How to Select the Most Rewarding Clients

As part of my Opportunities for 2016 and wanting to have a better quality of life I have been going through my client roster and prospects trying to find the optimal mix.   Complaining about a few of these wonderful clients my wife reminded me having them was my own fault.  She further reminded me that I have a solid selection criteria for clients and that I needed to be more diligent in using it.  I thought others may be able to use it as well and writing about it would help reinforce my own use of it.

Within a few months of forming Global Strategies, Andy, Jeremy and I were facing a major challenge of more work than we could handle and needed to focus on which clients we wanted to work with and pitch until we could build a proper team and infrastructure.   Aggregating our respective individual clients, we had an assortment of global brands, large ecommerce sites and a few smaller local companies as clients. We put them all on the white board and tried to weight them with pros and cons of keeping them and also pitching the new opportunities.

It was hard to decide to drop a few of the companies, as these were our pet projects or companies we had worked with for a number of years.

I don’t’ remember all the details of the day but we had each of us check which client we wanted to keep/pitch and why. Once we had the final cut I looked at why they were chosen and they all magically had 3 key attributes. We summed them up as follows and in the following order.

  1. The project must be intellectually stimulating
  2. The project and client must be fun
  3. The project must be financially rewarding

Below I will try to define what we mean by each of the criteria

Intellectually Stimulating Projects

The project had must excite me intellectually. If you just need an audit or a garden variety SEO project I am not the person for the job.   So what are intellectually stimulating projects?

Brain Teasers or Major Technical Challenges – this type of project is more complex technical or rank related problem. Often I am the 4th or 5th person they call and others have not been able to solve it.

Data Mining and Opportunity Analysis – this is my kryptonite.   The more complex the data project the more I am typically interested in the project.

Global Expansion – This is another one that I have a hard time turning down as it is my favorite scale project.  It often allows travel and very interesting nuances and challenges.

On Demand Crisis Management – I have a few clients that have me on speed dial or as they call it “Bat Phone Ready” that call me when they need me.   They pay a premium for this service and I always augment an in-house team or external agency.

Fun Projects and Clients

These are not clients that like to party but clients that respect my skill set and don’t suck as people.  The goal is mutual trust and respect.   The projects I work on I need to have grown up conversations and often requires a lot of time working with them.

What makes a not fun project?

Clients that Don’t Listen – There is a big difference in disagreement, corporate policy and not listening.  My approach is vastly different than many in our industry.  If you hire me for that approach then you need to listen.  I don’t care what the latest greatest celebrity SEO posted – if you love them so much hire them.  If you hired me then listen to me.

Clients that have to be smarter than me – Not as bad as it sounds but if you hired me to be a Search Marketing Subject Matter Expert then let me be the expert.

Bait and Switch Projects – This is where you tell me you need help and scope a project but once engage change the scope.   I had a client not long ago that wanted to do do a strategic project but then later switching it to a fundamentals project.  While normally a simple project paid at a strategic rate is not a problem in this case they wanted me to do things that I did not think would work and resigned the project.

Clients that Micromanage – When we agree on tasks and deadlines let me do them.  You should not need to tell me what to do each day and treat me like one of your minions.

Projects that Require More documentation than effort – If I have to spend 60% of my time developing ppts, having meetings to plan for meetings then that is not constructive.  I understand the challenges and I am not complaining that it takes 21 meetings to change a JavaScript but when we need to spend 7 hours changing the wording, formatting and fonts in PPT for an executive meeting that is not an efficient use of my time.

Financially Rewarding Projects

Normally this is my second criterion but I do make some exceptions to “Non-Fun Clients” due to intellectual stimulation and financial reward – yes, I can be bought.   The quickest way to the point here is – don’t be cheap.   If it is intellectually stimulating and a complex problem most likely it takes a specific skills that most don’t have and that the market allows you to charge a premium for. I work in a niche where there are few people with extensive experience and I know most of them and none are cheap.

I don’t get a lot of requests for non-complex projects. I don’t even have site that talks about general consulting only the data analysis so that prevents a lot of people from trying to engage me.   At conferences, I am always giving examples from large companies so they assume I am expensive and self select.

I always get a laugh when I hear some of the “celebrity Search Marketers” on stage brag that they are billing over $1,000 per hour for their time.   I am sure they have a few people that pay this but it is typically blended into a project to hide the hourly rate.  I put my time in the “reasonably expensive category” and the hourly varies based on a few factors.

Difficulty of the Challenge – this actually goes both ways.   I obviously charge more based on how much experience is needed – for example when you come to me wanting to know how to get 10 billion URL’s indexed or develop a global Searcher Interest Model from 30 million keywords – not many people have that experience.

The other is how cool or excited I get about a project – those where I am finding the needle in the haystack – find out why 40% of my URL’s are not indexed or why are are underperforming in a few markets while dominating the rest excites me.  Also if the problem is one I had before or at a scale I have not worked with I am often willing to reduce my rate to try to solve it.

Friends and Family Discount – If I have worked with you and you are cool and bring me challenging things I am willing to cut a deal.   I have one person who has changed jobs 5 times in 15 years and every time brings me a new cool project at his new company so he gets a great deal.

Duration of the Project – The longer the engagement the better the deal. I like smaller engagements that pay well.  However if there is a strategic six month global project that is intersting to me and allows me to focus on something specific and for that guaranteed income I am willing to adjust pricing.

