18 Lessons I Learned Scaling a 7-Figure SEO Agency
I built an SEO agency from $0 to 7-figures in a pretty short period of time.
I say this not to brag, but to show you what is possible.
I didn’t have a tremendous amount of business experience, education or connections.. heck I left school at the age of 15 (not by choice either). I wasn’t born into money or a business background, I come from humble beginnings, I grew up in a council estate (public housing for my American readers) in a small town in Ireland called “Derry”, a great town but a town that seen a lot of hardships through many decades. The odds were stacked against me, but that should never stop you. I did what I had to do, I did it with a combination of hard work, persistence, making the right connections and intelligent decisions.
Rather than a blog post about SEO tips, I wanted to switch it up a bit and write a post about the lessons I have learned along the way. There are new SEO agencies popping up all the time, and there are surely some people reading this right now that are contemplating launching an agency.
Use these lessons as inspiration for your own business journey, whether it’s an SEO agency or something entirely different. Most of these are universal, and will apply to multiple niches.
1. Deliver results or you will be replaced.
When you build a real SEO agency and start to work with high caliber clients, they demand results. There is a difference between an agency business model a and re-seller on a forum or a micro-working website. An agency has large teams of people working for them, while other one-man shows don’t have the same type of expenses, therefore agency pricing is obviously going to be higher.
When a business puts their trust and money into a large agency, they expect results, or you can expect them to take their monthly retainer to a competitor.. it’s as simple as that.
2. Know who is and who isn’t worth meetings and calls.
As your SEO agency grows, so will the number of inbound leads. Everyone wants to sit down and talk, or jump on the phone to discuss their needs. While it would be nice to be able to do that, it just isn’t physically possible.
When you learn how to quickly determine who is and isn’t worth investing your time in, you will start to weed out shitty leads and focus more of your time and energy on the type of clients that have the money to fire you and are ready to pull the trigger and sign on the dotted line.
3. Nobody likes the used car sleazy sales approach.
The SEO industry is full of scammers and fake gurus that reek of a sleazy used car salesman, and those strategies just don’t work anymore. Back in the day, when SEO was a new term and business owners didn’t have a clue, those high pressure “act now” techniques worked for the dirt bags that used them.
Today, there is so much free educational materials available online, and many are taking the time to research before hiring an agency. They connect with and appreciate brutal honesty, even if that means telling them it could take 6 to 8 months to see large gains.
4. Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth.
This is big. Personally, I used to always compare my prices with the competition, but as soon as I realized that businesses were hiring us for the service we provide and not our price, I stopped caring. Are there businesses that sell similar services cheaper? Yes you bet your ass there are. But they don’t deliver like we do, which is why I pay no attention to other agencies pricing models. Charge what you are worth.
Quality costs money.. and the clients that really care about their business won’t mind paying the extra money for peace of mind!
5. Referrals are your best friend (and cheapest lead).
There are a lot of ways to generate leads, and they can be quite expensive. A new lead needs to be warmed up and you need to build trust before they are going to purchase from you. Referrals on the other hand already have that wall broken down. You have their trust already and they are ready to be sold.
Spend some time asking long-term clients for referrals. They will almost never just come out with them, but if you simply ask you will be flooded with new business.
6. Always under promise and over deliver.
The worst thing you can do is tell a client what they want to hear, especially when it comes to SEO and the timeframe to see solid results. If you tell them that they can expect to hit Google page one in 30 days, then you better deliver.
Now, if they are told that it could take up to 6 months and then you get them there in just 3 months they are going to be very happy. Under promise and over deliver every time, because doing so will keep your clients happy and you will turn them into raving supporters of your business.
To be quite honest with you my company stopped offering these guarantees completely a long time ago, there are way too many variables that come into play.
7. Understand you can’t reply to emails all day long.
I get emails around the clock. I could literally spend every waking minute in my email inbox replying to emails (Just ask my girlfriend!). The sooner you realize you will never get caught up, the more you will be able to work on your business growth.
I used to get hung up trying to purge my inbox, but the emails just keep coming. If you attack your inbox just a few times a day at set times you become more productive, can work on the areas of your business that will help you grow and bring in more monthly revenue.
8. Prove (not say) you know what you are doing.
The SEO industry is full of gurus that claim to know what they are doing, yet none of them has any solid proof. They have websites that have horrible search engine optimization, no links and they don’t rank for any keywords.
When called out, they say they don’t need to rank their own site. But if they were so good, why wouldn’t they? It would cut down on their paid ads cost. They are 100% full of shit. They just pray on gullible people. Remember, actions are much more powerful than words.
9. Stay away from new companies with small budgets.
A large majority of the leads we receive are small businesses with no budgets and startups looking for miracles. Not only is there little money to be made, but these businesses are in such a bad place that they are expecting their $500 to solve all of their problems.
