Category Archives: Career Hacks

Employee Traits Necessary for Hiring the SEO of Tomorrow

For the past few years Anne Kennedy and I have done a session at PubCon in Vegas about how to hire and retain Search Marketing talent in the enterprise.  We are not doing the session this year at PubCon which is unfortunate due to all the recent articles about hiring SEO’s.   The recent SEO Professional Hiring Guide from Stephan Bajaio of Conductor is an excellent set of tips from people across the industry on the do’s and don’ts of hiring for your SEO team.  Full disclosure, he quotes my tip to have candidates explain the problem to different levels of the organization which is also noted below.    Then there was Kevin Gamache’s article on Which Department houses your SEO Team  which becomes a challenge once you have your dream team assembled.

I plan to write this as a two part article.  The first part will be the least discussed, the personality traits necessary to be successful in the next generation of Search Marketing.  The follow on article will focus on the the actual technical skills an SEO must have to be successful.

I think most companies use a standard list of Employee Qualities like this list from Jibe but often mistakenly do not include those even more relevant to Search at the enterprise level. While I say enterprise, these can be valuable at any level but are critical in a large matrix organization.

My old friend and business strategy guru David Dalka, the CEO of Fearless Revival,  currently focuses on training executives and board members of the future has written on this problem for a number of years.  David has been very vocal that hiring managers do not understand the hard skills necessary for Search jobs the even bigger gap in the soft skills which leads to both the individual failure and more importantly, organization failure and negative opinion on Search, especially SEO.

Personality Traits of the Enterprise SEO

The following list of traits comes from my presentation on “The Traits of a Search 3.0 Marketer from Pubcon 2016 which is linked below.  This is my personal view of what it takes to be truly successfully managing SEO in a large company.   For those that may not be aware, I ran search for two large agencies as well as IBM and have helped numerous companies try to hire Global Search Managers.  From this collective experiences is my list:

Curiosity of a 5 Year Old/Student of your Craft

If you have a young child then you know they want to know everything down to the last detail.  They don’t stop at the first question, there is always a follow-up and follow-ups to the follow-up.  You need people that will ask why and continue to try and understand the nuances aces of a topic of issue.   There are many why’s in Search especially in SEO.  It should be a constant set of questions about how does this work, why does this work or not work.   Using your own brain and experience to sort through problems in the context of your dev and corporate environment is critical for success.

When I was a Marine I learned the phrase “Student of your Craft” and this curiosity often resulted in stacks of books from the officers in my command.  You have to want to always be improving and learning, not just your specific role and how it contributes to the whole but those around it and how you impact them and they, impact you.

When asking candidates about how they might go about solving a recent decrease in traffic, I have had too many tell me they would wait for one of the update reports or see if anything is posted on Moz and then use that to diagnose their problem rather than being curious themselves.  I often ask them about what they read about both in trade but other topics.

Deductive Reasoning Skills of Sherlock Holmes and Dr House

The child-like curiosity is augmented by this deductive reasoning trait to try to understand the root cause of a problem   The TV character Dr House uses a differential diagnosis to try and rule out alternatives to get to the real problem.  Deductive reasoning and root cause analysis are essential to determine why your performances has increased and especially decreased

The easiest test for this trait is to give a situation that can have many reasons to see how well they rule things out.  For example, the one I give is … I have a page that is ranking in Google but it is not the page that should be ranking.  There are two basic options for this problem.  First, another page is more relevant therefore it ranks and the second is there is a canonical element that is pointing to it.

Olympic Athlete’s Competitive Nature

I have found the most successful SEO’s are very competitive.  Getting a top listing is like winning a race.  You have beat 999 other competitors for that privilege of being on top of the podium.   Many of the successful SEO’s that I know personally or worked with me were/are competitive athletes or poker players. I have always believed one of the key factors of success at Outrider and Global Strategies were the athletes that we hired.  Living in Bend Oregon we had many world-class athletes in sports like skiing, mountain biking and various water sports that came to train and needed a job that challenged them intellectually.   It is, after all, a contact sport to beat Google and its competitors.

Bill Clinton’s Communication Skills

The ability to present complex requirements and then motivate people to do them is critical in the enterprise.   To spend resources on an activity often means forgoing another.   It also means you have to communicate the need or problem to various levels of the food chain that have different levels of understanding of the topic.