People that have worked with me know I am fair with my pricing and tell me I should charge much more than I do. Althought none of them ever want to pay more.   They know I don’t waste people’s time nor sell them things they don’t need. Most of the time I want short-term engagements and don’t want to stay on to manage or maintain the project which makes me more fair and impartial to the outcome.

As noted earlier, like most people, can be bought. However, I rarely take on a project that is not intellectually stimulating but I do sometimes take them where the client is sort of a challenge.   I can sense how the relationship will go from the first conversation and especially once I review materials of what they are doing and/or have done.   If any of my alarms are tripped I add in one of the following “multipliers”

Pain and Suffering Multiplier – this is when I know the project is going to be painful to work on and a major time suck.  I always add in extra hours or increased hourly rate to compensate for the challenges.

Asshole Multiplier – Does not need any further details but to fill column space I will.  This is often due to having to work with certain agencies.  If I leave the inital calls and am frustrated with trying to explain my process or how I would approach the problem I typically apply this multiplier.  This is also added when my contacts are hard to work with, micromanagers or just real assholes but I want to work on the project anyways.

We Considered You Multiplier – this is completely punitive.  I have a few prospects that don’t like my approach, my personality, my rate or that I often put demands on them in order for me to be successful.  In many cases due to these attributes they go to another consultant.  I have a fair number come back later wanting me to take on the project.  In some of these cases I add in a multiplier not because I am an asshole but because I have to work harder to convince them of my methods or clean up an even bigger mess after they have worked with someone else.

I don’t’ actually put it on the proposal, although I did once for a project that I really wanted to work on as a challenge but the client team and most importantly the agency were a collection of assholes, idiots and micro managers that I actually added a line item with a block of hours labeled “Difficult Client Management Fee” to take into account the incremental work, stress, and possible therapy that might be required.   In the end I had to add the time onto the main scope as the client did not think procurement would approve but they understand why I added it which was cool in the end.

Repeat Clients at New Company

For the past few years I have had a lot of business from people whom have worked for me or have been a client move up the food chain to more senior roles beyond just search.   When they take on the new job as a VP or some as CMO’s they call me to come in and review the existing programs. They want to know what they are inheriting. They call me since I can be impartial since I will not be pitching to take over the management of the project.

For most of these projects they had met the criteria before so they tend to meet it a second time and they are just cool people to work with. Unfortunately, when you start in any business you cannot be as selective but you can control who you pitch, the tone of the project and the duration.   Not every project will be a mind bender, make you rich or be a cool bunch of people to work for but if you can get at least 2 out of three the majority of the time you will have a winner.

Strays and Sad Stories

Every once in a while I meet someone that is like that frightened shivering stray at the pound.   They are a great dog but have not yet found the right home. These are business owners that are struggling with their search and digital problems.   In most cases they have used the wrong developers, SEO’s and consultants.   It sickens me sometimes what people pass off as knowledge especially when they find someone with a bit of money. It is worse with paid search but not the place to rant.

This is one of the toughest clients to deal with as they are often desperately trying to save a failing business. They have often had half a dozen people that said they could help them but in many cases made things worse.   It is both emotionally exhausting as well as a time suck. It is tough telling them that they have been wasting money or have to restart either the site or reverse thousands of dollars of link building.  That being said, since they are in need of help they are often the most willing to make the changes and if you are slightly successful they give you the keys to the kingdom to do great things for them and they become very local source of referrals.

Divesting Unprofitable Clients

An article on picking new clients would not be complete without a quick discussion of firing them.  Similar to the meeting we had at GSI to decide who we wanted to work with I had a similar one at Outrider.   At the time we also had too many clients. We did an analysis to see who was profitable and were we were loosing money.   Now, many agencies will loose money on a client as a loss leader to get a larger project, defend a core service or to keep another agency from getting a foothold.

In our case we were getting complaints that we were not giving enough attention to most of our clients.   The obvious solution was to hire more people. When we ran the numbers most of the project revenue would not cover the additional headcount as this needed to be more expensive people with better client management or strategic skills. The solution was to offload clients that were not very profitable.   We chose clients that there was no chance of increasing revenue, clients that were disproportionality needy and as this was the peak of the dot com boom we used another criteria of potential to continue to pay.   We identified a number of clients that we thought were high maintenance and/or risky. The worse of these we referred to competing agencies as to be a drag on their resources and others we either reduced scope or gave to partner or specialty agencies with a referral fee.

Getting to the Perfect Project

While you will never find the prefect project, these criterion work for me the majority of the time. I suggest you review what is important to you and try to stick to it. Find companies in verticals you want to work in or people you want to work with and seek them out. Another option is rather than trying to “marry the client” and lock people in with long term contracts just date them going for longer term engagements and make sure the relationship is a good fit. If it is the projects will increase. All of my clients that I have had 4 to 6 year relationships with came from small projects that lead to much richer engagements.

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Accepting that Not Everyone Wants or Needs Change

Yesterday I posted in Facebook a quote that I received twice in the same morning from two different people and once previously last week.  All three people were interested in DataPrizm but wanted to adapt features of it for their existing offline workflow. They essentially told me “we want exactly what we have now but online.”  I was specifically referencing the earlier call but the other two thought I was mocking them. Maybe indirectly I was, but I did not mean to – so I am sorry!

