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How I grew my SEO client base.

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marfling

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Dec 29, 2016
13
20
23
Brighton, UK.
I have small SEO business currently servicing 12 clients paying a monthly retainer as well as some ad-hoc project work such audits and research. I’m earning well but my income is 100% handcuffed to my time and I don’t know where the keys to the handcuffs are at the moment. I’ve only really just started to look.

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and just go under the radar and get on with it. Anyone familiar with this industry will know that the conference and speaking scene is busy but has been clouded in controversy recently (and quite frankly a bit embarrassing). I’ve never got involved, never needed to and don’t particularly want to. There are hundreds of SEOs completely under the radar doing phenomenal things for clients and earning a good living. I’d much prefer to be one of these guys.

I'm still trying to diversify and separate my time from my income, it's a slow process and I'm not giving it enough time at the moment which is my own fault.

Someone asked me how I got going and how I built the client base and I thought by writing it out, someone might find value in it. I regularly get a lot of referrals and I turn down more work than I take on these days which is a envious position to be in and one I was taking for granted until recently.

My longest client has been with be 12 years and biggest client has been with me 5.

When I first began 12 years ago I moved to a different part of the country and didn’t know anyone local and I didn’t really have a network. I’d just left a job as an in-house SEO for a company that helps people compare finance products. A really tough industry to learn SEO but I ended up using that as a bit of USP.

This is nearly everything I've done to try and get clients:

First thing I did was join some networking groups which I didn’t want to do because I find them very cliquey and I’m an introvert. I knew it was the most sensible starting point though and I did meet some developers that referred some keyword work to me. I also did a couple of freebies for a developer I met to try and build trust. Nothing really come of it.

Although I’m introverted I’m actually not bad at networking and small talk etc and I’ve been told I come across as very likeable. I think that’s the most important thing when networking, just be nice to people and don’t try and sell everyone, loads of people do this and it’s just annoying. I sometimes never mentioned SEO at all at these things and I actually preferred it that way!

I don’t think I’m in touch with anyone I met at the (probably) 50+ events I went to back in 07/08. I don’t regret doing them though because it was good to get out and meet people and for me (introvert) good to get out of my comfort zone. I hardly do them these days and if I do, it's not really to get clients.

I reached out to local councils to try and get involved with initiatives to help local businesses get online and improve their web presence. Out of about 20, 1 got back to me and we did a small content project together but it ended up opening a lot of other doors. Google had an initiative at the time to help local businesses sign up to AdWords as well as build a website and get on Google Places. The council wanted me involved and I did it for free but picked up 2 clients from 10 that came to see me for Google Places advice.

I did a presentation to local businesses for this same council and picked up another client from that. I thought I’d pick up a lot more from that but many of them were too small. Local coffee shops, book shops, garages etc.

I set up some mini-sites targeting local keywords (seo+location). They never actually ranked on the front page but this is how I got my first big client. The commercial director of a big web agency nearby found the site and filled in the form (which I didn’t actually see until a month later!). I found it and called him, set up a meeting and a couple of months later I was working with 2 of their clients. One very small and one very big!

I reached out to local agencies and let them know I was in the area. Out of about 100 I got 3 or 4 meetings. One of the meetings was with a PR agency and they immediately referred a small job to me, followed by a whopping one. I still do a bit of this today if I see a local agency that looks interesting and doing good work. They rarely get back to me.

When you work with agencies you’ll get to know client managers very well. Building a good relationship with these guys is smart because they move on and remember you. It's happened 4 or 5 times to me.

I contacted people on LinkedIn and pointed out problems with their site, asking for a meeting to run through their issues and other problems I'd spotted. I got 1 client from that which has grown to be my biggest. This client referred me to another big client that I had for 4 years before they wanted to switch to a full service agency. Most of my clients have been lost to people wanting to move to a full service agency or wanting someone local that they can meet more regularly. Of course, that might not be the real reason, but it’s what they told me!

I’ve reached out to people directly, pointing out SEO problems or just asking if they need any help. SEO email spam is famous, businesses get smashed by agencies offering free reports and other crap. I’ve always found it very useful which is weird! I often get replies even if they’re not interested and definitely recommend persisting with it.

I’ve used sales companies to cold call prospects, inviting them to an event at Google’s HQ in London (in partnership with a PPC freelancer). Filled the event up but got no clients! I think they were more interested in visiting Google’s offices (which are cool btw)! Also tried offering free reports via cold calling, not a sniff. Spent about £3k on that lot.

