Archives for : January2018

FYI: Round Rock Premium Outlets hires new marketing director

In this role, Imbriale will work to create, develop and implement the overall strategic marketing direction of the shopping center to meet corporate and property business and marketing objectives. She is responsible for marketing initiatives and events, along with maintaining community, tenant and public …

3 AdWords features you’re probably underutilizing

Columnist Brett Middleton explores three commonly underused AdWords features that can have a big impact on performance: ad variations, Gmail ads and campaign experiments. The post 3 AdWords features you’re probably underutilizing appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Free Local SEO Tools That Belong in Your Kit

Posted by MiriamEllis

What a lot can change in just a few years! When I wrote the original version of this post in January 2014, the local SEO industry didn’t have quite the wealth of paid tools that now exists, and many of the freebies on my previous list have been sunsetted. Definitely time for a complete refresh of the most useful free tools, widgets, and resources I know of to make marketing local businesses easier and better.

While all of the tools below are free, note that some will require you to sign up for access. Others are limited, no-cost, or trial versions that let you get a good sense of what they provide, enabling you to consider whether it might be worth it to buy into paid access. One thing you may notice: my new list of local SEO tools offers increased support for organic SEO tasks, reflective of our industry’s growing understanding of how closely linked organic and local SEO have become.

Now, let’s open this toolkit and get 2018 off to a great start!


For Research

US Census Bureau Tool Set

Looking to better understand a target community for marketing purposes? You’ll find 20+ useful resources from the US Census Bureau, including population statistics, economic data, mapping and geocoding widgets, income and language information, and much more.

Client Onboarding Questionnaire & Phone Script

Onboarding a new client? Reduce repetitious follow-ups by asking all of the right questions the first time around with this thorough questionnaire and easy-to-follow phone call script from Moz. Includes helpful tips for why you are asking each question. As local SEO veterans will tell you, a missed question can lead to unhappy (and costly) surprises down the marketing road. Be sure you have the total picture of an incoming client in clear view before you begin strategizing.

Location Information Spreadsheet

Vital when marketing multi-location businesses, this free Moz spreadsheet will ensure that you’ve got all the info at your fingertips about each locale of a company.

*Pro tip: When working with large enterprises, be certain that the data you’re inputting in this spreadsheet has been approved by all relevant departments. It’s really no fun to find out six months into a marketing campaign that there’s internal disagreement about company NAP or other features.

Local Competitive Audit Spreadsheet

Now we’re really getting down to brass tacks. When you need to look for answers to the perennial client question, “Why is that guy outranking me?”, this free Moz spreadsheet will help you document key competitive data. The end result of filling out the sheet will be two columns of stats you can compare and contrast in your quest to discover competitors’ ranking strengths and weaknesses. Need more guidance? Read my blog post in which I put this audit spreadsheet into action for two San Francisco Bay Area Chinese restaurants.

Manual GeoLocation Chrome Extension

Watch Darren Shaw demo using this tool to show how a local pack changes when a user virtually crosses a street and you’ll quickly understand how useful this Chrome extension will be in approximating the impacts of user-to-business proximity. Works well on desktop devices.

Our industry still hasn’t fully recovered from Google removing the Local Search filter from its engine in 2015, and I still live in hope that they will bring it back one day, but in the meantime, this extension gives us a good sense of how searcher location affects search results. In fact, it may even be a superior solution.

The MozBar SEO Toolbar

Local businesses in competitive markets must master traditional SEO, and the free MozBar provides a wonderful introduction to the metrics you need to look at in analyzing the organic strengths and weaknesses of clients and competitors. On-page elements, link metrics, markup, HTTP status, optimization opportunities — get the data you need at a glance with the MozBar.

Google Advanced Search Operators

Not a tool, per se, but the best tutorial I have ever seen on using Google advanced search operators to deepen your research. Dr. Pete breaks this down into 67 steps that will enable you to use these search refinements for content and title research, checking for plagiarism, technical SEO audits, and competitive intelligence. Be totally wizardly and impress your clients and teammates, simply by knowing how to format searches in smart ways.