The post and the response from friends and the prospects made me realize that not everyone needs or wants me to fix their process.  I further realized this this morning when I had a discussion with the client where I was getting frustrated that they did not want to focus on something they should.   It did not seem important to them and I was struggling to convince them otherwise despite extensive data, logic and near crayon drawings.  In the end, I accepted that I can only advise and it is up to them to implement or not.   I always do better on projects when I remember to just do what I am paid for and not provide any additional commentary.

The post yesterday came from similar frustration that has bubbled up the past few weeks from the inefficiencies of keyword management and the keyword research process and most importantly the people who perpetuate  it.  I have invested a lot of time, energy, presentations, training and money into creating a  process, as well as a tool set, that makes that data intensive process more efferent.   These efforts, couple with manually doing data mining thousands of times and now using automation and dynamic process I cringe whenever I see people doing things, in my opinion, in a less than optimal manner.

People that have worked with and for me know that I am a process fanatic. I try to force every position to have a “book of knowledge” that allows that role to be replicated by anyone who has the ability to read.   Anyone that has had any extensive conversations knows that my brain works in a multidimensional manner and I often get frustrated when I see a less than optimal decision or process. It is similar to playing 3 dimensional chess since it is working out various angles, pros and cons and risk and reward.  You may recognize this as classic “overthinking it.”  I know it is frustrating for people, especially my wife, and can be exhausting for me. Unfortunately that is how I am wired and I do my best to now make it a burden on others. It is more acute in areas where I am passionate and fluent in the topic.  For as long as I can remember, I always have been drawn to opportunities to make activities repeatable and take out human error that often comes from frustration with redundancy and attention to detail.

When I was 13 I worked for my father over the summer at a trucking company.   One of the days we went to a remote warehouse site where the company was the delivery, storage and bagging operation for a large chemical fertilizer company. For most of the day there was nothing for me to do but watch the chaos of this process.  Being bored and severe ADD kicking in, I sketched out a more “efficient process” and tried to show it to the site manager. He blew me off as the pesky kid I was. The next day I went to different stations and talked to the people at the stations suggesting slight changes and they also blew me off.

I was going crazy watching the routing of the trucks to empty their load and the backup that resulted from the inefficiency.  It was all gummed up due to the mouth of the conveyor belt that moved the fertilizer into the storage warehouse being too small.  As a result, they had to back the trucks up onto a small incline to tile them to force the material out of a smaller area of the back gate of the trailer. Pretty ingenious how they made it work but took a lot of time to get the trucks in place.

I asked the foreman they did not use a larger hopper. He told me they did not have one nor the budget for one and this was working just fine.  To him there was no problem.  The trucks were getting unloaded and the fertilizer was getting into the warehouse.  However at any given time, there as many as 10 trucks sitting idle not moving product.   Since I was bored I walked around the job site and found a broken hopper in the weeds in the back are of the property.   Borrowing my father’s welder I repaired and modified it so it would feed directly onto the belt. My father moved the hopper into place and wanting to make sure it was used correctly and to change the flow of trucks, I set up cones in the morning to redirect the flow of traffic.

Of course the foreman and workers all freaked out with the change but the site manager suggested they try it. It worked perfectly and cut the time to offload by 3/4.   This then created a new problem.   The two guys standing around monitoring the unloading were no longer necessary and they were the first to complain at the “new problem” of too much being offloaded into the warehouse and not able to shift it to the bagging area.  I had suggested changes to the bagging process as well that made it more efficient. Increasing the volume bagged and available for delivery enabled earlier billing.  By the end of the week my father was almost fired and told never to bring me with him in the future. That being said, senior management wanted to know why the site manager or foremen had not tried to solve this problem.  The site manger’s response was perfect – they never thought they had a problem, which is why it did not need solving. This resulted in the site manager being demoted and sent to a smaller site in Cleveland.

This was one of my first big life lessons. I learned that actions might be inefficient for a reason. In some cases they may know it is inefficient but continue with it to preserve jobs, protect egos, or to save money.   In other cases, like this one, the process is flawed but not to them because they don’t know any different or even have a need or responsibility to evaluate other approaches.   The other big catch all, “this is the way we have always done it” which I head daily in the Marine Corps.

Going forward, I will try to listen more and not to solve everyone’s problems for them. If they simply want and export and are willing to pay for it, I will gladly make it happen and take their money without much care of what they do with it once they have it.

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Turning 2015’s Frustrations Into 2016 Opportunities

2015 was a tough year for me in terms of my love/hate relationship in my career as a Search Marketing Consultant. At least once a month I was so frustrated with either a client or our industry that I wanted to move on to something more rewarding. That being said, it was also an amazing year. I received both the Search Consultant of the Year as well as a Lifetime Achievement award which was a tremendous honor. It is also the reason I plan to start writing again and try to give back to the industry that has allowed me to have a great living over the past 20 years.

Over the holiday break I had time to relax and to think about those things that really pissed me off and what I planned to do about fixing them, avoiding them and more importantly, making money from them.  I also found nearly 100 articles in various degrees of completion that I will try to finish and get posted.

In a typical year, I work on 2 or 3 large scale projects and another 2 to 3 “crisis” projects where I am called to solve problems that are either large scale or unique.  It gives me insight into a number of areas from agency relations, best practices, workflow etc.