A simple test for this skill is to have the candidate must try to explain that problem to two or three different audiences.  The first is the senior executive that we need to allocate the resources for the problem.  The second is to the development team that will make the change and the third is often a Global Search Manager since the region or local team must fight to get global resources.   This ability to describe a problem both technically as well as strategically is critical to get it implemented over other items.

This skill is not only verbal but written as well.  The vast majority of specifications for SEO improvements are either incomplete or incorrect.  If the requirements cannot be written completely and accurately with the expected outcomes the developers cannot be expected to figure them out.   In many cases the author assumes the Dev team knows how to solve the problem leaving them to Google for a solution vs. getting the complete package in the requirements document.

Jessica Bowman has done classes on writing specifications as well as covering some of those key success items in her new book Executive SEO Playbook.  If you have an offshore dev team or one the is really tough to get resources from you may want to develop a specific test for them to develop a requirement or use an existing one but remove parts of it so they can determine what is missing.

Madelyn Albright’s Negotiation Skills

For those who don’t know Madelyn Albright was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State.  As the first woman in the job she encountered many geopolitical challenges that were made even harder with her being a woman.  Having the opportunity to hear her speak she advocated two key negotiation skills.  The first was to leverage personal relationships to make connections or to help with the persuasion.  The second, and more valuable, understanding what the other sided needed to get out of the negotiation.  I learned power of the second time myself completely by accident.   We had a large site audit delayed and on the day we were to do the final readout we actually did the kickoff.  Previously we would get hired, do the audit and identify a number of issues that negatively impacted SEO in a 100+ page audit then go to battle with the various teams to try and change things.

On this one occasion, we had all in the room, started with the process and a few things we had seen already and started to get some interesting feedback.   Most of the teams started telling us much of the “why” things were the way they were.   We had been told the Senior Manager of the Web will be our biggest barrier as she hated working with SEO’s.  One of the items we identified was inconsistent code and titles across the pages and that if they could adopt a CMS that would help the consistency.  She told me that if I can help get a CMS in place then on the rebuild she should integrate and reasonable SEO request we have.   So our secondary mission was clear, develop a set of problems, their negative impact on traffic and sales and how a CMS can solve them.  We were able to get approval from the CMO for the new CMS and nearly every recommendation we had in place.

So for your test you may ask the candidate to explain their process for determining the value and opportunity of recommendations and how they would go about “negotiating” with the Dev and Web teams to get them in place.

Thomas Edison’s Innovation

I had this on my chart and was going to remove it but it is one I feel strongly about but may not be relevant for most positions.   Sometimes the SEO role requires the need for speciality tools that work only for your unique needs and circumstances.  Being able to identify them and articulate the features to a developer is not easy.   I currently have nearly 100 of these specialty tools that I don’t think I can do my job without and often cannot imagine others not needing them.     No real way to test for this trait but you want someone that maybe has developed their own smaller tools or process to solve a niche problem.

Ability to see the future like Nostradamus

Ok, if they can tell the future then they would not be working in Search they would be day trading or betting on outcomes in Vegas.  This was another that could have been delete from my presentation list that was added as a funny break in the presentation.     But you do need someone who can understand where the industry is going and what your organization must do to try and move with it.   I often make suggestions for upcoming changes to integrate into a new design or site release to get us ahead of the game.  This is sometimes met by SEO Managers or Development teams that know a bit about search arguing that that is not working yet or none of the competition have this.  The ability to have a fundamental view of the changes in search is essential to the enterprise to help weigh current and upcoming opportunities.

Bomb Disposal Expert’s Attention to Detail

This trait is critical and goes with the communication ability specifically for developing specifications.  Many of the specifications are incorrect due to incorrect code or some other mistake in an example or instruction.  This is also the case when making changes to the site.  Forgetting to change a canonical or another tag may result in the entire site being negatively impacted.

We typically test for this by having the candidate review a specification and changing some obvious syntax.  Another good one is to swap allow with disallow on a robots.txt example to see if they notice it.

Patience of a Saint!

This trait should be non-negotiable and one of the reasons most celebrity SEO’s and small business SEO’s don’t succeed at the enterprise level.   It takes forever to get anything done in the enterprise and people without patience tends to leave long before the changes they suggest are even able to be implemented.  I recently turned down a project since the site does updates 3 times year and the next two were fully booked so it would be 9 months to see any changes on the site including uploading XML site maps.  The only way to test for this is the ask them about previous experiences with dev teams or projects and if they seem to vent excessively about how long it takes that may be a clue they will be easilly frustrated in this position.  Now, the frustration is natural and expected but someone who can manage the bosses, as well as their own expectations, is a key attribute of the position.