Google Search Console

Apologies if it already seems like a no-brainer to you that you should be signed up for Google’s console that gives you analytics, alerts you to serious errors, and so much more, but local SEO is just now crossing the threshold of understanding how deeply connected it is to organic search. When playing in Google’s backyard, GSC is a must-have for businesses of every type.

BrightLocal’s Search Results Checker

This popular tool does an excellent job of replicating local search results at a city or zip code level. In some cases, it’s best to search by city (for example, when there are multiple towns covered by a single zip code), but other times, it’s better search by zip code (as in the case of a large city with multiple zip codes). The tool doesn’t have the capability to recreate user-level results, so always remember that the proximity of a given user to a business may create quite different results than what you’ll see searching at a city or zip code level. I consider this a great tool to suss out the lay of the land in a community, identifying top competitors.

Offline Conversion Tracker Form

Give this handy Whitespark form to anyone who answers your phone so that they can document the answer to the important question, “How did you hear about us?” Submitted information is saved to Whitespark’s database and tracked in Google Analytics for your future reference and analysis. For local businesses, knowledge of offline factors can be priceless. This form provides a simple point of entry into amassing real-world data.


For Content

Answer the Public

One of the best-loved keyword research tools in the digital marketing world, Answer the Public lets you enter a keyword phrase and generate a large number of questions/topics related to your search. One of the most awesome facets of this tool is that it has a .CSV download feature — perfect for instantly generating large lists of keywords that you can input into something like Moz Keyword Explorer to begin the sorting process that turns up the most powerful keywords for your content dev and on-page optimization.

Buzzsumo

Another great content inspiration tool, Buzzsumo shows you lets you enter a keyword, topic or domain name, and then shows you which pieces are getting the most social shares. For example, a search for wholefoodsmarket.com shows that a highly shared piece of content at the time of my search is about an asparagus and broccoli soup. You can also sort by content type (articles, videos, infographics, etc.). Use of Buzzsumo can help you generate topics that might be popular if covered on your website.

OSHA Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System Search

Another interesting resource for brainstorming a wide pool of potential keywords for content dev consideration, OSHA’s SIC search returns big, comprehensive lists. Just look up your industry’s SIC code, and then enter it along with a keyword/category to get your list.

USPS Look Up a ZIP Code Widget

Working with service area businesses (SABs)? Note the second tab in the menu of this widget: Cities by zip code. When you know the zip code of a business you’re marketing you can enter it into this simple tool to get a list of every city in that zip. Now, let’s not take a wrong step here: don’t publish large blocks of zips or city names on any website, but do use this widget to be sure you know of all the communities for which an SAB might strategize content, link building, brand building, real-world relationship building, social media marketing, and PPC.


Schema/JSON-LD Generators

Rather than list a single tool here, I’m going to take the advice of my friend, schema expert David Deering, who has taught me that no one tool is perfect. In David’s opinion, there isn’t currently a schema/JSON-LD generator that does it all, which is why he continues to build this type of markup manually. That being said, if you’re new to Schema, these generators will get you started:


For Citations

Moz Check Listing

I can say without bias that I know of no free tool that does a better job of giving you a lightning-fast overview of the health of a local business’ listings. On the phone with a new prospect? Just plug in the name and zip and see how complete and accurate the company’s citations are on the sources that matter most, including the major local business data aggregators (Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, Localeze) plus key platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, YP, and more.

Literally at a glance, you can tell if inconsistencies and duplicate listings are holding a business back. It can also be used for competitive analysis, defining whether a clean or messy citation set is impacting competitors. The value of the free Check Listing tool becomes most fully realized by signing up for the paid Moz Local product, which automates aggregator-level listing management even at an enterprise level with hundreds or thousands of listings, and offers options for review monitoring, ranking analysis, and more.

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (free version)

The free version of this cool tool from our friends at Whitespark will give you a sense of how the paid version can help you discover additional places, beyond the basics, where you might want to get listed. It also analyzes your competitors’ citations.


For Reviews

The Hoth’s Online Business Review Checker Tool

You’ll have to sign up, but this free tool gives you an overview report of a local business’ reviews on a variety of platforms. This is a smart thing to do for every incoming client, to gauge reputation strengths and weaknesses. The state of a company’s reviews indicates whether it has an offline problem that needs to be corrected at a real-world structural level, or if its core challenge is a lack of strategy for simply earning a competitive number of positive reviews.