#1 Frustration – Lack of Appreciation for Keywords and Keyword Modeling

For the past 5 years I have been working on various tools to aggregate and model keywords and mine them for opportunities.   My tool, which I now call DataPrizm, allows you to store and mine keywords any numbers of ways.   I have had a lot of success using it in my consulting practice but have not had much adoption from companies and especially not agencies.

Ironically, every test and pilot of the tool has resulted in some amazing findings and incremental opportunities.

Unfortunately, this also scared the crap out of a lot of people.  I had a couple that actually told me using the tool would cost them their job.  The vast majority told me that they either did not have time to use it or it did not match their workflow.   For all the talk about content marketing and data mining I am amazed at how few people actually look at the gold mine they have.  I have written a number of articles on this and have a few clients that use the tool to maximize opportunities but the few are even willing to try.

Most people store words in Excel or some small internal database of in their SEO tool like Bright Edge or Conductor. Few actually mine the data and even fewer look at paid and organic together.

Up until this year I just got frustrated and did not push the issues but in 2016 I will be much more vocal on this wasted opportunity and do more to showcase some of the amazing findings we have had in the tools.

#2 Frustration – “Dynamic and Hip Websites and Content Marketing Mumbo Jumbo”

2015 was the year of the Content Marketing hype and move to infinite scroll and other non-functional web designs. Based on cook frameworks like AngularJS.   They make the developers life easier but without prior thought are deadly to your SEO performance.

One of the frustrating things I encounter a lot from creative agencies is building sites because they were “cool” and “hip and modern” or another is :it s like AirBNB” and a s far from search friendly as you can get. Once I get called in to do the review before launch I point out simple things like robots.txt blocking the site, no titles tags or a single page infinite scroll with no workaround for search.   When we bring it up to the agency the first answer is “SEO Friendly was not in scope” or “Getting the site launched was critical” or other bullshit.

I had one project that was going to be the poster child of SEO integrated design. The agency met 98% of the criteria for SEO. However, the Friday before launch, the compliant site was swapped out for one the creative director thought was “more cool and hip” that was a single page inflate scroll.   The brand team accepted it. Within a week 100% of the rankings and organic traffic disappeared. A month later we went back to the original design trying to recover traffic.

I am dealing with a case now where a top tier creative agency with a large search agency build the client a new online store and built it in AngularJS. The store launched and everyone was telling them it would take time for Google to reindex the site. There were no provisions for redirects, resubmission or monitoring indexing just a simple statement – it will take time. A few months passed and no traffic from SEO, only 10 pages indexed and millions in lost revenue. Since the site was built in AngularJS it was 100% invisible to search engines. Ironic that this framework was developed at Google! Once I explained the problem to them they did not want to double the overhead using a rendering service as it would “double the server load” and are now rolling back the previous build of the site.

First, I have added to my review of potential clients their willingness to comply with SEO best practices.   In addition, I hope to prevent this in 2016 by rolling out a set of comprehensive SEO rebuild/relaunch requirements that I developed for one company.   These requirements must be accepted by the development team or agency during the pitch briefing process, in the final contract, during the kick off meetings and then again as part of the final site acceptance testing checklist. While we have had a bit of success for this client, there are still a few agencies developing sites for the portfolio that were far from search friendly.

#3 Frustration – SEO is Critical for Traffic but….

This frustration drives me insane. Following the ecommerce store and AngularJS fiasco, companies that live primarily off of search traffic need to have better controls.

I had one client that gets 88% of all traffic from organic search and yet the Web Development team and Creative Agency do everything humanly possible to prevent organic search traffic. The SEO Manager tried to get another resource and was told there was no budget.   They came back from vacation to be introduced to 15 new social media team members. Social Media contributes less than 1% of the traffic and zero direct revenue. I was asked to help build a business case to justify the cost for a single headcount for SEO team.

I has another project I turned down from a global company wanting help setting up redirects from some of their campaigns sites to Facebook.  They were going to do a major effort there and wanted the current web traffic to go to Facebook as well.  I tried to explain that it was the web content that was bringing the traffic and if that moved to Facebook that would all go away.  They were convinced by their agency that the paid media they would get from Facebook would outweigh that loss.

#4 Frustration – Paid Search Waste

I will say it again, Paid Search is the single greatest advertising tactic available to brands today. There is nothing that matches the laser precision it offers to target consumers at the very moment of interest.   However the way many of these programs are managed is criminal.

I often get access to paid campaign when I import the data into my DataPrizm Keyword Management tool. As I have written before, the paid search teams are the #1 reason companies do not adopt my tool.

In the past year I have not seen a single paid search campaign that was remotely managed to its potential.   These range from budgets of $5,000 to over $100 million and a gamete of agencies and they are all horribly wasteful and no one really cares.

In mid-November I was asked to review a couple of holiday or year end paid search projects for one of the brands where we had a strong repository of historical information. I was asked to give my recommendations on how they were structured and confirm all the information shared was leveraged by the new agency. Nearly all were set to broad match, one or two pieces of creative and one with 10,000 words had only 5 ad groups. When challenged the agency said they would optimize over time. I am all for test and learn approach but when you have 4 years of historical data and best practices from the 6 previous agencies test and learn there are some things you don’t need to test.

