All posts by Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt is the co-author of the best selling book Search Engine Marketing Inc - Driving Traffic to Your Companies Web Site from IBM Press now in it’s 2nd Edition. Check out the companion Search Marketing Inc blog Bill is currently the President of Back Azimuth Consulting which helps companies understand their consumer by mining search and social media data.

Do you create Warm Fuzzy, Kittens and Bunnies Reports?

Why can’t we be honest and direct with SEO problems? It seems all of our reporting is just the good stuff. Yesterday I saw a PPC report from an agency that was managing over 20,000 keywords and it had main report showng the 20 best performing keywords and ads and some engagement graphs and that was it. There were a number of words that were underperforming but no mention of them and no one had asked for a full report.

I have seen this with SEO too – all the good stuff then all the issues dumped into some checklist without calling out any major problems the team indicated they needed to to get support from senior management.

Thursday I received a call from the kennel where we board Duke when we travel. Since we have and upcoming reservation they called to say they had a dog infected with Kennel Cough and that they were closing part of the kennel and their daycare to sanitize and work with the city to ensure it was all cleaned. About an hour later I walked into the living room to catch the weather and the leading story on the news was the kennel and the outbreak. I was impressed they got ahead of it. On Facebook many customers were also praising them for being honest about it and for doing all they could to take care of the problem.

Why can’t we do this in search? I have been in far too many meetings where everyone dances around the real issues or does not want to challenge a redesign that will impact search. I believe is senior executives knew more of the real problems, especially with the workflow they would want to change them. In nearly every case where I broke ranks and had a grown up conversation with the senior execs we have been able to break log jams. Yes, people feelings got hurt, others jobs were impacted but they should have been before this project.

I wrestle with this all the time. One of the things I have been noted for is my honesty. I have lost a lot of opportunities and some clients for telling them they have problems. When I was at IBM I had a number of “career limiting comments” when telling senior executives what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear.

Recently I met with a senior executive of a large global company and mentioned I had noted a few areas of improvement during the prep for my custom training program for them. He was a bit skeptical that I could make any improvements to their program as they have a “very capable team” and have had a half-dozen agencies and “top consultants” helping them. Clearly opening Pandora’s box he wanted to know what I had found. The junior execs in the meeting squirmed in their chair and suggested they review them and develop a proper brief. The executive, now curious asked me to give a couple of examples which I did and ended up going through the entire list. This resulted in a fairly large consulting project to help them get back to the fundamentals.

My own software, DataPrizm, again this week was told by a prospect that they would not use it because it points out too many bad things. They told me that you would need to hide the Cost of Not Ranking and Co-Optimization Reports in our version so our management would not see them. When asked why they told me that they have to spend a lot for paid words due to low quality scores from bad landing pages and a need to bid the #1 position. In organic, they don’t have the resources and executive support to make the changes they need so they don’t perform well. Ironically, the very reasons both reports were created in the first place.

I am an advisor for a couple of agencies and tools and they do the same thing. One has a cool diagnostic tool but they were nervous showing the users all the incorrect things their diagnostic tools had found. They, like most tools only wanted to show the good things. The actual response from the Client Services Team was “the customer won’t be happy if they open the tool and they see 100 problems” – my suggestion was to rename it “Warm Fuzzy Kittens and Bunnies Report” since you are only showing them things that are good.

I have had other client’s that had me do process and current state audits and then present my findings of all the issues as “Opportunities” as they don’t have problems but opportunities.

We need to find a way to constructively show the issues impacting our search performance and ensure that we do get the support of top executives. We need to break these log jams of communication caused by scared managers that don’t want to rock the boat or be a bearer of bad news.

Is your Lack of a Well Managed Personal Brand Hurting You?

Last Wednesday I was in China for a meeting with Procurement department of large multinational company. The meeting was the final interview before awarding a major global consulting project. The meeting started with pleasantries then the manager opened her folder and on the top page was a printout of my Linkedin profile. Her first comment was “why did you remove your mustache?.” The picture I have used since my first creation of the account had a mustache and now I do not and it seemed odd to her that I had not updated it.

