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Building a Search Marketing Consulting Business

watson-frank
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With the job market going the way it is, and people always looking for ways to supplement their incomes, I'd like to share some insights into building your own search marketing consultancy business.

Starting Out

Begin with your family and friends. Have you noticed how people are now beginning to understand what we do? Just let people know you have the skill set and you may find out that they need your services.

I go to many non-industry related events -- having a diverse group of friends is handy for marketing for out-of-the-box ideas -- and I've started to see a pattern. If I mention that I do online marketing, people start to ask me questions, sort of like when people know a doctor is in their midst and they ask about ailments. I hear a lot of problems. For some, I give quick, easy solutions; others end up as clients. Even the ones who don't end up as clients may remember you next time they have a problem, or know someone else who does.

So if you're looking for extra work, be it part-time or full-time, first look at making use of existing potential. And always carry your business cards.

Going to the Next Level

Many freelance job boards are out there, but many people stay away from them because they think they have to compete against people from countries who work for less than minimum wage.

While that's true in some cases, largely the overseas outsourcing has gotten a lot of bad word-of-mouth lately. Problems with delivery, communication, and lack of a real feel for people's specific industries has seen many companies looking for U.S., or at least English-speaking, SEM help.

Elance, iFreelance.com, and GetAFreelancer are just a few possibilities. Craigslist and LinkedIn are other sources.

To offset your open time at the beginning, take on a personal project. Create a site you have interest in and come up with a way to make money at it.

This doesn't have to be a main source of income; rather, it becomes a handy test site. You can try changing things to see what happens on your own site before using the insight on paying customers. You can also use this as a way to become familiar with blogging software, or any other areas of our industry you could use some experience.

The other thing you must do is regularly read what is being written in our space. Search Engine Watch news and columns are a great starting point. Subscribe to blogs -- Aaron Wall, Outspoken Media, Search Engine Journal, and the countless others you may have read here and there. Pick three or four to subscribe to and keep up with what's going on.

You also need to learn how to upsell, and have services to add to your initial project. I've started many proposals with basic SEO or PPC analysis with hints of potential advanced work. If you do a good job initially and show the client improvement in traffic and conversions, you have a receptive person ready to follow your other work suggestions.

Add the "Wow" Factor

Kevin Gibbons at eConsultancy gave a good tip the other day: always add the "wow" factor. Among his other tips: be a person, reachable, in a decent location, authoritative, and good. But the one that hit home for me was "be a person."

You have to instill the enthusiasm and interest you have in our industry into any potential client.

I know I can help most online marketing efforts. Whether you're top of the SERPs or don't even have a Web site, there's something I can do to help your business. That's the challenge that keeps me in the space, the reason I read so much, and attend and speak at conferences. This is a great industry -- one that can gain success for those who embrace it.

I can get people excited about using social media, to embrace solid analytics, or enthusiastic about fine tuning landing pages. Why? Because I get those feelings. Be genuine and it will come through.

Pitching a $500 or $1,000 job at times can be harder than ones much larger. These are people who are impacted by the investment if it doesn't work. They're hesitant, so the best way to break them out of that is to get them interested and excited.

In a previous life, I sold things over the phone, door to door, and at shows. Enthusiasm always leads to success.

And don't think you can slide off by saying, "I had it, but all the turn-downs have lost it for me." The people aren't turning you down -- they're turning down your product. They just aren't savvy enough to realize you're offering them a way to be more profitable.

Come to a conference and look at the people in the booths. Listen to them. Go to the bars afterwards and engage in conversations -- they will help you re-energize. Hope this helps.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Great topic, Frank, especially during these economic times. I used to be able to take extra work, but my "day job" has me pretty busy these days, along with the two little ones. However, from past experience, you certainly covered a lot of great points around finding consulting work.

When I was in San Diego, I got started consulting alongside some limo driving I was doing while finishing up a marketing degree. The best thing that happened to me was aligning with a few Web designers and marketing consultants, offering them a skill set (SEO) that was still somewhat new but often complementary. I continued to get work from these partners for some time after I left southern California, and it certainly helped foot all the different moves I did after that.

The key problem I always had with consulting was the logistic work and the paperwork. I didn't enjoy billing people, and had even less patience with taxes and business license requirements. Working within some structure, such as under a designer or consultant, took away a lot of the headaches.

Having industry credit and working the conference and writing circuit is certainly invaluable. The key is to always maintain an air of expertise without any perceived cockiness.

If people are looking to work with a consultant, and find past articles, videos, or live blogging coverage that somehow puts you in a bad light, your public record may actually hurt you. Fortunately, I've avoided the perception of having a superiority complex, but others have rubbed bloggers and industry pundits the wrong way and thus associated their names with less than complimentary reviews -- and likely caused some lost work.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.


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