SEO

Making the Switch from In-House to Consultant SEO

Author’s note: Since I don’t have any agency experience, this post primarily compares in-house and consultant based SEO roles.

I started out as a copywriter for the company I currently work for, and eventually transitioned into the search marketing world back in 2009. Since then I’ve worked in-house, managing and implementing the majority of our SEO and inbound marketing efforts. Back in 2012, I attended several SEO and online marketing conferences and had the opportunity to network with SEOs from a variety of different sectors.

What I found most interesting was how much money some of these independent SEO consultants claimed to be making without ever leaving home.  Now that I had some solid years of experience under my belt, I decided I should start doing some consultant work on the side.  For SEO strategists and many other marketing professionals, there are three primary roles to choose from: you can work as a consultant, as an in-house team member, or work for an agency. Many SEOs, myself included, have worked in combination of these sectors and can tell you that each has its own set of pros and cons. In this post I’d like to discuss some key differences, and also offer some actionable advice on how in-house SEOs can build up a profitable consulting business on the side.

Benefits of Working In-House

Job Security

Anyone who has worked on a consultant basis knows how stressful it can be struggling to acquire and maintain client contracts. When you work in-house, things are little bit different. As long as your efforts are making a positive impact on the company’s bottom line, chances are your job will always be there. Additionally, many companies offer benefits, such as health insurance, vision, dental and even matched 401k plans to full-time, in-house employees, which isn’t available if you’re an independent consultant. Some companies even offer to pay for workshops, training seminars, and SEO conferences to help hone your skills.

Focus

When you work in-house, you only have one client to focus on. This makes it easier to streamline your SEO efforts and dig a lot deeper when formulating your tactics and strategies. Sometimes consultants and agencies have limited bandwidth, and as a result they typically measure results on monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Whereas in-house SEOs can provide real-time reporting and stay up to speed on the day-to-day trends. In-house SEOs aren’t spread thin, like many consultants and agencies are, allowing them to fully immerse themselves within a specific niche or industry.  Having a deeper understanding of a company shortens the internal learning curves and ultimately boosts your productivity.

Knowledge

The intellectual property you will gain, pertaining to your niche and specific company is invaluable – to both you and your employer. Instead of working across a scattered variety of industries, you have the unique opportunity to really dissect your market and identify the key players within it and analyze how your company stacks up against the competition. Although most consultants and agencies run competitive analyses, as an in-house SEO you can monitor your competition more closely and stay ahead of the curve. The more you know about your industry and the longer you’re with a company, the more valuable you make yourself to your employer.

Benefits of Working as a Consultant

Myopia

Sometimes in-house SEOs can start to feel like they have blinders on. Some refer to it as the “walled garden.” Since their efforts are focused on one specific niche they tend to look at things from a myopic point of view. In that I mean that they don’t have the opportunity to step outside of the rigid confines of their particular niche, making them far less versatile than their consultant counterpart. Consultants work with many different clients in a variety of different industries, so they have a broader general knowledge base than most in-house SEOs do. As SEOs, we learn by problem-solving. Having worked with a diverse group of clients, consultants deal with more issues on a daily basis, making them more agile.

Flexibility

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am not a morning person. I also like the option to work at my own pace and set my own hours. If this sounds familiar, then consulting might be a good fit for you. You have no one to report to. You have the luxury of setting your own deadlines for clients and projects. You can work whenever you want and in most cases, you don’t even have to get dressed in the morning. Being your own boss requires a lot of discipline, but the freedom can be very rewarding if you do it right.

