Okay, you landed on this page because you want to learn how to start a freelance business in SEO.
Good luck with that!
And I don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s just that starting an SEO business is not for the faint-hearted. Let’s start with this stat painting a clear picture:
Did you know that, according to the WorldBank, there are over 1.5 billion freelancers in the world? Your business would be adding to that number and you would be surrounded by great competitors.
If that number doesn’t scare you, then you are probably ready to start your own SEO business.
And we also know that, like everything else, the most difficult part is getting started and generating your first customer. Once you have done that, things should be probably easier for you.
In any case, starting an SEO business will be the most intense, beautiful and challenging thing you’ll do in your professional life.
As you probably know, I run my own SEO consultancy (more of my freelance services here), so I know exactly what I am talking about.
I’ll be sharing this guide because the SEO market will be worth $100 billion in a couple of years and there is enough space for everyone in today’s market.
So you’ll learn about what skills you need to become an SEO business owner, how to build your brand and reputation and how to hire other freelancers to work for you.
Ready? Let’s get started!
How to start your SEO business and enjoy the success
Transforming your SEO skills into a full service SEO business takes some very specific steps. Here is what you need to do.
Step 1 - Know what you can offer & your area of expertise
It’s important to know what the industry needs and what it offers so you know exactly what your next moves are.
There is an infinite debate whether you need to offer SEO generalist or specific service..
This is totally up to you.
When I started back in the day, I opted for the generalist services and I wasn’t really worried about being a generalist SEO consultant. I worked for an SEO agency in London that offered all sorts of SEO services to big clients, from backlinks to content writing, to keywords research, tech SEO and reporting. But because we were just 2 people in the SEO team, we were too small to be able to deliver what our clients needed.
So our agency created a large network of freelancers SEO specialists providing the skills and services we weren’t able to provide to our clients.
This can still work today.
You can be a 1-person SEO business with a network of specialised freelancers. In 2022, the SEO specialisations are even more pronounced than 10 years ago, because the whole industry is more mature and we have more freelancers than even before.
Also clients’ expectations have changed so you need to be able to offer something unique rather than a general service. Also, registration of your business is essential and you can hire a business registration agency for this. In this SmallBusinessHQ article you can review top agencies.
As you review the state of the industry, think about what is your real responsibility (and what isn’t). This will guide you in what you need to do to start offering what clients want.
In particular, try to identify these points:
- What do clients need? Organic SEO strategies? Backlinks? SEO audits? Full service? Training?
- What can you offer them (and what you cannot)? You may have already acquired amazing skills in content writing that are useful for managing blogs, creating landing pages and optimising the whole website content. You might also be able to build and implement a content marketing strategy.
- Where can you find the skills clients need that you can’t offer? Sometimes SEO involves web design or web development because the technical side of SEO is…very technical. You need to find experts freelancers if that’s the case.
- How can you turn your area of expertise into unique selling points? If you compete with other SEO agencies and freelancers, you want to offer your clients what others cannot.
This is what others refer to as T-shaping, which means specialising into one thing while being able to execute on other skills as well. It’s different for everyone.
For me, I feel that writing and link building come easier than Technical SEO, but it wasn’t always like that.
My link building skills were terrible a few years ago, I wasn’t able to build enough links to make them count for ranking.
Things changed a lot now, and I got links from Moz, HubSpot, CrazyEgg, WordTracker, Millo, SEMRush, SERanking, Inc.co, Seobility, InLinks and many, many more.
How does this help your SEO business?
The good thing about a T-shape marketer is that you can offer your key skill to your clients and, if they need more, you can delegate the other skills to your sub contractors.
Always start your business with your strongest skill offering, at least that’s what worked for me.
Step 2 - Master the skills to run your business smoothly
If you are thinking that becoming an SEO is already a great accomplishment that should be proud of, you are right!
Being an SEO expert is a great profession, and you have done a lot to get there.
However, turning your specialist skills into a business requires you to learn (again) new business competencies that you might have not developed during your SEO career.
Here are some things you should learn:
- Creating a personal profile. The best way to market yourself is to start writing and sharing your information. This way, you can show your expertise and become recognised as a pro.
- Project Management. You are selling your time and the goal is to organise your time as efficiently as possible. That’s because the more time you sell, the more money you generate.
- Accounting. This is unavoidable and also boring at the same time. But it’s essential to know how to manage your income, taxes, sub contractor expenses and costs for running a business. I learnt my bits with an accounting software that I highly recommend (no affiliation with them).
- Delegation skills. You need to transform your clients’ needs into tasks and projects for others to execute. This means you need to know how to handle clients’ requests and how to deal with sub contractors. Which leads us to the next skill:
- Communication: Even if you are well versed in dealing with clients and speaking their business language, you need to know how to manage and communicate with freelancers, business partners and managers working for you and with you.
- Recruitment skills: lastly, you need to know which freelancers to hire and recruit as your business grows. It’s essential being able to pay for the quality skills without breaking your bank.
Step 3 - Set up your goals & priorities and celebrate small achievements
What do you want to get out of this?
People start a business for many different reasons as life takes different directions. My reasons to start was to earn extra income along with my full-time Head of SEO job at a London agency. I was bored and a bit disappointed of the repetitive agency work because I didn’t believe in what agencies were offering in the industry, generally speaking.
Even if clients believed in SEO and paid good money, agencies charged simply too much compared to the ROI. I saw retainers for over £10,000/month where the output for our clients simply wasn’t worth for them.
