I’ve written a retrospective and business report for 2020-21 of my first year as a Freelance Technical SEO Consultant.
It has been an interesting year and I wanted to make sure I captured some quick tips for anyone starting out.
So, below are 14 tips for anyone who is making the leap to being an SEO freelancer.
Think About Your Outcomes
I’d recommend you work this out before you jump into being self-employed.
Figure out exactly what you want from doing freelance:
- More time to spend with family?
- More money?
- Solve a particular problem?
- Get recognised for your awesome work?
It doesn’t matter what you pick but make sure you understand what you want to get out of freelancing. This will help you shape a lot of what you want to do with your time.
I’d recommend reading The Importance of Establishing a Goal by Nick LeRoy.
Network is Critical
At the start of your freelancing career, a network of contacts who can give you work is critical.
If you’re unsure about how to start then here is a little tip to help you jump.
I asked 5 ex-colleagues if they had a need for any freelancing work and 3 of them said yes (all agencies).
I then did the work for 2 months and made enough money for me to go this is worth it. I even got a 3-month contract out of it so I knew I had something when I jumped.
Your network is important for future work, and it will grow and flux over time. This is one of the most important things I have learned. I am extremely lucky I have made contacts who now all work in management or leadership positions.
Make sure you test your current network before you jump. See if it can help you start on your freelance path.
Talk to Other Freelancers
People who already operate in the space are more than happy to share their experiences.
I’ve spoken to a number of different SEO Consultants over the last 12 months and they’ve provided me with some great advice. Many even referred to work or hired me to do white label work.
So, I recommend you do the same. Create a list of people you want to speak to, ask them for 15-30 mins of their time and make notes on their wisdom.
Find Your People
I highly recommend trying to find a community to which you can chat about a problem, get advice or just vent. It will really help.
It’s important that you engage as you can learn about new tools, practices or even get work from being in these communities.
A few communities I can suggest who are awesome:
Note: Although slack communities are great they can be a distraction if you stare at the feeds too long. My advice is to have specific times you open slack and check messages or ask questions.
Nothing gives you more headroom than not having to worry about money (££) or how you’re going to pay the mortgage.
If you don’t make money this can make you panic at the start. Especially as you will have expenses to cover as a business for tools, insurance and accounts.
Thinking about finances can take up headspace and can cause you to lose sleep which will impact your productivity.
I’d recommend before making the jump you sit down and really think about your finances. Create a spreadsheet and understand the minimum amount you need to live. What will success financially look like for you and how much do you need to cover costs.
Always make sure you have money saved up before the jump (3-6 months of salary) and don’t spend it all on tools or expensive dinners.
Room to Grow
There are a lot of success stories out there on LinkedIn and Twitter.
But don’t compare yourself to those stories. If you are brand new to being self-employed you’re going to have to give yourself room to grow.
They’ll be a lot of things you’ll need to learn like:
- Contract agreements
- Business finances
- Managing client expectations + client communication
- Building out processes
- How to be productive
There will be things you’ll need to learn and that takes time. Just remember to give yourself and break and to make sure you learn from your mistakes.
Time is a Resource
Time is precious.
It’s the one thing that you can’t get back. So make sure you use it wisely and don’t feel pressured to do things for free.
Spending time on a new process, a piece of content or on your website can actually mean you attract work you find interesting.
All that requires time to be implemented, thought about and shared.
I would recommend:
- Using your Google Calendar to properly plan out your week or month
- Only having certain days for new business or meetings (between 8-10 am or 4-6 pm)
- Use tools like Clockify to time track your projects internally and record how long things take
I never knew why past employers were so obsessed with tracking time but now I get it.
Specialise (sort of)
It’s easier to get work as a specialist IF you’re well known for it.
I’ve had a lot of potential clients come to me (via social and referred) because I can work directly with development teams and get recommendations implemented.
Now this means you’ll be saying no to a lot of other potential businesses. In my experience, I will always be beaten on price by generalists and those businesses who want to “get the cheapest price”. Unless the client really wants to work with me.
I specialise in Technical SEO and working with development teams on custom website builds. This means I’ve already excluded 80-90% of the market BUT a consultant like me 10% is more than enough.
I just need to attract those brands using marketing and my personal brand (see below).
