork? What do you recommend for people starting out with it?
Upwork has actually what allowed me to take the leap of faith from working a 9-6 at a corporate agency and going off on my own. In fact, I hit my first 25k/month in recurring revenue just from Upwork! I then branched out into other organic client acquisition channels. So my top 3 are Upwork (1-3 contracts landed per month), Targeted Cold Email (1-3 contracts landed per month), and I have a full-time VA making cold calls on my behalf who routinely books 1-2 appts per day for me. I'd say a close anywhere between 3-5 new clients per month from that, currently approaching the 50k/month mark with a small team. Have you created an account yet? Feel free to PM me your profile and I'd be more than happy to give you pointers on it. I'm in the top 3% on the platform.
For Upwork do you brand yourself as an individual consultant or a brand?
I branded myself as an individual, only because that's how I started. I worked at a couple different agencies before going off on my own, and Upwork was the main driver to leaving the agency world. From the other freelancers I've coached, I've noticed that individual accounts get better response rates than Agency accounts. If you have an individual account, I'd keep it that way! You can always mention over the phone that you have a team. Are you active on Upwork at all?
A bit. What are your minimums per month?
Zach » Isaac
I don't take on any projects under 2k a month at this point.
What is the net (take home profit) on your gross? It's okay if you don't want to share $ amounts, but can you share %? I'm coming from perspective of working more, running a 50+ person team, with 20% margin (split between 2 co-owners).
That's quite the operation you have! I'm netting anywhere between 60-70% depending on the month, and I'm approaching 50k/month in revenue. I don't run any ads so my operational expenses are just things like independent contractors who follow my SOPs (for things like tech audits, keyword research, content audits & implementations, etc), content writers, and link builders.
Thank you for sharing so transparently, Zach. Hey – you're making more than myself, and with a lot less internal liabilities! Sounds to me like you created an excellent space for yourself 🙂
Could you describe your strategy in a few points?
Sure thing! So I have 3 main client acquisition channels that land me 3-5 high-paying SEO clients per month. Upwork, Targeted Cold Email, and I have a full-time Virtual Assistant (VA) cold caller I've trained to book me 1-2 appts per day. My strategy is ALWAYS value first. Especially for a cold audience. That's the quickest way to build trust. Show them what needs to be done. Secondly, and this may be the most important thing here: what's your offer? How is it different than the other agencies are offering? I'll give you an example. If you want to run ads for your small business, you interview a few different ads agencies. Lets say that you interview 5 agencies, and 4 of them have pretty much the same offer. But the fifth agency you interview pitches something a little different: we'll run your ads for you PLUS we'll prequalify each lead that comes in so you're only talking to leads that are actually interested! So the goal is to not sell a better mousetrap (saying you can generate more leads, rank you quicker,etc from the next guy is hard to prove), but to add something different! My favorite things are supplementary services or risk reversals. "We generate X amount of leads, and if we don't hit that number, we'll work for free and put our own ad dollars in until we hit that number". My risk reversal offers vary based on where the lead currently is, but generally I offer a certain Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to be hit within 6 months or I work for free until it's hit.
At only 2 hours a day, you must have acquired a killer team and SOPs. You summarized SOPS above, but how did you find the good people to do it all and what do you pay them?
I actually find them through my network and sometimes Upwork! I can usually tell if someone isn't a good fit after a couple test tasks. I find the good ones, train them, and treat & pay them well. You can usually find someone with some SEO understanding that's coachable/trainable in the $15-30 range. I personally oversee the accounts and do all the strategy but yes they do the day to day stuff based on what I outline and other SOPs I have.
Are you using any type of automation to apply for upwork posts?
I actually do the opposite. If you do copy and paste templates, businesses can usually sniff that out right away. Everything is personalized and adds value.
Alessio » Zach
Thanks for clarifying Zach. So are you getting your team to help with this or just recording lots of short videos for the jobs.
Zach » Alessio
You don't have to do videos for every job proposal, but you should have an intro video on your profile. I do all the prospecting on there myself, it may take 15-20 minutes per day to do so. Having anyone log into your Upwork account is actually against their TOS and can get you suspended or kicked off.
ZachZach Ah right makes sense thank you very much for sharing. Happy new year
What strategy would you recommend with a person just started Upwork? Any pointers on how should I write my profile to attract clients?
Great question! Make sure your profile is completely filled out, including testimonials and case studies. Record an intro video of yourself explaining who you are and how you help businesses grow. In my coaching program, I show freelancers exactly what to write in their profile and cover letters to book appointments, but here are some things you can do: when writing your bio, ALWAYS think about what's in it for them, don't just go on about how great you are. You should definitely include social proof, and solve your audiences problems! I'd also recommend making separate "specialties" within your profile. That way you can target different buyer personas and use different "specialties" depending on what time of job you're sending your proposal to.
Kazu » Zach
Thanks for the valuable input Zach! Where can I find your coaching program? 🙂
Do you think that there is a market for the Spanish speaking people that is not been served yet? Would you be interested in developing that market?
Of course there is! Being bilingual has a huge advantage in a lot of areas and industries like law.
With a small team doing all the work by following your SOPs that not only include the how but the why, what prevents contractors from realizing they have everything they need (your proprietary system) to go off and do it all on their own vs working for you?
You can say that about any employee! I'm very generous with sharing my knowledge with my team, and I often buy courses for them to learn more. A lot of people don't like all the other parts of running a business: accounting, management, client acquisition (the hardest one to replicate in my opinion) and I'm sure they like the job stability. Just because someone can do fulfillment similarly to me, doesn't mean they know how to market themselves or close deals. Also, each client gets their own custom strategy by me before the campaign and I oversee the whole operation making sure everything is done correctly.