Compensation

As a consultant, you can charge your clients for services in one of three ways: hourly, retainer-based, or project-based. Although you may not have the job security that most in-house SEOs are accustomed to, consultants have a lot of earning potential if they play their cards right. Additionally, if you have your own company, many business-related expenses are actually tax-deductible including educational expenses, travel expenses, and some household expenses, such as internet, phone, etc.

lego dive 637x431 Making the Switch from In House to Consultant SEO

Taking the plunge into SEO consulting

If you’re an in-house or agency SEO and you’re thinking about getting into consulting, my advice to you is unless you’re seriously unhappy where you’re currently working, don’t quit your day job! At least not yet. Now I’m not saying you’re sure to fail or anything, but you can alleviate a whole lot of pressure by maintaining your regular 9-5 job, while trying to build up your client base on the side. I personally have no intention of leaving my in-house job anytime soon. Not only do I get awesome benefits and the stability that comes with an in-house position, but my company also pays for a lot of training and conferences that not only benefit my role within the company, but also my consulting efforts on the side. It’s a win-win.

One thing I will say is that it’s all about balance and finding that perfect balance can be difficult for some people. It’s important to remember that as long as you’re still working full-time, chances are that you need the job to some extent. That’s your bread and butter and it should be treated that way. Don’t ever let client work soak up your productivity at your day job. Remember: you need it! If you work a 9-5, then maybe only devote nights and weekends to your consulting projects, so that they two don’t interfere with one another. Setting your priorities is the key to making it work.

Starting any business can be scary. There are many risk factors to consider. How will I get clients? How will I keep my clients? How will I make sure that my workflow is steady and consistent? Now imagine that this is your only source of income. For most people, this wouldn’t be very comforting. That’s why I think if you’re planning on making the switch to SEO consultant, I would highly recommend taking it slow and maintaining your in-house or agency role until you’re truly ready to cut the cord.

Providing you already have a year or two worth of experience either as an in-house SEO or at an agency level, the first step is identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives. If you’re not very comfortable with link-building, then maybe don’t offer that as a service to your clients. Only offer services that you feel confident you can execute well. Also, never make any promises you can’t keep. You always want to go above and beyond to exceed your clients’ expectations. It goes without saying that your reputation is everything. But this is especially true if you’re a new business just starting out. The better the work you provide for clients, the more likely the will renew contracts and refer you to a friend or colleague. Your goal should be to parlay each new client into two more client referrals. It’s not just about maintaining momentum, it’s also about growth.

lego businessman Making the Switch from In House to Consultant SEO

Here are 5 Actionable Tips to Get your Consulting Business Started

  1. Educate your Clients

    Many business owners don’t fully understand exactly how SEO works. Some clients know the basics, but very few understand the intricate details of how rankings work or how to improve conversion rates. By taking the time to educate your clients on how you will help grow their business, you’re increasing the perceived value of your services. Instead of simply telling a client that you can increase traffic or help them outrank their competitors, give them concrete examples of how your services will ultimately help drive more revenue, and set reasonable expectations. Just remember to be realistic and manage the client’s expectations wisely.

  2. Results Driven Reporting

    Quality SEO services aren’t cheap. Since most small businesses only have a fraction of the marketing budget of larger corporations, they tend to be more mindful of where each dollar is going. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re providing your clients with results driven reporting, so they can rest assured that their investment in SEO was money well-spent. The goal should be to show them how the cost of your services is well worth the extra revenue you’ll be generating for them.

  3. Learn to Say No

    Don’t be afraid to turn down clients. This is especially tough when you’re just starting out because you’re trying to gain some traction by building up your client base. But, not every client is created equal. In fact, some just aren’t worth your time. Some clients simply don’t have the budget to achieve their goals. There’s nothing wrong with negotiating with a client to provide a level of service that falls more in line with their budget. But don’t forget that your reputation is at stake and you should only take on clients that you feel confident you can help.

  4. 30% you, 70% them

    Anyone who works in more than one sector of SEO can tell you that juggling an in-house or agency role while running a consultant business on the side, can be an arduous task. The same goes for balancing client work and the demands of growing your own business. I think a 30/70 split is a healthy balance. In a lot of ways, the client comes first. But you also don’t want to get so wrapped up in client work that you end up neglecting your own website. Since clients are coming to you to help them improve their online presence, your website, blog, and social channels are sometimes looked at as a reflection what you can do for them. If your website has an outdated design and your last blog post was over a year ago, they may move on to the next guy.