In closing, these are the traits that are necessary, in addition to the hard skills to be successful as a next generation SEO. If you can find a candidate with half of these traits hire them immediately.  I welcome your comments on these and any others that I may have missed that have made your company or team more successful.

Why I Don’t Write More

Recently at dinner with a client, two people scolded me for not writing very often.   Apparently my tough-love approach to business and search marketing helps them get some of their initiatives moving. I tried to explain why I don’t write more but wanted to make it more public.

Reason #1 – It is hard for me to write due to the way my brain works

It is not a problem with the language or writing skills it is the thought process. As I write even the simplest of articles, my brain is creating a taxonomy of all the divergent and supporting topics that relate to it.   I actually see a topic mind map for the article and as I think about it the legs expand into the sub topics, root causes and how to correct it.   For example, yesterday while just trying to capture my frustration of having to, yet again, explain why we needed to make a simple change to a site to maintain organic traffic resulted in five different articles. The original article let to one on “Why Don’t Executives Appreciate SEO” then came “How to build a business case for SEO changes” followed by “Why your SEO Specification Sucks.” In the end, nothing was published but I have 2 to 5 paragraphs of multiple articles that will join the other 500+ that are partially written.

I have had this problem my whole life and was especially a problem in the Marine Corps.   While sometimes an asset since I could quickly “see” the various outcomes most of the time those above me did not and that frustrated them.   Writing Search Engine Marketing Inc this was somewhat helpful as Mike just turned me loose on a topic and let me write thousands of words that he was able to beat into submission to form the chapter sections.   For articles, I have tried fixed outlines but that does not work so the only option seems to be to just let it roll and let the 300 words become 3000 then parse out the part I need to post.  This leads me to my second reason, taking the time for other things.

Reason #2 – Work Life Balance

This is a rather new one for me.  For as long as I can remember I put in 16 to 20 hour days. I have cut back the number of clients to a smaller set but these projects are a bit more complex taking more time to develop the strategy and recommendations. On top of the client work I have the tool set that like and idiot I tried to commercialize. The best reason of all for the change is my wife has pushed me to take a bit more time for us to travel and just relax. These changes have reduced the amount of billable time I have making the “work hours” all about work and not leaving much time to write.

It is simple math, the hour or two to write and article can either be billed to someone or quality time doing something as simple as readying to relaxing with my wife. Where is the better investment – will this article improve either?  Most of what I have been writing lately have related to the tools and how to get more out of them.

Reason #3 – Anticipating the Haters

I really don’t care what people say about the things I write but it is frustrating to have to defend it and worst yet to know you have to anticipate it. A recent article on keyword intent had someone ping me in less than 10 minutes saying that I had highjacked another persons topic. Sure I could ignore it but I could not let it go. This resulted in adding to the articles and finding the references across the past 18 years that proved I was not co-opting someones topic. The majority of the time I delete the comments and just let it go.

This anticipation of the need to defend statements and examples forces me to think about each of the examples and references I use. For example, an article I am writing about the traits of successful Enterprise SEO’s I have references to Bill Clinton and Madelyn Albright. I immediately assumed that people would post negative comments about using them as examples and I am trying to see if I can use other people as examples for these traits.

The same with examples, I recently had a screen shot of a site I encountered and few people added comments that I should not out a small business for doing stupid things. I should have contacted them to give them a chance to fix it. I deleted both comments as helping them directly would be free consulting and not help the other sites that do the same stupid things. In the end, haters gonna hate and I try to not think about it and just write on my blog and if people don’t like it they don’t need to read it.

I have had other case where I did an interview before a conference for Bruce Clay’s blog and talked about a search I had done that had horrible paid search results and. The comments of people trying to give excuses for it and that I was not living in the real world. I had people come up to me at the next few conferences and call me to on this post that I had made paid search look bad and that I should be a bit more flexible in what are relevant results.

That is it – those are the only excuses I can give other than being too lazy to write.  I will try to write more as I have been complaining a lot about the quality of the articles about Search and growing your agency.   If there are other topics you want me to write about let me know I will see what I have already and try to get it posted.

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.

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.


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.