After having spent more than a decade in this industry as both an affiliate marketer and a provider of various SEO services, I've seen a lot of new folks enter the ranks, with their aim being to become a successful SEO consultant.
And as a result, I've seen a lot of things done right – and a lot of things done wrong – as they aim to achieve that goal.
Hoping that people can learn from the mistakes myself and my colleagues often see new SEO consultants make when entering the industry, I recently asked a group of successful search engine marketing folks:
“What is the number one mistake you see new consultants in the search engine marketing space make when attempting to build their consulting business?”
Their answers are below:
Rand Fishkin | SEOMoz
“Those attempting to grow a “consulting business” have a far different set of responsibilities/priorities than those simply seeking to be successful individual consultants. The primary one is scalability – that means spreading your brand's marketing and expertise to a team that can grow, not building up a personal brand that won't extend to others. One of the biggest reasons I failed to scale a consulting business (many years ago now) was because I didn't think strategically about scalability and instead focused on personal branding. That was a costly mistake, and had Moz not changed direction to software, it may well have meant that we'd never grown as a consulting business.”
Loren Baker | Search Engine Journal
“The worst mistake I've seen so many new consultants make when they break into the industry is trying to make a name for themselves by spreading controversy, aggressively confronting seasoned professions and sputtering nonsense on Twitter or at conferences.
The worst thing you can do is create a negative first impression within this industry or any other. By alienating others, you will essentially lower your ceiling and growth — because no one forgets a first impression.”
Greg Finn | Cypress North
“The biggest issue that I have seen by those new to the space is that they stretch themselves too far, thereby providing inferior work. Instead of staffing up & adequately training individuals, many consulting firms tend to simply add clients on-board, overloading work and diluting the output for each client. I would stress that you should work as part of the client's team, go above and beyond expectations and take care of your current business. Additional business will come naturally and more easily with a better reputation. Personally I would rather have 2 ecstatic clients than 10 unhappy clients; moderation is key.”
Michael Martin | Covario
“The number one mistake from a business standpoint new search consults often do is not properly protecting themselves legally within their contracts to clients and vendors – a close 2nd would be accurately defining the scope and expectations with the client in a consulting contract.”
Aaron Wall | SEOBook
“I think one of the biggest mistakes consultants make is pushing selling too hard & taking on some clients that are not worth having. Running some test sites on the side can provide you with more information about how the algorithms are changing, a free test lab, and the cashflow needed to still do well when consulting requests are light, such that you keep up a stable income and can better price your time at market rates & only work with clients who value your time at or above how your own projects perform.”
Debra Mastaler | Alliance-Link
“They spend too much time focused on building a “reputation” in the SEO community and not enough on securing experience they can use as a sales tool. Think about it this way…if what you're doing isn't something you'd add to a resume and hand over in an interview, it's not something you should be spending a lot of time on. Focus on activities that develop reputation and net experience at the same time.”
Kenny Hyder | Hyder Media
“Too much time spent ‘working' on things that don't bring them clients.”
Todd Malicoat | Market Motive
“Most new consultants don't charge enough. When you decide to work for yourself as a consultant, it is very to easy to forget that you have lots of other responsibilities including accounting, research, health insurance, writing or speaking to drum up new business, and many other responsibilities you didn't have before. While all this can seem daunting, it's also very rewarding when you become self sufficient, and start making your own schedule. It's brutal at first, but if you can make it sustainable and find ways to grow and improve it is immensely rewarding and empowering.
Be sure to charge enough to account for your services to account for these other things, and have a bit saved so you can occasionally break up with a client that suck.
Two of my favorite posts on the topic from Aaron Wall:
Three other bonus tips would be:
1. Make friends, and graciously learn from someone by apprenticing or helping them.
2. Be respectful of the folks that came before you (even the kind of douchey ones). As big as SEO is – it's still kind of a small world.”
Chris Winfield | BlueGlass
“Relying more on what they read (on blogs/Twitter/etc) than on what they do (experiment, test, prove).”
Lee Odden | Top Rank Marketing
“A lot of new consultants focus on the same things everyone else does. Especially now, it's important to differentiate by picking one specific thing you're awesome at and be the king of that thing. Once you gain a client base, you can always diversify. Not being different than the crowd or specific in what you have to offer is a big mistake when developing a consulting business – in my opinion.”
Derek Halpern | Social Triggers
“The number one mistake I see consultants make—both NEW and EXPERIENCED—is offering too many services.
The thought is this: “I don't want to lose out on potential customers, so I'll offer anything and everything.” However, what happens is this: people see that they're unspecialized and go after someone who is.
But what about agencies who offer several services? How do they pull it off?
Well, they've likely been doing it for a while. When people just start out, they've got to build their business, and the best way to do that is to specialize and become known as the BEST at one particular service.
Then, after they build that authority, they can expand, mainly because they'll be able to take advantage of the Halo Effect (people see people with one positive trait, and assume other, unrelated traits are positive too).”
Brad Geddes | BGTheory
“The number one mistake is easy: Not charging enough. Work from value based consulting fees to make sure you are getting paid for the value you are delivering. Of course, the second most common mistake is overcharging and overstating your value. You must know what you bring to the client so that at the end of the engagement, you are both happy, successful, and making money.”
What do YOU see being done wrong by new consultants? Speak up in the comments. :)