Her next statement “There appears to be a number of gaps in your experience that we need to discuss.” Wondering what dirt they found on me I asked her to help me understand the gap(s).

During the initial consideration process, procurement had asked me to submit a document outlining similar projects with other large companies. I provided a detailed breakdown of each project including deliverables, the outcomes, and the contacts for them to verify what I submitted. She pulled my document out of the folder and laid it next to my LinkedIn profile and then commented… There seems to be a large gap between these two documents. She was confused why I had not listed any of these amazing projects on my Linkedin profile or why I did not have case studies or any of these projects detailed on my website.

Having been taught how to resist advanced interrogation tactics in the Marine Corps, I paused for a moment and thought maybe I can just hide behind the “client confidentiality” excuse but opted to just tell the truth. Fortunately, I was not being engaged to be a LinkedIn Marketing consultant so in the end, I decided to tell her that yes, I should have detailed them in the profile and yes, I actually should have more robust information about my experiences. I did not try to make excuses for not having it and that I have been too busy to update the information which is true. I realized in that meeting that while I have a good personal brand with people who know me, but to those who don’t I am a ghost or at least do not project my real depth of experience.

For this project I also had to submit a number of other documents including a resume or CV. Well, I have only needed a CV/Resume once for a conference in Germany, since I applied for a job when left the Marine corps in 1991. They needed copies of each of my University diplomas – I have not seen them since graduation day and did not even know what box they were in.

They wanted me to provide links or copies of prior articles and any other published works and presentations that were related to global business transformation. I later realized that I realized that I had a reference to the first edition of my book Search Engine Marketing Inc but not the 2nd or 3rd editions.

One of their big concerns were the lack of any public information on my global training experience. Part of this project is a large-scale training element to train their managers how to leverage Search Marketing. On my site I had listed a number of industry related conferences I have spoken at but did not list any of my training projects, no videos of my presentation style, and no testimonials from customers. I could just imagine her asking if I actually have any marketing experience at all.

She had a number of pages of information about me from various Searches where others had written about me and articles where I had referenced different project. She even congratulated me on receiving the Best Search Consultant Award and for getting a Lifetime Achievement Award so young. I think really she wondered how I could get it for being such a non-marketer. I have now realized that my company site had no information about me and my personal blog’s “about me” page I created to link to Google+ had minimal information. This helps explains why a reporter recently referenced me as running Global Search for Ogilvy, a job I have not had for over 10 years in an article for the HREFBuilder Technology award. I did not have anything really current.

All of my bios on conference sites were not really detailed and many of my photos I am wearing my Global Strategies brand shirt. Also, a week ago I read an Keyword Research article by Heather Lloyd-Martin on Biznology and thought her bio at the end of the article was one of the best I had ever seen. In this case I did get a bit farther and started to create one like hers but did not upload it. It has all of those key highlights that this procurement person told me were missing from my profile. I will finish this on my way back from China.

It was embarassing to realize that I don’t do anything to help nurture my profile or actually ensure those that have not worked with me can have the same information about me as those who do. They were specifically concerned that I had not linked to any of my articles showcasing my experience on Global Search Program Development and Website Globalization.

In February I read Mel Carson’s
amazing ebook “Personal Branding” After reading the book, I did have all of these issues mentioned above as action items but did not prioritize time to do/fix them. The most frustrating one was not updating my photos immediately. Apparently, the mustache was part of my personal brand. I have recently had conferences ask me for “speaker” or “keynote” type photos as well as specific sized headshots. I either did not have them or they were outdated. As one of the events was in Asia they wanted a photo of my wearing a jacket and tie.

Had I actually taken the time I would have looked much better to these people that need to make a decision to trust someone to make major changes to their business. I have realized that you do need to maintain and nurture your personal brand at all times and you never know when someone will make a decision based on what they do or, more importantly, do not find about you online so it is critical to keep this information as current and comprehensive as possible.

As I learned, photos are very important. I have had conferences ask me for “speaker” or “Keynote” type photos as well as specific sized headshots. I either did not have them or they were outdated and of course, all had “the stash.” One of the events was in Asia they wanted a photo of my wearing a jacket and tie and I had to look pretty far back to find one of those.