I prefer not reaching out to people because the positioning is wrong. It’s so much more comfortable if people find you.

I started a Meetup group for SEO and grew it to about 100 people. Did a Meetup every 2 weeks and got an average of 20 people attending each time. Did it for 4 months and handed it over to someone else. Met loads of nice people but not a good source of referrals.

I spoke at someone else's Wordpress Meetup group about Wordpress SEO and got quite a lot of interest and 1 small piece of work.

I joined a LinkedIn group focused on helping people grow their agency for £99/pm. I was hoping to meet developers that would refer work to me but it didn’t really pan out. Didn’t get any referrals and the material they offered to do it was no better than what I’m trying to write out here. There are a lot of people who grew agencies in the early 2000s, sold up for huge sums and now teach people how to do the same. It’s different gravy now though - there’s agencies everywhere and competition isn't as fierce.

If ever I’m working on an SEO project for a client I always go out of my way to try and meet the developers working on the site. This has been a huge source of referrals for me. Get them on side and then do a good job for the client. They’ll take notice and open up (some of) their client base.

I read a trick about getting to know your barber well and making sure they know what you do (because they speak to so many people). I thought I'd give it a try but took it a step further and found a barber locally that didn't have a Google My Business page, I offered to set it up and run it for him (and one other barber shop) one of them does refer but I've not had any big pieces of work from it. Nevertheless, I thought it was smart!

I've got a few more if anyone is finding them useful. I think the point is that if you're starting out or looking for more clients, just get stuck in and try some different things. If you want maximum return for your efforts, contact local PR agencies. I strongly believe I could do this all again right now just by contacting PR agencies. In my experience the clients are brilliant as well, they have great authority from all the PR they're doing but poor websites with poor keyword targeting. Or 'it's like trying to drive a Ferrari with the handbrake on' as I've told more clients than I care to recall!

Anyway, hope someone finds this useful. Anyone done anything as cool as my barbershop effort to get a client!?
 

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marfling

marfling

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Dec 29, 2016
13
20
23
Brighton, UK.
Funny story about that. It's not online at the moment because it got Wordpress spammed and a prospective client doing due diligence on me pointed it out, which nearly scuppered the deal. I put a new site up in 2016 and never had any business through it.

If it was online, and without sounding too weird and protective, not sure I'd share it right now either.
 
OP
OP
marfling

marfling

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Dec 29, 2016
13
20
23
Brighton, UK.
Funny story about that. It's not online at the moment because it got Wordpress spammed and a prospective client doing due diligence on me pointed it out, which nearly scuppered the deal. I put a new site up in 2016 and never had any business through it.

If it was online, and without sounding too weird and protective, not sure I'd share it right now either.
Not Wordpress spammed, Pharma spammed. Some bot basically added hundreds of pages to my site selling viagra and the like. I probably hadn't looked at my own site in 2 years and contemplating replacing it with a one pager. Or even removing altogether.
 

minivanman

Platinum Contributor
Speedway Pass
Mar 16, 2017
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Sounds like a case of not really caring. You didn't care to check your email for a month or more. You didn't care to check your website for 2+ years. I'm sure there are many more things you do this with and I wouldn't be surprised if you do it with your client's sites as well..... but the one thing I bet you DO care about is if they pay you or not. The best thing I saw in your post was when you said, "Of course, that might not be the real reason, but it’s what they told me!". You know the real reason, now get with the program and fix that reason.
 
OP
OP
marfling

marfling

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Dec 29, 2016
13
20
23
Brighton, UK.
I built those mini sites in a program called XSitePro, the only thing I could actually use to build sites at the time because it was idiot friendly! I had the emails set up to forward to my main email address but they didn't for some reason and I found it on the server.

I don't lose many clients, my retention rate is high and I believe that's because I add value by growing traffic/sales. I don't think I articulated that sentence very well. It sounds a bit throwaway and like I didn't care. But I get your point though and need to stay sharp.
 

cryo8822

New Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Aug 29, 2019
2
1
14
Thanks @marfling! This info was very helpful for me. I'm also in the process of trying to grow my software consulting business. It's always good to read and learn about what is working or not for other consultants when trying to find clients. Your post was very helpful since it really broke down what you did and what were the results for every type of effort.
 

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