Some of the worst findings are campaigns that are not updated. I had one F100 company that was spending upwards of $50 million with a large agency. I looked at the campaign history and they had not made a single change for 5 months. They tried to convince the client that their bid management tool did all the changes and based on their “financial model based algorithms” did not require human intervention. They had changed a single creative or added any negatives. They were fired that week. Unfortunately the new agency is not much better.

The opportunity for 2016 is to refine my audit program and expand my agency scorecards but find a way to get clients to actually use them! Also, to further expand the use of negative and underperforming word detection in DataPrizm to help flag these words quicker.

#5 Frustration – Clients Demanding to Rank for Something Not Relevant

Following up on my recent rant about the silliness around content marketing and especially those clients that want to leverage lifestyle marketing for traffic. One brand wanted to rank #1 for Coachella. They only have 2 articles on the topic that are a year old. As one of the event sponsors, they assumed that that would get them top rankings.

Just like companies wanting to rank for something they should not, I have others that only want to perform for branded phases.   In September I turned down a six figure-consulting project for a large luxury brand company. The brief sounded like a dream project. – to mine keyword opportunities and help them find niche content targets and mine search data for incremental gains. A former client suggested me to them that I had completed a similar project last year. Soon after sending my initial questions to the client the agency lead told me that all future questions would be to them and that I would not have any direct access to the client.

They went on to tell me that while there was a scope of work I was only participating due to the client’s mandate.     Most of the brief was smoke and mirrors. Apparently the plan was to only have them perform for the brand + product category words.   It was such a wasted opportunity.

#6 Frustration – Celebrity SEO Said….

I could go on for days about this one. I attend a lot of conferences and hear a lot of search experts speak. There are a number that I call “Celebrity SEO’s as they have a huge base of followers that follow every word they utter and their job is to write and drive awareness of themselves or their agency.   People follow them blindly no matter what they say even if it is wrong, or misinterpreted.  I have to spend more time than I want debunking some of their nonsense to clients.

One of the big ones was a person in their keynote told the audience that the H1 tag is dead. They referenced various “ranking factors studies” that showed it was no longer working. We had a web team in India that removed the H1 from the pages.  First, if is not “being scored” there is no reason you would be penalized so why remove it until a future build? The developers assumed since it is not working it should not be in the page. Within a few weeks rankings tanked they had lost nearly $15 million in revenue. Below I describe how we found the problem but we immediately rolled back the change, got the rankings back and recovered the loss revenue.  Just because it was said at a conference or maybe works on small sites does not mean you should implement without discussing with your own team or testing it on a sample.

Another keynote recently told the audience that keywords were dead. That you need to focus on content marketing and create content people want. Ironically in every case where he used examples of content marketing he used a keyword phrase to trigger the content. When challenged about his statement of keywords being dead he implied that individual words are dead and we need to think of clusters of words. Not to split hairs but are “clusters of words” a list of related phrases? I guess it did not sound as cool and I had 2 prospects for my tool decide not to use it since the “keynote” said it was no longer important.

In 2016 the opportunity will be to try to debunk some of these statements and try to be more vocal on some of the basics of search and data mining.

#7 Frustration – Still Optimizing Pages and Not Templates

It is now 2016 yet some SEO’s still do audits and optimization by the page or phrase.   I just had a friend ask me if $10k was a fair price for an audit of 50 of there words and pages. I was shocked that people still pitched it that way. I asked him how many page templates he had – did not know but we identified 5 core templates. The goal would be to optimize a template then all word types for that template would perform better. Yes, you may need to look at links etc. for specific words and pages but to many companies give me the same list of problems 20 times.

As I mentioned above with the loss due to removing the H1. We found this problem because we focus on templates. We looked at all the words that dropped in rank. We then pulled a PLP report from DataPrizm for those words and loaded them into Screaming Frog and looked for the template ID.   We found 2 pages – category page and the product page were 100% of the pages that had words drop in rankings. We reviewed the page and the only thing that changed was the removal of the H1. We rolled the pages back and in less than 10 days the rank was back as was the traffic.   It took less than 30 minutes to identify the core problem.

I see this problem a lot globally where agencies audit all the different country versions we end up with 10 to 20 of the exact same report.   For 2016 I will try to detail and global site audit process that will help reduce this waste.

I will try to rant less and put out some quality content so that I don’t piss off the readers.  Let me know what you would like to write about and I will try to dust off some of the half completed articles and get them posted.

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Giving up Corporate America to be a Search Marketing Consultant

In 2015 I had at least 20 people come to me wanting to or needing to, due to a layoff, become a Search Marketing Consultant. For the most part I gave them all the same advice and wanted to share some of that advice with others not in my circle of friends. Note, most of these people I talk to are coming from corporate jobs and this post is tailored to my experiences with them. I will work on a second for agency people, as it is often a few other things they have to consider. There is the third category of people that I have talked to which are younger solo consultants, which are scrappy and want smaller projects to pay the bills and are not looking for larger scale projects.

Are you prepared financially?

This is the big one as t often has significant impact on the family. In many cases the layoffs come with a nice severance package so they have some money for a while. It is very hard to start making money in the first month.

Tools and Technology – All those tools the agency had you need to buy yourself. While you don’t need one of the Enterprise Search Tools you will need a handful of tools and a decent computer and that will cost you some money.