Fortunately, the recommendation from the engagement manager who had prior experience working with me, recommendation from their consulting agency, and the fact that I had worked at IBM and Ogilvy all were key factors in my advantage and earned me the face to face meeting.

The scary thing is that without the direct feedback from the contacts I may not have been considered for this project as I had little information under my control about my experience that would emphasis that I am the best for this type of project.

I have learned a valuable lesson from this and have started my transformation process. I scheduled the photo shoot, started gathering key project and experience points for large projects and especially outcomes. I have started to clean up and move many of my presentations to my Slideshare account. I will add more to my site and blog with voice-overs to help convey my presentation style. I want to ensure that I have done all I can to make sure I have maximized my personal brand and make it easy for potential costumers to make a wise decision and I strongly suggest you take a honest look at how people view you and your personal brand online.

Challenges of Minimum Viable Products

I personally love the MVP approach to applications and it is how I build all my personal tools – build just the essentials necessary to get the job done.     What I have found out that while that works great for personal consumption it has different challenges and expectations when you apply it to commercialized tools.

If your not familiar, MVP the acronym for Minimum Viable Product is the idea to develop enough of an application to test the concept and see if anyone would buy it before you completely bake it.    What are the minimum features and functions necessary for others to want to adopt it?   I think this is a good approach to application and product development but comes with challenges and frustrations for both the developer and the user.

The primary benefit to the developer is it can prevent a distraction and waste of resources on something that may not take off as well as show you a different application of the solution that you may not have considered though customer feedback.

For the past 4 years I have been building a Keyword Management System and many of the features came from users who wanted something more and I used that feedback to expand and adapt the application.   That experience and that of these other new tools have shown me that the customer is not always right and that a lot of care and feeding needs to go into a MVP process to help educate and nurture the growth of the application.  Many of the experiences I detail below are a given but some of the other feedback and experiences were totally unexpected.

Different Approach to Similar Problems

One thing that is certain is that I often have a different approach to SEO challenges than many other consultants in the industry.   I have learned over the years to find the root cause of poor performance based on a systems failure diagnosis.  To do this I have had to build a few custom tools to serve these purposes. There are four tools that I have been working on as part of this project where a few months ago at after a session on Diagnosing SEO Performance Issues many asked if they could license a few of these so I took the time to make them available.  This is where the fun began.
A big thing for developers to overcome is your opinion of a features importance to the potential customer.  The problem or needed that triggered the need for the tool creation initially for me may not be the same importance of the potential target market.   That is a hard thing to overcome as you assume that if you have this problem others must as well.  This is a key set of questions you have to ask to help you navigate the process
1.  Why has no one else created this?  There is no need for it as it is new problem? or not big enough to need a tool?  or workarounds are fine?
2.  Is there a complication that makes it hard to create/deploy?

Frame of Reference

For the original requester who was in the conference session and understood what the tool did and why I created it so they were willing to log on and use it.  Others that I thought might find it useful and sent them a email suggesting they give it a try did not have the same response. I found them to be the most confused on why they would use such a tool.    I found I had to give them a frame of reference for it.   For example, my redirect checker I had to tell them it was like Screaming Frog but goes farther or had this application.  A few I sent to them after they posted a problem or frustration on Facebook or as a comment to a SEO article.   Then I had to explain why it went farther and could augment other tools.

Audience Applicability & Feature Importance

Along with frame of reference, was the potential users lack of experience with the problem the tool would be a solution for.  For many users, they had never encountered the types of problems with their clients where they would need the tool and that explained why they could not understand the need for it.  These are the people that are not perfect customers.

Diminished Urgency

That moment of epiphany that they realize this is a cool tool and they need it is critical to capture people.   For example, after the diagnostic presentation when I had multiple people engaged who wanted access to it.  However,  I did not want them to see all my client projects so it took about a week for me to add the access and account segmentation which lost valuable time.   In the week that followed, when I emailed people the access nearly half did not try it.  They had lost that urgency they felt in the moment at the event.  That epiphany at the event was an emotional needs connection that you cannot replicate later.