Free Review Monitoring

Need to know when a new review comes in on a major or industry-specific review site? Signing up for this free tool will send you email alerts so that you can respond quickly. Watch the little video and pay attention to its statement that the majority of unhappy customers will consider visiting a business again if it quickly resolves a complaint. Good to know!

Review Handout Generator

Another freebie from Whitespark in partnership with Phil Rozek, this very simple resource lets you enter some business info and generate a printable handout your public-facing staff can give to customers. Active review management has become a must in even moderately competitive geo-industries. How nice to have a physical asset to offer your customers to get more of those reviews rolling in!

Google Review Link Generator

Google’s local product has gone through so many iterations that finding a link to point consumers to when requesting a GMB review has been foolishly difficult at times. Whitespark helps out again, at least for brick-and-mortar businesses, with this easy widget that lets you enter your business info and generate a shareable link. Unfortunately, SABs or home-based businesses with hidden addresses can’t use this tool, but for other business models, this widget works really well.


For social

Notify

Whenever your business gets mentioned on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, Reddit, and a variety of other platforms, Notify uses Slack or HipChat to send you an alert. By being aware of important conversations taking place about your brand, and participating in them, your business can achieve an excellent status of responsiveness. Social media has become part of the customer service environment, so a tool like this comes in very handy.

Followerwonk

A free trial is available for this app which acts as serious analytics for Twitter. If Twitter is a favorite platform in your industry, definitely give this resource a spin. Understand the characteristics of your followers, find and connect with influencers, and use data to improve your outreach.

Character Count Online

I use this ultra-basic tool all of the time for three specific tasks. Some social platforms either have character limits and don’t always have counters, or (like Google Posts) truncate your social messaging so that only a limited snippet appear at the highest interface. Just plug in your text and see the character count.

And, of course, you’ll want a character counter to be sure your on-page title tags and meta descriptions read right in the SERPs.

My third use for this counter relates to content marketing. Most publications have character count parameters for the pieces they will accept. Here on the Moz Blog, we’re not into length limits, because we believe thorough coverage is the right coverage of important topics. But, when I’m invited to blog elsewhere, I have to rein myself in and be sure I haven’t galloped past that 800-character limit. If you’ve found that to be a problem, too, a character counter can keep you on-track as you write. Whoa, horsie!


So, what did I miss?

If you’re saying to yourself right now, “I can’t believe this totally awesome free local SEO tool I use every week isn’t included,” please share it with our community in the comments. One thing I know I’d love to find a free solution for would be a tool that does review sentiment analysis. Paid solutions exist for this, but I’ve yet to encounter a freebie.

My criteria for a great tool is that it makes work better, stronger, faster… or is that the intro to The Six Million Dollar Man? Well, Steve Austin had some amazing capabilities (and a cool 70s jogging suit, to boot!), and I’m hoping you’ll feel kitted up for success, too, with this list of free tools in the year ahead.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

What to Do When a New Potential SEO Client Contacts You

Posted by dohertyjf

Editor’s note: We originally published a different article by mistake due to an oversight and a valuable lesson in the dangers of copy-paste; you can see it live here. We truly apologize for the error.


If you’re an agency owner or solo consultant, you’re probably constantly thinking about getting new clients. And we’re inundated in this industry with too much advice around new marketing funnels, new marketing ideas, and “one weird tricks to 10x your traffic overnight.”

But something we don’t talk about enough is what you do when you actually convert that person into a real contact on your site.

I’m not talking about “a lead” here, because that word is used widely in our space and has come to mean everything and nothing at the same time. A lead could be an email address and it could be a long-form submission telling you everything about their needs, as well as their budget and their birth city.

What I’m talking about here is a marketing qualified lead (MQL) that you are going to turn into a sales qualified lead (SQL) so that you can turn them into a business qualified lead (aka a new client). (Note: I just made up business qualified lead, so don’t go around talking about BQLs. Or do, but credit me!).