Corporate Payment Terms – The big problem for most is the payment terms. If you take a typical enterprise scenario they are typically Net60 and you can bill monthly. In some cases you can bill the first month immediately but that is still at least 60 days. In many cases you cannot invoice until the end of the month and with a Net60 that means not being paid for 90 days. This is if your lucky and you can get all the vendor details set up. Most likely you are waiting for 120 days or 4 months until that first check arrives.

Quarterly Tax Payments – This is what kills most consultants especially in the first year. In your corporate job you were getting a salary and that was taxed before you received it. Now you get the full amount from your client and you are required to pay “estimated taxes” on your expected income on a quarterly basis. If you don’t you will be hit with a penalty when you file. This is why I suggest below getting a great accountant to help manage this burden.

For example, if your lucky enough to get a consulting gig at $10k per month for the rest of the year, keeping the math easy of $100k for the year. If you are married and this is your only income your tax rate is 27% so each month you need to set aside $2,700. If you are single it is $31% or $3,100 of that $10k goes to taxes each month.

Liability Insurance – Nearly every project I work with requires liability insurance of at least $1 million dollars. This insurance with a umbrella costs around $2,700 annually.

How much money do you need to make?

This is the big one. While you might be known in the industry from your corporate job you may not have any cred as a consultant. I see many people making six figure salaries that want the same as a consultant. It is possible but has some pain points. In the chart below it shows you need to bill accordingly. For example, if you want to take home the same $150k from your corporate job, keeping a similar work/life balance you need to be 100% billable 8 hours a day for the year (not including weekends and holidays) at $200 per hour. This is not factoring any expenses but you get the idea. To make more you either have to bill more hours and/or raise your hourly rate.

take_home_rates

Time Management – The primary asset of a consultant is their time so make sure you manage it correctly.  Projects are $25 per hour takes as much work as projects at $400 per hour so try to focus on those that matter.  Most “starting your business” books tell you to do a lot of pro bono work to build a name and a client roster.  Reaching out to your network for projects can be far more valuable.  I am not suggesting that you don’t give back but watch those hours.

Can you do the work?

The ability to manage a search program at a Fortune 100 company does not mean you can do the work. I had one friend that has been running a large program for the past 5 years and has never actually audited a page or even looked at the actual Adwords management system and did not have time to try to learn everything so opted to not be a consultant. Fortunately many people currently do the work or have done the work so with a little review they are ready for business.

Are you leaving on Friendly Terms?

Don’t burn bridges on your way out. In nearly all the cases of layoffs, the person was eventually invited back as a consultant making more than they did as an employee. This is a great way to start building a book of business that may lead to other projects.

Reach out to Friends and Connections

This is critical that you network like crazy. Buy lunch for a few people in your network that can help you either make connections to other professionals but also give you suggestions on what they have done to maintain their business. Post questions on Linkedin or other channels. I find people in the search industry are generally willing to help you out with advice, referrals, introductions etc.

Find a Great Lawyer and Accountant

I often make this tip #1 as it is critical that you get your company set up correctly to maximize your legal protection as well as your tax protection. The accountant is critical as I have shown above, taxes are a bitch so you need to make sure you have a great plan. They can also help you set up your accounting structure and basic bookkeeping. You don’t need a big system so something simple like Freshbooks or Xero work fine. If you only have a few clients and minimal expenses a good Excel worksheet with a tab for each month can work well.

The lawyer is needed as I mentioned for setting up your company structure. Most can get by with a simple LLC. I typically do them myself as they are fairly straightforward in many states. However, in others they require filing in local papers as well as Articles of Formation or Incorporation. You can also use LegalZoom to help with this. You will need a set of contracts as well as samples of scopes of work. If you had a corporate job you may have samples of these already but if you don’t try asking friends in the industry for some.

Decide on a Niche

What do you do best or like to do? Do you have experience in a specific vertical or area of Search Marketing? Many of my projects come from referrals. This is because I specialize in a few areas such as enterprise, global and complex technical problems. These are things that typically don’t conflict with other consultants so they refer people to me. The more you can focus your efforts the easier it will be to stand out in a crowd.

Write about Obscure Problems and Topics

This is a great way to get people to find about about you. Also I call this “epiphany marketing” where you write an article that gives people that awareness they have a problem they did not realize they had. In the past few years I have written less but a few specific articles have generated significant referrals for me. They were articles or presentations at conferences that really made people think. The first was about organizing their search program, the second evaluating their agency’s performance and the third was about maximizing their performance across multiple portfolio brands.

Slowly Integrating into Consulting

Unless you have been laid off you can slowly work your way into consulting. If your current company allows it, start with some smaller projects on the side for friends and family. I have helped a few friends that wanted to move in using them to help with larger projects. This allows them to keep their day jobs while easing into the workflow and setting up their organization.

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Importance of Try before you Buy

We would never imagine buying a car without a test drive but there are so many other purchases that we must make by reading product descriptions and reviews but I think companies can be more successful if they leverage a try before you buy model. My favorite Scotch is Arbourlor which came from a tasking in a duty free shop at the airport.

Last week I was in Roatan Honduras as part of a group of underwater photographers. We were there to dive and enhance our photo skills but also to try out a lot of new equipment.