Now if I release a tool I have a link and sign in for it immediately to catch and keep their attention.   In my own tests I found that it often takes someone 5 to 7 days to log in once they have access and more than 3/4 of the people who ask for access never login unless they are directly prompted.  For my HREF Builder tool only 4 of 10 people who specially asked for access ever logged in and ironically, 2 of the people review tools and one writes primary about international search never logged into the application

Can’t x do the same thing?

 In half the cases where I had asked people to take a look vs. those who reached out to me this was the response.   The redirect checker was was the one that I got the most push back on as they assumed it did the same as Screaming Frog or URI Valet.  Both do some functions but not all of them and not at the scale.   On the same note, it is often good to associate it with another tool that they are familiar with as that gives them a frame of reference.   I learned you have to articulate the differences in tools and ensure that they can easily understand  why they would use one over another or with another.

The Easy Button

Most people don’t read directions nor want to think about how to use a tool.     The is why the UX and UI must be good for those initial users.   Most won’t read directions.   For example, in my HREFBuilder tool – we did not have time to code in a pull down selector we created a table.  We asked the users to go to the table, find your URL combination and then copy the appropriate regex and paste it into the tool.  In nearly every case the initial users thought this was too hard to use on first attempt.     For me coding some other functions were more important as I had no problem copying and pasting but even people on my team said – “Can you Make it Visual” or can you just detect what my site has.
 To get early adoption you do need to simplify the onboarding and set up in order to not create that image of difficulty that may taint their willingness to try it in the future.

Missing Features

This is the most frustrating outcome sharing a new tool and also the most welcome outcome as it fills the holes and can help make a OK tool great.  However, a key thing try to communicate to the potential user is why it is the way it is.  For example, I failed to tell the initial people that  these were my personal tools, built to my needs and specifications, and I was/am the only user and that I had not intended them for external consumption.
Second, I am 100% function over appearance – I don’t care how things look as long as they are functional.  To make the first version ready for regular use I had to adjust the original interface as they were not that intuitive and also create a login management function to separate users and their data.  That was a decent investment that ensured user privacy.  I did not change outputs or some of the key set up functions.
While you tell people what you are giving them access to is a beta with limited features many expect a fully baked out tool before they try it and may getting frustrated you did not have features.    It is interesting on how people look past the basic function and come up with advanced features.  This can be very helpful to set the direction of the tool but can also be a distraction.   As most of these tools solved a specific problem the suggestions I received I may never had considered.  This is exactly why you have to be patient and nurture the process and get actual users to try it as they often have insights you do not.
However,  you need to still expect them to want more features that it has especially if you have set any preliminary pricing as that is the value they will attribute to the pricing and not associate it to a final product.
A note on features, in my keyword management tool we have added a lot of features asked by users and when we monitor use they never use the very feature they wanted.
I always try to challenge the need for the additional feature and what would it gain.  Not to be critical but to help prioritize as well as try to get a better understating of what is really needed and why.  This often offends people as you are questioning their intelligence or approach which is not the case but just clarification.

Pricing Issues

Many of the people wanted to know final post beta pricing before investing time in testing the tool.  I can understand that if it becomes to expensive they could not afford it and would better not know there is such a tool.  Others want featureless pricing with all the features and/or want pricing consistent with other non-related tools.   For example, the HREF Builder tool we have adjusted pricing a few times and have developed custom pricing for power users.
One conversation I had with a potential user who felt that the pricing was to high.  They offered 3 reasons for their comment.
1 – Price relative to other industry tools – they referenced Moz (does not do anything like this) and Screaming Frog (annual license fee but doe snot do this action)
2 – Lack of tracking and reporting features (there is nothing to report but apparently any month/month SAAS product must have tracking)
3 – Not intuitive or completely user friendly (While no connection to price, they wanted to pay less for a work in progress application)
When I challenged them on the labor cost to do it manually they agreed this would be more efficient but felt that adding a cost on their side they could not pass on to the client was a challenge.
They indicated that it takes them 20 to 30 hours to do it manually and they can bill the time to the client.  Asking about charging a flat fee or using that time to something more beneficial to the client they did not want to think of it that was.