Over the last two years I’ve helped a lot of businesses connect with great marketing providers through my company Credo, and through that I’ve been able to watch how agencies and consultants alike pitch work.

I see all sorts of strategies done to try to close a lead into a client, such as:

  • Send an intake survey to try to vet the lead more;
  • Send them a Calendly link to get them to schedule a call as soon as possible;
  • Send an initial proposal after the first call and then refine it with the client on the phone;
  • Send tracked proposals using a tool like DocSend so you can follow up depending on whether they’ve viewed it or not.

There are many more I’ve seen as well. Some work well, others don’t. This post isn’t going to dig into the various tactics you can use, as you should be testing those yourself.

What I care about is that you develop a sales strategy that sets a strong base and that you can build from into the future.

I also have a unique view on our industry, because I get to see what kind of sales process actually closes potential clients into actual clients. While you may be doing something that you think works really well, there’s a great chance that I know a better way.

And today, I’m going to give you a view into what I know closes clients, and the sales process that I use to close a high percentage of projects who want to work with me into clients.


What to do when a client contacts you

The first rule of sales in a service business like a consulting agency is that the earlier you reply to a prospective client, the more likely you are to close them into an actual client.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to educate businesses that they should speak with multiple agencies and get multiple proposals, to understand what each agency has to offer and be able to compare them in order to arrive at the right decision for their specific business.

And yet, time and time again I see the first agency to respond to be the one to close the project probably 70% of the time.

This can absolutely be a templated response, and tools like Gmail’s Canned Responses or templates within your CRM of choice can help. I personally use HubSpot’s and push form entries there via Zapier, but there are many different options out there; I’m sure you can find one that connects your form technology to your CRM.

In your response, you have to include these three points at minimum:

  1. Respond as quickly as possible and thank them for contacting you
  2. Acknowledge the project they say they’re interested in
  3. Schedule a time to chat on the phone as quickly as possible

As I said above, I’ve seen many agencies send an intake questionnaire that’s a page or two long before even getting on the phone with the potential client.

I advise against this simply because this slows down the process. Some clients that you would otherwise win will simply move on to another agency. You’re giving them work when really what you need to do is remove friction from their decision to choose you.

This initial contact is also not the place to tell them all of the brands you’ve helped and the results you’ve gotten. If they’re contacting you, they’re already interested. Don’t make them think.

You have one goal with your response: to get them to schedule a phone call with you.


What to learn on the first call

If you’ve followed my instructions above, you’re getting the client to schedule a call with you (when you’re available) as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to have them include their phone number, as well!

Schedule the call for 30 minutes so that you can:

  1. Get an understanding for their project, and
  2. Not invest too much time into them in case they’re not qualified enough.

As a side note, if you’re getting too many “leads” (may we all be so lucky) that are not qualified for your business and thus wasting you or your salesperson’s time, then you may want to look at adding some friction to your lead forms. More is not always better.

You should have an idea of who your best clients are and the kind of work they’ve hired you to do that you are best-in-class doing; you need to walk away from this first call at minimum knowing if they’re a good fit or not.

If they are a good fit, then you can move them forward in your sales process (usually a recap and another call).

You’ll also be able to use this process to qualify out the leads who on the surface seem to be a good fit because they were able and willing to successfully fill out your lead form, but when you dig deeper into their business and needs, you realize they’re not quite such a good fit. We’ll talk about this more in a minute.

On this initial phone call, you need to cover all of these points to determine whether you should pitch the work or not:

  1. What their business model is, so that you can understand if they’re profitable;
  2. The type of project they’re looking for, such as strategy or services or a combination thereof;
  3. Their internal team structure and their knowledge of the marketing channel they’re inquiring to you about;
  4. Whether the person you’re speaking with is the person who has final sign-off and budgetary control, or if they’ve been tasked with sourcing an agency but ultimately are not the decision maker;
  5. Their budget range;
  6. Their timetable for wanting to get started.

Thank them for their time and set their expectations about what you’ll do next and when they can expect to hear back from you.

Now your work really begins.


After the first call

Assuming the first call with your prospective client goes well, you’ll need a process to follow so that followups don’t fail and the process moves forward.

This part is important.

