Jacob Punton asked me this over on Facebook today:
“Alan, do you just work on audits? Or do you do implementation as well? I would love for you to set up a course on how you gain so many clients for audits 🙂 would be happy to pay too”
His questions arose after I posted on Facebook last night that I had delivered yet one more audit, and have two more to deliver this week.
I went to reply in a comment to his question with a short answer. 20 minutes later, I had this long answer and realized it might be fun to post it to my site instead.
I started out in web development in 1995. Didn’t get involved with SEO until around 2000. After seven years of doing the work of SEO, where many of those were a mix of doing web development, web content writing, web project management, PPC and SEO, I started offering site audits because one client in particular – a law firm, had a very difficult situation where only an audit would suffice.
The success we got from that base allowed me to start doing audits on all the sites I had anything to do with regarding SEO – either hands-on or managing others in the work. I did that for a couple years, while I built up my audit business.
Then, the audit work got to the point where it was so steady I went to semi-retired status five years ago this month.
So – how is it that my audit business has grown so much over the years? To the point where I grossed over $170k in the first six months of 2017, working part-time, from home, living at the beach?
I don’t know if this is going to help anyone in particular – Jacob or otherwise, however it’s my story. It’s how I got here.
1) I built my reputation in overall web marketing, web development and web project management over many years.
2) I became highly skilled in SEO by learning core SEO concepts and merging them with my knowledge of overall web marketing and development, then doing the work starting with small sites and building from there.
3) I shaped my personal brand around all of this, including my web site.
4) I have continually along the way looked for ways to be helpful to others not just in the paid work, but also in being a consistently serious participant in the online community, and speaking at conferences, shifting my energy to different places over the course of time, to increase my visibility as a truly helpful contributor.
5) In that effort, I have always sought to contribute more and gone above and beyond in that helpfulness where possible and reasonable.
6) I have built a strong list of agencies – web design, web development, search marketing, and PR agencies who outsource to me whenever they need to, and I offer them a 20% discount off my rates, where they can choose to charge less, the same, or more, or not at all, as they see fit, for that work I provide.
7) I’ve never been afraid to seek help and knowledge from others who have experience or more experience than I do for various situations.
8) I have built a reputation for being brutally honest in my audit work which is not what most site owners and managers typically get when they pay for SEO. Clients appreciate that.
9) Because of my much broader experience and understanding of web in general, and business beyond marketing, I am able to help clients fit their SEO strategy into that bigger business reality.
10) Because of that experience, I am able to speak intelligently to and speak the same language as developers, designers, and content specialists, CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs, and can often cut through their potential initial misunderstanding, bias or resistance.
11) I have a prospective intake process that’s effortless. Somebody reaches out to me asking about an audit. I take a quick look around the site and at some data from one of the more than forty-five tools I rely upon in my audit work.
I send them an email with two or three important things I find in that five or ten minute poking-around effort, explaining what I found, and why it’s important.
I then have a boilerplate set of audit process, pricing, expectation and caveat terms I paste below that customized response.
I send every prospect a list of several (not just three) previous client references.
My pricing is straight forward based on site scale. I offer two payment options – 50% up front, remainder on delivery, or all up-front for a 10% discount. I do NOT offer or allow ANY other price / payment arrangements.
12) Most prospects after getting that, immediately ask for a formal contract proposal. I have afew different proposal templates based on the type of contract (one site, multiple sites, or a “live site / rebuild/re-launch” scenario). That proposal is SIMPLE – just a few pages. Yet crafted and refined over many years, with lawyer input for protection of the client and my business.
Most clients who get those sign right away, though some take months to respond because they have other things going on. Yet once signed, and the contract is returned along with a payment (I accept check, wire transfer and credit card via PayPal), I send an intake form with several questions, and then the work begins. It’s a methodical process I have done over and over for years.
13) A few times a year, I refine that process even more, or I refine the audit process even more. I’ve gotten highly efficient in the full life cycle of audit work.
14) When I do an audit, I focus on what matters most, in a prioritized manner, and don’t bother throwing the kitchen sink of minor issues at them so my audits aren’t 500 pages long – they cut to the heart of the issues.
15) After audit delivery, I include hours for follow-up consulting to help guide clients and their teams during the implementation process, at no additional charge. They know they can count on me based on my availability, to be there to help them through that work and beyond.
16) I rely heavily on my part-time assistant, Sharon, who gathers much of the core data I need in my audits, and puts it into spreadsheet tabs – it’s what I consider the most tedious aspect of the work, yet she loves doing it.
17) I pay her the same rate I get – which varies by audit – around $300 to $500 an hour on average even though she’s “only” doing data gathering and organizing. Why? Because if she wasn’t doing it, I would. And since that’s how much I get per hour, why would I NOT pay her that rate? I make so much money doing what I love that it makes sense as part of my “working smart” model. She is so happy for that, and so loyal to participating in the business, it’s a no-brainer for me.
18) My audits educate and guide. The more I can help client teams learn as they go, the more empowered they are to not need someone at my level in the future.
19) ANY time I end up being too late in my deliverables due to the reality of business, I ALWAYS seek to compensate my clients without hesitation by offering partial refunds. This happens once or twice a year, and it goes a long way to showing I respect the relationship.
20) Fate, God, Luck, Intuition – whatever you call it, all along the way, over the entire course of my career, I’ve been guided to know where to shift, when to shift, and to what degree.
21) I pick and choose projects I work on where each year, I’ve focused more on what I want to be doing and less on what I don’t.
22) I do my best to refer out work to others I trust and respect as often as possible.
23) I have a strict no-compensation policy whether I refer work out to others, or others refer work to me, to keep the integrity line clear.
24) I know when to cut ties with a client who turns out to be overly needy. Yet even then, I do my best to hand them off to someone else where the relationship might be better aligned.
25) I never take ANY of this for granted. The last time I got truly arrogant in my life’s work, I lost it all – ended up relapsing after many years drug/alcohol free. It took me many years after that to rebuild my life – I’ve been drug free since 2004 and I don’t plan on, nor do I have any desire to jeopardize that again. Even with that, life is delicate, and happens in ways we can’t always control, so my gratitude is insanely off the scale big. So every single day, I express gratitude within myself, with God, and to others. Every. Single. Day. Did so long before I had anything to “show” for it. Long before I was making 1/10th what I make now. Long before living at the beach. Gratitude is so important.
26 (Bonus factor) – many clients appreciate my work so much, they refer me to others. Once in a while, clients like David Sinick, owner of PaleoHacks, are a gold mine for referrals, without me asking. Since doing my first few audits for David last fall, he’s sent me no less than a dozen other site owners who have also hired me for audits.
Well there you have it – a “brief” overview of how I got to this point.