This week’s Ask an SEO question comes from Ibrahim in Ibadan. He asks:
How can I set up an SEO agency? What steps do you suggest I start with? I have learnt and read so many books about SEO. So, I have the knowledge already.
So you want to start your own agency?
Thirteen years ago I took the plunge and left the agency where I was working and started my own thing.
In those 13 years, I’ve been both poor and rich – in some cases at the same time.
Every day in my Facebook feed I see “consultants” promising a blueprint for starting an agency that will make a million dollars in just a few short months.
I guess I’m a slow learner because it took me three years before I reached a million dollars in sales annually.
I’ve learned a lot about owning an agency in 13 years, but I still have a lot to learn.
There are a few things I wish I had known when I started.
It’s Not About How Good You Are
I don’t care how good of an SEO you are if you can’t sell or find someone who can sell to work with you, you won’t have a successful agency.
It’s a given that to have long-term success as an agency, you must do great work.
But if you can’t get clients to give you money to do the work, you will not succeed, period.
I consistently hear people in our industry complain about people with moderate SEO skills killing it with their SEO agency.
There are a lot of folks that can’t optimize very well, but they can sell.
But don’t be discouraged if you have never sold anything before.
Selling SEO is not about wearing a polyester suit and glad-handing prospects.
Sales is about creating valuable relationships with people you want to do business with, and who want to do business with you.
Sales is about encouraging your customers to refer you to other potential customers.
Sales is about nurturing skittish business owners after they’ve been burned by a shady SEO.
If you can’t get your clients to trust you, you have no business owning an agency.
You Don’t Get to Do as Much SEO
I love working on a site’s SEO.
Unfortunately, as an agency owner, I find I am forced to make time in order to keep my skills current.
Running an agency is a bit like manning a three-ring circus.
Between finance, personnel, sales, account management, infrastructure, IT and so many other things, finding the time to analyze a site is difficult.
If your passion is actually working on sites and doing the work, owning an agency may not be the most satisfying career choice.
If you keep your agency small, you have more opportunities to actually do the work.
But once you have a certain number of employees, your attention will be pulled in other ways, no matter how hard you try to keep focused on the work.
An Agency Is Only as Good as Its People
I could be God’s gift to search engine optimization (spoiler: I’m not), but if the people who actually make up my agency aren’t any good, my agency won’t be any good.
The best bet is to be process-oriented in your offerings, but even then, if your people aren’t able to do the work, your agency will fail.
Being a leader is understanding that hiring people that are smarter and better than you is the best way to grow.
There is little room for ego when it comes to running an agency.
So It Isn’t About Your SEO Skills
If you want to start an agency, you need to look beyond your SEO skills.
It’s easy to create your agency’s offerings.
Successfully selling those offerings is a different story.
Finding and maintaining a quality staff has nothing to do with how well you can optimize a site.
I think owning an agency is the best job in the world.
But it’s definitely not the easiest.
And your SEO skills have little correlation with how successful your agency will be.
So if you want to take the plunge, focus on how you can grow an agency, not what you need to do to be better at SEO.
You can hire someone to be better at SEO.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!