Right after the call, follow up with the person you spoke with via email to recap the call and reiterate your next steps.

First, thank them for their time. Regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to pitch the project, you should be grateful that they decided to speak with you and not someone else.

Second, recap what you discussed on the call. I like to take notes with my CRM (I use HubSpot, as mentioned above) and then use those to write the recap. A CRM should integrate with your email system and allow you to email the prospect from directly within it so that you don’t have to move between your CRM and your email client.

Here’s a templated response that I use when replying to someone after our initial call:

Hi FNAME,

Thank you for the conversation today! I enjoyed learning more about your business and how we can potentially help.

As we discussed, COMPANY is looking for TYPE OF PROJECT. (recap the project here)

As I mentioned on the call, my next step is to spend some time reviewing your site and your project to determine if it is the right fit for me as well. I will follow up with you within 48 hours (NOTE: THIS CAN CHANGE IF YOU CHATTED ON FRIDAY, IN WHICH CASE SAY END OF DAY ON MONDAY) with my findings and where I think I can add value to your business. In the case that your project is not the right fit for me, I can suggest some other people you should speak with.

Thanks FNAME, and you will hear from me soon!

John

Now you can review their project and website metrics to see where you can add value, and if it’s a project that can be successful within the budget they have outlined for you.

Then, decide if you should pitch for the project or refer them elsewhere.


Deciding whether to pitch the work

Sales is all about determining who the right prospects are and are not, then optimizing your time to focus on the clients you want to sign — not on the ones that are a poor fit for your business.

Hopefully you know who your ideal customer is, in terms of budget but also the type of work they need (strategy, services, or some combination thereof) as well as the marketing channel(s). Once you know who your ideal customer is (and is not), you’ll have a much easier time determining whether or not you should pitch the work.

In my experience with seeing over a thousand projects introduced to marketing providers, the six factors mentioned in the “What to learn on the first call” section are the ones that reliably help you understand whether you should pitch the work or not.

Some of the factors to avoid are:

  1. Unrealistic expectations or timelines
  2. No or low budget
  3. No resources to get things done
  4. Their last four agencies haven’t worked out
  5. Going out of business “unless they get help”

I love that so many in the SEO industry are helpful and genuinely good people who want to help others, but if you start taking on clients that can’t pay you what you need to operate a profitable business or have had issues with many other agencies, then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard an agency say that they “pitched the work, but set the budget high” I’d be financially independent and retired to a mountain town in Switzerland by now.

Hear me loud and clear here:

You do not have to pitch every project that falls into your lap.

If the project doesn’t meet your minimum project budget, the type of client you can get outsized returns for, or is not within your core competency (your zone of genius), then you should not pitch the project.

Let me explain why.

If a client is below your minimum project threshold and you pitch them, you’ve wasted two people’s time. You’ve wasted your time by creating a proposal and potential project plan, and you’ve wasted their time because they took time out of their day to review something that they’ll never sign off on.

Second, if they negotiate back to try to get the budget lower, you’re going to spend your time to get a project that is smaller than what they ideally need and can afford. You’re literally spending time to make less money, when you could take that time to pitch and negotiate with someone who can easily afford your services.

Should you sign the project that is smaller than or right at your minimum while at the same time being at very top end of their budget, you can rest assured that this client will take up more time than they’re paying for because they feel pressure to make it work quickly. Unless you set expectations explicitly and are very good at saying no to requests for work that are outside of the scope of what they’re paying for, this project will quickly snowball and take up too much time, thus putting it in the red.

Don’t pitch a project that’s very likely to go into the red budget-wise. That is Business 101, and you will regret it. I promise.


Conclusion

I hope this post has been helpful to you in learning what to do when a new potential consulting client first contacts you or your agency.

First, speed is of the essence. While we want to believe that the best pitch will ultimately win the business, experience tells us that it is most often the first person to respond who actually gets to pitch and sign the business.

Second, get the potential client on the phone as quickly as possible. Don’t rely on email, as you can gain way more information on a 30-minute call than in a string of emails. People are busy and you don’t want to create more friction for them. Get them on the phone.