For me, this was a problem because when you have unhappy clients, the whole SEO industry will be marked as bad and unnecessarily expensive.
Also, when clients pay a lot of money but your employee wage is really low, it means that only one party is making money: the agency.
Other people are moved by the passion and the freedom of running their own business, by the diversity of tasks and responsibilities and by the virtually unlimited earning.
Whatever your reasons might be, it’s worth spending time in understanding the why behind your decisions.
Other that doing it for money, you should also start your SEO business for a variety of other reasons such as:
- Superior ranking ability. If the entire SEO industry is known for delivering results within 6 to 12 months and you can deliver them in 1 month, imagine your clients how happy they would be?
- Unique specialisation. Are you able to get companies mentions and links from the most famous websites in the world? That could be a unique service to offer that businesses pay thousands to acquire.
Whichever your goal, make sure they are achievable and very specific. In other words, your goals need to be SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely.
Here is an example of a SMART goal:
- Build your own online portfolio, or website, within the next 30 days. You can also find programmers to create a website.
- Write 10 blog posts to support your landing pages in the next 60 days.
- Delegate Tech SEO and Core Web Vitals to a web developer to free up 10 hours of your schedule this week.
Step 4 - Get your first client and then more
Okay, you know your strongest skill, you setup your goals and the business admin side of things is sorted. It’s time now to get your first client, the first of many.
I would recommend you these ideas to get you started. These are not just random ideas, but projects I started myself so they are based 100% on experience.
Use freelancing websites
Yes, you might think this is not exactly the best recommendation given that these sites have a bad reputation.
Sites like Fiverr, UpWork and the likes have very unrealistic expectations, such as this one below:
This client, for example, has a budget of just $188.33 and it’s so low that it barely covers the price for 1 good backlink, not to mention an entire digital marketing strategy.
How do I know? Because this is where I found my first SEO client. And it wasn’t a small project either. I worked with a variety of clients and one in particular paid me $ thousands over a long period of time, without even starting a retainer (which I should have done).
So all in all, I earned more than $20,000/year which is not bad for a side gig.
Given that I don’t like selling my services, I prefer a different method: inbound marketing.
Let me tell you a short story.
In 2019, I developed a page for my SEO Consultant London service, which has been ranking on Google’s first page since then.
My generic goal was to generate traffic and then attract some leads. I didn’t even create a lead magnet, which I should have done (it’s never too late).
You can see that the page has a great design, lots of good copy that sells my SEO services and a contact form to convert visitors.
Now, the page worked so well that I started to receive a lot of enquiries, one of which became my first SEO client generated through my inbound marketing efforts.
Become a guest post writer and boost your reputation as an expert
Guest posting only works if you post on websites with tons of traffic, in the millions per month I mean.
It can work in the sense that SEO experts confirm it’s ROI. Some experts said it helped land good leads, while others confirmed guest posting sold some of their books.
Most of the experts that I interviewed, 88% to be precise, also agreed on one goal for guest posting: build your reputation – and this takes time.
So my recommendation is to not do guest posting building backlinks, but to increase your chances to be known in your industry.
Start using LinkedIn and build valuable relationships
LinkedIn is a professional networking site and the strategy is based on the same fundamentals of guest posting, which is sharing your knowledge for free with the goal of increasing your brand reputation.
On LinkedIn, many SEO experts have their own number of followers, of which some reached over 131,000 such as Rand Fishkin.
I have myself generated over 4,000 followers in the last 6 months alone, also thanks to investing time and money in attending a LinkedIn course.
My goal is keep growing my network of followers and professionals because this way I can generate new marketing opportunities and relationships.
Step 5 - Use a learning approach at all times
As you probably have noticed from my ideas and recommendations for creating an SEO business, there is one thing that they all have in common: the approach to life-long learning.
In fact, recent research shows that 35% of startup fail due to a lack of market need.
This means that startups created a product that nobody needed or wanted.
What can we learn from that? Luckily, we can learn from others’ mistakes and in this case it’s we can learn to tailor our services to the market needs. That’s why I never offer SEO packages, every website and business is different.
How do you do customise and be always in demand?
Once you start your business, you understand what clients want and it’s easy to become their preferred consultant. That’s because during this time, you should:
- Setup the business KPIs for your clients so you can benchmark when you reach them (and when you don’t)
- Know what the goals look like in terms of deliverables – 10x blog posts? 10x backlinks?
- Step in the clients’ shoes, understand quickly their struggles and provide solutions, strategies and tactics to overcome their pain points.
- Be able to step in the business at any given time and make things work.
Invest in education and follow other SEO experts. In the SEO industry we have lots of great people that provide recommendations:
Also, don’t be shy about investing time and money into workshops, conferences, webinars and other paid courses from industry leaders.
Your professional development is an investment, not a cost.
In fact, I spent over £30,000 to learn all the skills I need in digital marketing and business and I take new courses every year to keep myself updated.
Start an SEO business the right way
Here we go, almost everything you need to get you started with an SEO business.
All the steps you need from setting up your goals and turning your expertise into unique selling points to finding your first clients in a variety of ways.
This guide doesn’t even cover the advanced stuff you need for your business, such as managing people, freelancers and errors to avoid. I have kept it basic for beginners only.
But one thing that never changes is the learning approach, you should always strive for becoming better and better at what you do and for sharing your knowledge with people.
There is no better way to grow.