However, money does take up headspace. As a specialist, you might have periods where you have nobody coming to you but don’t panic.
Instead, you could do more generalist project work to pay the bills but make sure to keep capacity open for those specialist projects.
Marketing and Personal Brand
Technically you will have two jobs. Your freelancing work and marketing a brand.
Despite many saying you don’t need to market yourself, I would argue it is imperative especially when you do freelancing.
Your marketing will attract like-minded people who find your work interesting. This will mean you might exclude certain types of businesses but that’s fine. Why would want to work with a business that doesn’t have the same mindset as you anyway?
I would highly recommend treating it as a job and dedicating time and energy to it. Block out time in your week to work on your website and personal brand.
It is easy not to do this. Trust me.
I’m lucky in that I seemed to have cultivated a brand by engaging people on Twitter for years around the subject I love (technical SEO, product management and search engine technology).
The age-old tips are the best:
- Create a website that reflects your work and the type of brands you want to attract, it is your shop window and makes sure to make time to improve it (mine sucks and I need to focus on this in 2022).
- Give away stuff for free BUT make sure people can link to it (I got my first two retained clients from speaking at BrightonSEO and pagination SEO guide).
- Post about your subject but give out practical and actionable advice.
- Speak at local and national conference events
I’d recommend reading Show your Work! as it has some great tips for attracting people you want to work with (as well as other tips for creators).
You don’t need to do this straight away but I recommend writing down a list of the things you will produce for clients. I call these frameworks (audits, KWR, URL Mapping, etc.) and then begin to create templates to reduce time spent producing these documents.
This does a couple of things:
- It will help you identify what the clients will actually get (deliverables)
- It will help you identify the value the client will get (a list of prioritised actions, keywords to help target, new URL structure, etc.)
- It will help you automate the work and do it faster in the future (reduce time on work but still charge the same rate so you have more time to focus on other things)
This will take time to create but I recommend thinking about this at the beginning so you can focus on developing these frameworks.
Saves you time in the future.
You’ll deal with ghosting A LOT when dealing with potential clients and other consultants. People are not going to reply to your messages, even after engaging you, it’s just something you get used to.
It isn’t anyone’s fault it’s just people are busy and are not going to have time to reply back.
I usually give people a week to respond then chase them once or twice, if they still don’t reply I leave it. Sometimes they reply back weeks or months later.
Ghosting is just something you get used to but don’t let it get you down. Just make a note to follow up and move on.
I highly recommend saving or capturing any resources you find useful.
It doesn’t matter if you bookmark them, push them to a Notion table or save them in a Google Sheet. Always save resources you found useful or want to go back and review.
It can make your life easier and can start to become your own library of inspiration.
Small habits add up but it can take time to build.
One of the things I have learned is that like house cleaning your small admin tasks can soon add up. Always make sure to review and “tidy up” your business folders, invoices and other admin tasks.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of time (30-60 mins) but make sure you do it. Nobody wants to end the year of hard work with a mountain of finance or business admin.
A great blog post by Toby Osbourn highlighted the importance of daily, weekly and quarterly habits.
All the tips and advice you hear around freelancing are generally true:
- Get an accountant.
- No really, get an accountant.
- Always make sure to have a contract signed before starting work.
- Don’t be flexible on price or how much time something takes (otherwise you will regret it).
- Always have a discovery call with clients to make sure they are a right fit.
- Saying no can mean you open yourself up to opportunities that you might want in the future.
- Burn out is real and you can make yourself ill, so go for walks to unwind and plan to take some time off.
- When you can afford it, invest in decent technology and tools to make your life easier.
- Do something manually make sure it works and then build a process around it.
Resources That Might Help
Below I have added some resources that have helped me over the last 12 months:
- 10 Steps to becoming a better freelancer by Tom Hirst
- Diary of a CEO
- Productivity tips from Ali Abdaal
- Show your Work!
- The Tao of No by 2Bobs Podcast
- SEO MBA
- Obviously Awesome
- 6 Rules for Persuasive Storytelling
- Learning as Investing: 7 Skills That Pay Off in Any Job
- Atomic Habits
- The SEO Freelancer Newsletter
Hopefully, these quick tips and lessons help anyone who is looking to make the jump to being an SEO freelancer.
Good luck and stay safe.