Third, you need to send a followup email within a few hours of the phone call where you thank them for their time, recap what you discussed, and set their expectations for what your next steps are and when they’ll hear from you again. Feel free to use my template and adjust it for your specific needs.

Fourth, decide if you want to pitch the project. Don’t pitch projects that are too small, outside your/your agency’s zone of genius, where what you have to offer is not their highest leverage option, or where they’re not set up internally to make the project successful. Your project will not succeed if any of these are true.

I am also writing an ebook, hopefully out in Q1 2018, about everything I’ve learned seeing over 1,100 projects come through Credo. If you’re interested to hear when it launches, sign up.

I’d love to hear your comments below and interact with you around better sales for digital marketing consulting work!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Connor joins Mannix Marketing

GLENS FALLS — Alexis Connor recently joined Mannix Marketing Inc. as a digital marketing and SEO strategist. Connor will provide clients with search engine optimization, pay-per-click campaign management and social media marketing strategies. She has five years of professional advertising …

Bizarre review schema implementation spotlights gaps between Google’s guidelines & how rich results really work

Google has made its review markup guidelines fairly clear and has even issued penalties to sites that utilize spammy or misleading structured data markup. But columnist Andrew Shotland points out that many sites are still violating these guidelines, intentionally or unintentionally. The post…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

WordPress 4.9.2 Security and Maintenance Release

WordPress 4.9.2 is now available. This is a security and maintenance release for all versions since WordPress 3.7. We strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.

An XSS vulnerability was discovered in the Flash fallback files in MediaElement, a library that is included with WordPress. Because the Flash files are no longer needed for most use cases, they have been removed from WordPress.

MediaElement has released a new version that contains a fix for the bug, and a WordPress plugin containing the fixed files is available in the plugin repository.

Thank you to the reporters of this issue for practicing responsible security disclosureEnguerran Gillier and Widiz.

21 other bugs were fixed in WordPress 4.9.2. Particularly of note were:

  • JavaScript errors that prevented saving posts in Firefox have been fixed.
  • The previous taxonomy-agnostic behavior of get_category_link() and category_description() was restored.
  • Switching themes will now attempt to restore previous widget assignments, even when there are no sidebars to map.

The Codex has more information about all of the issues fixed in 4.9.2, if you'd like to learn more.

Download WordPress 4.9.2 or venture over to Dashboard → Updates and click "Update Now." Sites that support automatic background updates are already beginning to update automatically.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to WordPress 4.9.2:

0x6f0, Aaron Jorbin, Andrea Fercia, Andrew Duthie, Andrew Ozz, Blobfolio, Boone Gorges, Caleb Burks, Carolina Nymark, chasewg, Chetan Prajapati, Dion Hulse, Hardik Amipara, ionvv, Jason Caldwell, Jeffrey Paul, Jeremy Felt, Joe McGill, johnschulz, Juhi Patel, Konstantin Obenland, Mark Jaquith, Nilambar Sharma, Peter Wilson, Rachel Baker, Rinku Y, Sergey Biryukov, and Weston Ruter.

Reflecting on a Momentous Year, Local Firm Positioned to Expand

Gibson Sotheby's International Realty's in-house marketing team, led by Marketing Director, Greg Clarke, provides support through a series of programs that create customized marketing plans and material to maximize each property's exposure on a local and global level. In addition to a number of …

Katy Jurado Google doodle marks 94th birthday of film star from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jurado won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award for her role in the 1952 Hollywood classic “High Noon.” The post Katy Jurado Google doodle marks 94th birthday of film star from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

How to Get New Clients at Every Stage of Your Business

Posted by dohertyjf

I remember when I first went out on my own to build my business. Because I planned to bootstrap the product into existence, I needed to pick up some consulting work to cover my own bills before I felt comfortable taking time to build my product.

I had a sizable group of peers that I contacted to let them know that I was no longer with my last company and was looking to bring on a few new clients. Within a week, I had to stop taking introductions because I was so busy! If you’re a brand-new freelance consultant, this post has some goodies for you.

I have other friends who are purposefully freelance consultants with no current plans to scale beyond it. In fact, they’ve resisted these opportunities because they enjoy what they’re doing so much, and are able to charge a premium for it. This post will help you out.