Change Averse

People hate to try new things and like to use tools that they have been using even if they are more complicated.  I get a lot of people that ask for features from other tools or to change the interface to be more like other tools so they are familiar with using them.  I had a nice little back and forth on Facebook on this one with a number of potential users wanting me to adapt the tool to their process and unless I did they were not interested.  They just did not want to learn a new way or change the current way to adapt to the workflow of the application.   You cannot fight this and if they are a big enough client adapt to their needs or pass on them as a client.

Time Starved

This was more common as to why they did not try it or want to try to learn a new tool.  While this would save them time in the long run, the investment of time to review it and/or adopt it would take time they may not immediately have.

Every Day vs. As Needed

That is another key factor that will impact adoption – is it an essential tool that they use every day>  Other than my Keyword Management System, most of what I have created are not every day tools.   They are these Frankenstein Tools that have a specific purpose and are not used all of the time.  This is one of the reasons I have struggled with price on these tools as they are not essential to day to day management for most users.     When they need it they need it and many will pay anything to fix or prevent problems but when they don’t have the problem they have no need.
Still learning as I go but I have realized these are the last tools I will make available.   It is just too hard and I don’t want to be a software developer.   I have gotten a lot of great feedback on all of them and some deserve to be made into products but others are just features of a large tool or part of my personal Frankenstein Toolbox.

Frankenstein Tool Box

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to migrate some of the dozen or so small tools I have developed into an Enterprise SEO’s tool box that I could potentially license. Getting feedback from people on the tools and deciding if I want to continue that direction made me remember a number of things from my childhood and challenges I saw my father face with real physical tools he had developed.

When I was a kid I often went to work with my father on the weekends and during summer break. He worked at a large trucking company as a mechanic and welder fixing their trucks and large earth moving equipment. I was fascinated by his tool boxes and the assortment of tools and he treats them as a surgeon does laying them out for each job and then ensuring they were spotless before putting back into the box. In the top set of drawers of one of the large chests was a section that one of his co-workers had stenciled “Frankenstein’s tool box” as it was full of custom made tools.

One of these tools, he called the “knuckle breaker” was simply two different sized box end wrenches welded together with string with a loop and a strong magnet. When I was 14 I spent the whole summer with my Father in Detroit working on equipment and driving the loaders in the hold of the ship and got to experience first hand why he fabricated this tool.

Due to the dust that build up in the hold of the ship he had to change oil and air filters on the loaders at least once a week. To do it according to the manual, it would takeover an hour with 45 minutes of the time spent removing and replacing protective covers. Time is money when unloading a ship and an hour of downtime for each of 20 pieces of equipment is very expensive. While most of the mechanics did not care about the down time my father did. He found that if he contorted himself a certain way he could reach under the guards and remove the filters. This would save nearly 45 minutes but it was a pain in the ass. The filter, for no apparent reason, other than poor engineering, had two different sized bolts. This would require 2 different wrenches and when your bent like a yoga master switching wrenches was not easy and reduced the time servings. He made this wrench to all him to just flip it over to loosen each of the different bolts. The leash was in case he dropped it and the magnet – he would remove it and attached to the engine block to hold the bolts once removed. I was fascinated by this tool, the innovation in making one that solved his specific problem and the caring to save his company money.

I have realized that this is what I have done with my tools – I have built created my own Frankenstein Tool box with a dozen or so specialty applications that match my workflow but not necessarily that of others. In showing these to my peers many had not found the need for them as they may use another tool that is not an exact fit but with extra work will get the job done. When I explain the time savings some have not cared as they bill by the hour so being inefficient is not their problem.

This is one reason a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach makes sense for development as it may have a need or function to a small group but not necessarily be commercially viable which saved me time and resources to make these tools pretty and to add functions that did not make sense to me but would for others to make them want to use them.

My father was successful from time to time with Snap On tools adopting one or another tool into their collection. I don’t think he ever was paid for any of them in cash but I do know he would get a first edition of a tool in a frame and typically a new full set of tools so there was some level of compensation. For me, I am realizing that I too have a way of working and if a tool suits my needs then I will develop it but it may not be applicable to others.

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.

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.