  5. The Value of Referrals

    Word of mouth is powerful. In the restaurant business, they say if a customer has a bad experience, they’ll tell 5 people and if they have a good experience they might tell one. The same is true for most businesses. So not only is it important to keep a clean reputation, both online and offline, but it’s also a good idea to encourage reviews, testimonials, and referrals. Direct referrals, where a client refers a friend, are great, but indirect referrals can be just as rewarding.  Indirect referrals occur when clients discover you from review sites like Yelp or from a blog post or article you published. The more active you are and the higher your online visibility, the more likely it is that new clients will find you.

 

Photo Credits:

1. Flicker user j.reed
2. Flickr user d_pham
3. Flickr user 2 Much Caffeine

BrandonSeymour Making the Switch from In House to Consultant SEO
Brandon Seymour is the Director of SEO at BodyLogicMD and the founder of Beymour Consulting, an online marketing agency specializing in SEO, content marketing and web development.
BrandonSeymour Making the Switch from In House to Consultant SEO

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16 thoughts on “Making the Switch from In-House to Consultant SEO

  1. Some truly excellent advice here. 19 years ago I left the comfort of a University based position I could have probably stayed in for life. I became a linking strategist in November of 1994. It was the best decision I ever made. I’ve also remained a one-person operation during that time. It can be lonely, but if you choose to hyper-focus on a specific area of expertise, and drive yourself to learn everything you can about that area, you can become an expert. I’m living proof. I’ve gotten to speak at 150+ conferences, consulted to launches including Amazon and Weather.com, and most importantly am providing for a family of five, all on income earned as a content linking strategist , consultant, and training/teacher.

    One last note, and it’s not supposed to be funny, but it kind of is. It takes a special set of neurotic traits and personality disorders to be effective as a one person business for two decades. I’m obsessive-compulsive , a control freak, have a bit of ADHD which helps tremendously, am moody sometimes, and tend to talk to my computer screen as if it were a person/co-worker.

    And I wouldn’t change a thing. In January I get to train a group of 5 people from a large movie studio on link building and content publicity. Why? Because of the long lonely years I devoted to understanding it.

    Thanks for a fantastic article, and I hope anyone considering taking the plunge will go for it.

    Keep on keeping on.

    Eric Ward

  2. So detailed and insightful expression.

    Loved this article…Hopefully I can think of this transition from in house SEO to consultant :)

    Thanks,

  3. Good post. Everything has its own advantages & disadvantages same thing is apply on this. Their are also some advantages & disadvantages of working in house SEO & in consultant based SEO roles. I think nothing can be done if you always afraid to take risk. Try your luck if you get good results its your success if you get bad at least it will increase your experience. If you don’t take a step forward, you’re always going to be in the same place.

  4. No doubt that inhouse SEOs have the job security which they want, but the flip side is as brandon describes if you have enough discipline as a consultant you have the freedom that you want.

  5. I find the difference to be quite difficult at times. When in house you have the ability to make the changes as you wish and be responsible for the on-going results. As a consultant you rely on other people to make the technical changes which can be challenging at times. I much prefer the in-house route, but to each their own.

    1. That’s a good point. But it goes both ways. Some in-house positions can be just as challenging in that regard. When working for larger companies, in-house SEOs sometimes have to submit all ideas to a marketing director who works with a content team and then passes it along to the dev team for implementation. I actually implement a lot of the changes for my SEO clients. So it really depends. I find that I have more independence as a consultant vs. my in-house position.

  6. Thanks for this article. I have been SEO in house for 6 years now. There is just one point I don’t share with you: “focus”. Even if you work for 1 client, you may work for several websites which have any link between them.

    It is time consuming and sometimes, you would like having a little bit less websites :).

    1. Good point, Ramenos. Since the company I work for is a national network of physicians, I also manage a each of the 50+ physicians personal blogs, so you’re very right in that even working for one client, can mean managing several websites, depending on the type of client.

  7. From the consultant standpoint there are MANY variations to this dynamic. There is also a very large curve against us from the crooks out there making bad names for the rest of us.

    The truth is, content is EVERYTHING!