My son had a problem with his mask. This is one of the most critical pieces of equipment for divers after their breathing source. I always bring an extra mask with me but I was using it since mine broke after a diver crushed it in rough seas. Bill went to the dive shop and tried a few on and found one he thought might fit. Given we are in a remote area with a smaller selection not sure he found the best one. While on land you can simulate the fit but until you dive you cannot be sure. IN 20 years of diving I have never been offered the opportunity to try a mask in water. Every dive shop where I have bought the mask required me to buy it. This dive shop let him take a sample mask diving that morning. After the two dives he loved it. The mask was so comfortable he not only bought one but bought two. Other than the cost of the “demo mask” there is no reason why others cannot do this.

I experience another “brilliant marketing moment” in Roatan with the demo gear. During the day you dive then each afternoon submit photos from the day to have them reviewed by the group and photo pros. On the second night one of the submissions was for one of the demo cameras. The Olympus TG4 This is one of the new Tough cameras that is waterproof to 50′ This one was in a housing with external strobes. The pictures looked great on the big screen. Berkly White the photo pro commented they were great for a compact point and shoot camera and this camera would make a great backup camera to the more complex and expensive rig. The next day we went into the demo room to try a new lens for a different Olympus camera and get on the list to try the TG4. We waited in line behind 5 people who wanted to try the TG4 camera. Carlos from Olympus, told them that the 4 he brought were already checked out. That is 10 people who were excited to try the camera the next morning. Not only did they see the photos, have an influencer make a comment but they would get a chance to try it. I tried the camera and it was great and it is not my backup!

For me I dive with the Canon 7D in an Aquatica housing. I have been loyal to Aquatica for 7 years – more than anything the service and support is um-matched. They make a great product. I wanted to upgrade to the Canon 5d but after my demo I have decided to go with the 7D Mk II which is an upgrade. I tried this camera in 4 different housings on at least 2 dives each. In the end I loved a different housing from Subal and pass my housing down to my son. It was more compact and easier to hold especially for macro shots. I tool it on 4additional dives and loved it placing and order on the spot.

The outcome of this try and buy event will be significant. Over 80 people saw the quality of the photos and at least 20 people tried the TG4 camera. Not sure how many went to buy it but once they do and people see it on the dive boats they will want it too. In rough estimates they should be able to sell at least 100 units from this event alone and that would be over $35,000 in revenue far more than the cost to have someone there to make it easy for people to try the product. The same is true with the other housings – many people want to move to the higher level of photography but would do so if they could actually try the equipment. Maybe larger dive-friendly locations like Roatan, Bonaire and Grand Cayman can create a rental program that would enable people to move beyond the point and shoot.

So why is try and buy a big deal – in the past some of the housing and camera makers did not attend this event and felt the opportunity was too small but they are not seeing the the power of influencers and social media expansion. I have shared my pictures with my network as have others that attended. I have seen a few posts of people asking what camera they used to do it. In the day of social media and even moderate influencers creating a situation where you can try and buy a product may be a great move for you.

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Search Engine Marketing Inc – 3rd Edition

Well, Mike and I finally got the 3rd Edition of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. out the door earlier this year. It is a complete rewrite of the previous editions. We now have more complimentary information on the companion book site Search Engine Marketing Inc

Pick up your copy today and let us know what you think.

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Personalized Search and Keyword Research

Jeff Beale from The Marketology Group just posted the link to our recent PodCast interview on the topic of personalized search and keywords research. We talked for nearly an hour with Jeff asking some really interesting questions trying to understand hwo we need to rethink doing keyword research based on the personalized nature of search vs. traditional SEO.

As many of you know Search Engines return results based on a number of personalized factors rather than just returning the more relevant results. You now have to consider multiple variables such as intent, location, device and behavior. Jeff and I talk about the best way to approach to keyword research and content optimization and how you should set up a multi-tiered keyword research and content optimization plan.

Have a listen to the podcast and post any questions you might have here.

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The Difference a Day Makes

In the past two days I have experienced the greed of hotels that are tying to exploit business travelers for events.

Last night a friend of mine was In NYC from India and he had a rate of over $400 a night for the same hotel I was staying at a rate of $199. I booked mine at the last minute the day before. When I checked to get him the rate it had jumped to over $500. That one is not too bad since there were two big events in town and I must have lucked upon a great rate.

Today however, I attempted to change my hotel for DMA in Chicago. I wanted to add an extra day since I am coming in a day earlier to participate in the Guru sessions. My original rate was $208 per night but when I added the extra day the day rate went from a reasonable $208 per night to an insane $1,299 per night for an Aloft hotel which is one of the budget line of Starwood.

rate_change

There must clearly be some sort of data problem. I immediately cancelled the whole stay and booked at the Westin for slightly more than the original rate. But what if I were willing to pay that jacked up rate? Well clearly would not stay at the Aloft… for the price of the closet style room I could actually get a suite at the Four Seasons for about the same rate as the budget – would be a no brainer where I would stay.

fourseasons_chicago

These are the frustrating things that cost companies a lot of business.

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Big Data with No Thinking

Cleaning our my screen captures I found this grab that was good for a rant. Nearly 2 years ago I converted my Business Week subscription from print to digital for my iPad. Appearntly the non-digital side of Business Week was not aware of my transition.

big_data_no_thought

In a single day I receivied 3 offers from them for the print version of the magazine.