Turn down clients that are in a no-win situation. The amount of work that will be required for them could be better spend landing a few big dog clients with healthy budgets.
10. Systemize as much of the business as possible.
The more components of your business that you can systemize, the more time you will have to work on growing your business. If you are manually replying to leads on the initial submission, your time is being wasted, when you could have an auto-responder send them a list of pre-qualifying questions that then sends them through a funnel, only delivering you hot leads that are ready to be closed. Every part of a business can by systemized with creativity.
11. You have to master the art of follow-up if you want to close large deals.
I used to think that if a lead came in through our system they would come back and buy, but no lead is going to do that. You need to follow-up, and not just with an email or phone call. There is so much competition out there, so you need to do things to constantly stay on the mind of a lead.
Things like Facebook retargeting and email newsletters put your name and face in front of your leads until they are ready to buy. If you are the last company they saw, you are more than likely to get the deal.
12. Invest in rock star virtual assistants.
As business owners, we all think we are the best and can handle every situation, problem and task day in and day out. It’s impossible, I can promise you that. As a business owner, you need to identify the tasks that take up the majority of your time that could be performed by someone else, and then hire task specific virtual assistants.
Something as simple as balancing your books or paying invoices, could easily be handed off to someone else. Client reports, both creating and sending, can be done by a VA. Managing your content publishing calendar or working with vendors, etc. As long as you hire for specific roles and outline the process and your expectations in a way that can be easily replicated/followed you will see a large amount of your busy work disappear.
13. Contact your leads within minutes or your competitors will close them.
When business is cranking on all cylinders, you are going to get leads in around the clock and at all hours of the day. You have to respond to leads right away or they will go with someone else who does. You can’t work 24 hours a day, nor be responding to leads all the time, so make sure you either have reps to live contact them or set up a funnel to touch them immediately and send them through a pre-qualification.
I mentioned this above. You have to weed out the time wasters. There is no use talking to clients that have a budget under your minimum. By touching every lead right away, it will help you get a chance to close a much higher percentage of the leads that do have adequate budgets.
14. When a client wins, you win.
When you work hard for every client, and genuinely care about their business it is not only a win for them, but one for you as well. They succeed, make more money and view you and your company as a very valuable part of their business. This ensures that they keep you on a monthly retainer and it also leads to increased monthly spend.
When they see success from one product or service, they will start to look at other options you offer. I can’t tell you how many times a client has come to us for one thing and then six months later that are paying us every single month for a large list of services. But, the first step is to actually care and not just worry about running that credit card and looking for the next client. Treat your existing clients right, as it’s much more profitable to keep them onboard rather than constantly seeking out new ones.
15. Your big spenders will give you the least headaches.
Guess how many times I hear from clients that are spending $20,000 per month? Never. Guess how many times I hear from clients that buy a one-off link acquisition for $1,000? Dozens.
Your big spenders are highly successful and they have no reason to contact you provided that you are doing a great job and delivering what they ordered. The smaller orders tend to be from businesses that are banking on a single link boosting them up in the SERPs, and they will contact you nonstop, wasting a lot of time. Nothing wrong with the little guys, but when you focus on the big fish you make more money and have a lot less headaches.
16. Stop giving discounts.
As a business owner, you need to set your prices so that your doors stay open. The people that constantly ask for discounts do nothing for your business. You make less money and they will then expect a discount every time.
You don’t ask the cashier at the checkout when buying groceries for a discount do you? That can of soup is $2 because that is what the store needs to sell it for to cover costs and make a profit. Why should customers expect your business to be any different? If you want to offer discounts once in a while as a thank you, so be it. I do that often as a reward to my loyal customers.
17. Realize that making large profits is nothing to be ashamed of.
I see a lot of people say they just want to make a positive impact and help others. That’s great, but let’s not be foolish. The purpose of a business is to make money. I have no problem saying that the point of my agency is to make a nice profit every year. It’s why I work so hard. I want to be able to give my family everything they deserve.
18. It’s impossible to please every client (fire those).
No business is going to make every single customer happy. It’s impossible.
But remember this: you aren’t forced to keep them as a client. If someone is a total hassle, bothers your staff or is just miserable to deal with, fire them!
Would you keep a toxic friend around? Stay in an unpleasant relationship? No. So, don’t be afraid to fire clients that are impossible to please.
This has been one wild ride, and one that I believe has just started. I have lofty goals and I am fully confident that I will hit them all and continue to grow my SEO agency. If you run an SEO agency and have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.
If starting an SEO business is something you are considering, and have any questions, feel free to leave them down below as well. We have several re-seller partners, and I’d be more than happy to help answer any questions you might have pertaining to launching a new agency.
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