Grattan » Zach
Thanks for the insight!
Starting in a niche industry then generalizing is often advised when you first start your SEO marketing business.
When acquiring clients on UpWork, should I stick to my niche or take a generalist approach? I see pros/cons to both, and can't decide which is best.
Great question! For Upwork, definitely keep it broad. There's a ton of business on there, but not enough to niche down in one industry. But generally, yes, it's best to niche down to one in the beginning.
Austin » Zach
Thank you Zach!
You are running a successful SEO boutique agency; you work only 2 hours a day running a multi-six figure business without spending a dime on ads.
Dear Zach Zach, how? How do you make it possible? 😀
Running a successful agency and managing numerous clients, deliverables, and results is a long game. Are you into well-optimized SOPs? What are your workflows? What made your agency successful?
Any quick tips or strategies for people like me who are still daydreaming building an empire in the SEO industry?
Yup it's all about setting up the right systems within your business! Continually educate yourself, never stop learning. I spend a ton of money every year on different courses, coaches, masterminds, etc. it really speeds up the process.
How long did it take you to trim to to working only 2 hours/day only and how do you land long-term SEO clients from UpWork? There are so many SEO gigs and SEO users on that platform. How do you position yourself different.
You're right, there can be 50+ applicants per job posting. It took me 1 1/2 to 2 years to trim it down to 2-3 hours per day – I used to work 80+ hours per week! I go over my exact process in my course/coaching program, but here's something you can do right away: personalize each cover letter. Don't copy and paste – that's a surefire way to get passed on.
Joaquin » Zach
Sorry if you already answered this, but can you share a link to your coaching program?
Zach » Joaquin
I have 2 options: 1) DIY video course in which you follow my exact steps on how I built my agency – guaranteed 1 new client within 60 days or your money back. 2) DWY – you get the course, and you also get weekly 1 on 1 coaching with me so we can customize your strategy together and overcome any and all roadblocks – guaranteed 2 new clients within 90 days or your money back.
You can find the link with the training info in Steven's post!
Thanks for answering all of these Zach! What format do your SOPs take? Is it all written, or do you also use video/screen recordings?
Both written and videos. Some people prefer video over written and vise versa; I try to make everything as clear as possible, which results in less questions.
Hatala » Zach
A question about your Upwork prescreening process- my team and I had a lot of success initially with Upwork offering a niched service (Google Tag Manager (GTM) audit and config for ecom). I gave up after a week because I simply couldn't handle all the initial phone/video interviews pre-proposal. Any suggestions on streamlining the outreach, pre interview process? I would ultimately like that handled by an employee etc
Are you referring to the sales calls after you'd made contact with them? If you want to go, you should be taking those! I close probably 50% of the calls I get on from Upwork.
Apologies, I should have clarified- the pre-sales interview which includes the time consuming process of searching gigs, submitting a unique proposal or offer, and engaging with the potential client before the real "sales call", which I know I would have to personally handle and my close rate was real nice too- but the searching, proposal submitting, etc was just so time consuming and had around a 5-10% success rate. I guess I'm asking if you have any tips or tricks when it comes to choosing a gig and spending time on everything before the sales call, haha
Zach » Hatala
Ah gotcha, yeah that part can be a bit time consuming but to be honest it's worth it. I guess I know how to spot them at this point, but you can usually tell right away when a client has a low budget and isn't worth the time going after. If you spend 20-30 minutes a day going through Upworks feed and submitting proposals, that should be enough. You can also set up email alerts based on keywords employers use in their post.
Hatala » Zach
Thanks. Last question for you, how long and how unique are your proposals? I had a pretty good response rate but I'd spend half an hour each.
How did you get started and how long did it take you to get to where you are now?
I started with Upwork, hit my first 25k months in recurring revenue, then branched off to cold email and my VA cold caller, both of which are great client acquisition channels when done correctly. It look maybe 2 years to get to this point. I'm now helping freelancers/agencies get to that point in 6 months.
Julian » Zach
You do both onpage/offpage for your clients? The work itself is nothing special right? Just like any other SEO could do? But the magic happens when acquiering new customers is that right?
Every SEO does things differently, but yes I do both on page and off page. Acquiring new customers is arguably the hardest thing to do when scaling an agency, and I've found 3 organic marketing channels that work for me
1. You say you outsource your work/hire others to do it, what countries are these people from? Is it low paying countries like India and the phillipines?
2. What serivces are in your package offering?
3. how did you decide on what price to set it at?
4. Can you recommend any courses? e.g Iman Gadzhi's course?
All US based. I primarily offer Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I raise my prices ever so often, right now I'm not taking on anything under $2k/month. My course/training goes over all my client acquisition strategies and guarantees at least 1 new client or your money back. Link in original post
Melissa » Zach
Thank you! How are you charging, is it for results? E.g their sales increase? or their website traffic increases?
Zach » Melissa
Yeah so I report on the 3 major KPIs: ranking increases, traffic increases, and conversions. The goal of any marketing campaign is results! And I guarantee results.
Melissa » Zach
Thank you, that's great 🙂
Hi Zach, How do you know when you are at the significant skill level to do this? I have worked on big teams with a national focus and I have worked on local and regional-focused businesses. What would you say a person needs to be at a level to follow your system?
What's your situation now? Do you have your own agency or are you currently working in one?
Jason » Zach
I am currently employed full-time as the Digital Marketing Manager with a regionally focused company in the energy efficiency homes industry. I am thinking I am at a point where I could contract for them and have other clients. I have experience in lead gen in the addiction treatment industry as well. 2022 will be my 10th year in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) having started on local sites, and most time in the addiction treatment industry.