Offer 1 – 26 Issues for $20

Offer 2 – 50 Issues for me and a gift 50 issues for $30.00

Offer 3 – 50 issues for $75.00

In all 3 offers in the codes at the top it had the expiration of my print subscription so they knew I was a previous subscriber. I assume they did not mine the database to know that I converted that account to digital – these were clearly to get me to come back to print.

The real part of my rant is getting these 3 offers on the same day. This is just silly. Typically I just throw them in the trash but I was curious. Looking at the 3 offers more closely. Had I received them on different days I would not be able to compare and if any of them seemed like a value I might have bought.

Clearly offer 3 is out since it is the most expensive of the three.

Offer 2 seems to be the best “deal” since it is 2x the issues of offer 1 and I get to make someone else happy by sending them 50 isses.
Unfortunatly most people I know all read it digitially so no one to give them to.

Offer 1 is not bad but not as good as #2.

I just thought in the age of big data and rising mailing costs that a a company like Business Week would be smarter about these offers. Stagger the days etc. The worst offender is American Express. I often get 10 of the same offers in the mail for my various jobs and companies over the years. A simple check of the company would show half of them are not active nor am I associated with them. Again, big data can help sort all of this out.

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Loyalty and Mileage Awards Have a Higher Cost than Expected

First I have to admit, and most people who know me I am a mileage whore. Everyone who has traveled with me is always amazed at the ways I can find to accumulate miles. At my peak I was flying 300k plus miles a year and 150 nights in hotels so I was typically United Global Service, British Airways Gold and top level in Starwood, Hilton and sometimes Hyatt.

As a mileage whore, I check my account. I did this week and found that United has not been counting a number of my flights. Still looking for a good app but my expenses reports and “bonus” file help a lot. Given the current state of affairs with upgrades and award flights you need all the miles you can get and I find most of these that give them are giving less and less and taking more and more from us “loyal travelers.” nearly every program I belong to have been harassing me to vote fot them in the annual Freddie Awards for loyalty, perks etc. A few that I have been loyal to over the years did not get my vote this year.

Flight Credits

I looked n my account to make sure a partner flight was credited as noted below. Then I noticed that some of my recent domestic flights were not being posted especially between months and quarterly statements. For example, I flew to St. Thomas for a dive trip and got credit for the flight from Newark to St Thomas and back to Hartford but not to Newark from St. Thomas. Granted that was only 500 miles but why not? That is the day they changed months for statement purposes but it was not on the previous statement. United told me it was a “system error” and they credited the 500 miles. I have found similar problems – to be fair, once I catch them and submit the request they do credit me but how many people are not looking at their statements.

International Partner Credit

A few other of these missed credits were international partners like Austrian, SAS and Air China. These Ironically, they counted one of the legs but not all of them which made it even more stupid.

Austrian Airlines Mileage Credit

I was flying roundtrip Stockholm to Minsk. Yes, I could have taken a direct flight on Belevaia Airlines which is the national airline of Belarus. Since it was direct the cost was a bit more than the round about flight. But, being the mileage whore (an a family that loves Austrian chocolate) I took a flight on Austrian Airlines, a Star Alliance United Airlines partner. What I did not notice was that one of the legs was classified a “K” class and this is a level where they would not give mileage credit. So apparently since 1 leg was K (although another was Discounted Business Class) they declined credit for all legs based on an email that I just got from United Mileage Plus Customer Service.

OS318 – Stockholm to Vienna – Class = M (Economy with 100% base mile and 100% Premier qualifying miles)

OS687 Vienna to Minsk – Class=M (Economy with 100% base mile and 100% Premier qualifying miles)

OS690 – Minsk to Vienna – Class =K (no mileage credit given)

OS311 – Vienna to Stockholm – Class =Z (Discount Business with 150% base miles and 15% Premier qualifying miles)

While I am still fighting the credit (on 5th email) the moral of the story is to check the United Mileage Partner’s Site to make sure that you can get credit for the different classes of tickets. I had no idea there was a class of service in the itinerary that would not get me credit. I guess it is my fault for not checking but in 20 years and well over 2 million miles of flying United I never found it necessary. In the end I should have flown the direct flight and saved time – again – cracks in the loyalty foundation.

Price of Flights

We are planning on taking a trip over to New Zealand after SMX Sydney this year to see the new Hobbit Town.

Being loyal to United I thought I would try to combine the trips and for a 3 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland United wanted over $3,000. No, it is not their typical fly me back tot eh US then to Auckland – it is in fact the Air New Zealand code share for 3 hours that is only $300 on Air New Zealand. Obviously I booked them separately. I am finding this happens a lot especially with United’s system.

Upgrade Points and Pay

For a flight to London where the client will only pay economy I had planned to book a upgradeable economy and use my miles. The upgradeable flight was $868 for ROUND TRIP and the screen showed it would only be 40,000 miles each way but that I would have to pay $550 per leg for the upgrade. This made the price to round trip upgrade more than the flight itself. Granted a business class flight is nearly $4,000 it was a good prices. Problem is I can fly from Boston to London on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for $3,000 or in their Premier Economy which is the same as United Business on the 757’s they have been flying for $1,475.00. I have shifted to Virgin Atlantic and Iceland Air for most of my Europe and Scandinavia flights since they are cheaper and far more comfortable than United.

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