Some of my friends are at a different stage. They’ve worked for themselves for 3–4 years or longer now and are growing an agency beyond themselves and their own skillset. Along the way, of course, they’re figuring out the challenges of growing headcount and types/sizes of clients while they themselves learn to level up as a CEO, as a manager, and as a sales executive, since agency founders are often the salespeople for the first few years of their company’s existence. The client acquisition strategies change. This post is also for you.

And finally, agencies often decide that they are ready to expand beyond their main core offering and offer tangential services that they are either being asked for actively or where they perceive an opportunity exists. Since they already have a functional and maybe even (wildly) profitable services business, how can they justify taking time away from that to build out a new service offering? The mindset and strategies change once again. We’ll get into some of those.

Building a service-based business is hard

Over the last two years, I’ve worked with over 150 agencies and have seen over 800 businesses (it’s probably closer to 1,000 at this point) looking to hire an agency or consultant. I’ve also worked in-house, as a solo consultant, and for a quickly growing boutique digital agency.

After the experiences I’ve had seeing everyone — from new scared-out-of-their-wits solo consultants all the way to long-established agencies looking to grow their practice — I decided to take a step back and reflect on the strategies I’ve seen both work and not work for consulting entities at different stages of growth.

That’s what we’ll cover today. If you’re a new consultant, an agency looking to level up the size of your accounts, or an agency looking to move into new service offerings, you’ll find something in this post for you.

Along the way, you’ll hear from consultants and agency owners at different stages of their business and what they did to get to where they are currently. After all, war stories are way more fun than “here are x steps you can follow to also be amazing” anecdotes.


New consultants

Tell me if you’ve seen this happen before: a friend is tired of their job, gets laid off, or otherwise finds themselves unemployed. They decide that they’re going to give freelance consulting a go.

Three months later, they’ve taken a new job at a new agency and are repeating the cycle they went through before.

Screenshot 2017-06-28 10.38.26.png

Sound familiar? If you’re in the digital marketing consulting world, you likely know at least a few, if not closer to a dozen people where this has held true.

I’m not going to say that everyone goes back to traditional employment because they’re having a difficult time getting new clients, but this is far and away the largest reason I see. They get a few months in, they have too few clients paying them too little, and so they panic and go take a job doing what is comfortable. They’ll repeat the cycle in a few years again.

I get it. The beginning of working for yourself can be terrifying. I’ve been there. Saw a therapist, got the t-shirt, am I right?

What if I told you that you could avoid this if you really want to? That you could use some proven techniques to get new clients that pay you what you’re worth?

Overcoming common “new consultant” fears with strategic thinking

You’ll hear entrepreneurs who have built and sold their companies (sometimes multiple times) tell you to take a “burn the ships” approach, where you set off and don’t give yourself a time limit or an out if you can’t make it work.

The problem with this is that it’s a fallacy brought about by survivorship bias — defined as “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” Often these entrepreneurs look back and talk about how they could have done it, or how they did it for their second or third business once they’d already made quite a bit of money.

Quite simply, if you want to set yourself up for success, you should already have replaced (or have a clear path to replacing) your income from your day job before you even go out on your own.

You can do this by picking up freelance work on the side from your day job. Get one or two clients that pay you every month and learn how to manage those. Learn what it takes to retain these clients and even grow the accounts.

Next, figure out the minimum amount of money you need to make every month while only working the number of hours you want to work before you take the leap. If you have two clients, you can probably get two more pretty easily. If you spend 10 hours a week on these two clients and only want to bill 30 hours per week (which is actually quite a lot), then you know you can bring on four more clients at the same level (and fewer clients if they pay you more) and have the lifestyle and income you want.

It’s simple math.

The “new consultant” sales mindset

Clients come to solo consultants instead of agencies for a very specific reason. They want direct access to your specific brain and to be able to speak with the person actually doing the work. In fact, I’ve seen many companies come through Credo who need multiple services (not just strategy) across organic and paid, but they don’t want an account manager setup like they’ve had before with an agency.

This, plus your experience, is your competitive moat. During the initial discovery call with every potential client, don’t forget that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You need to learn:

  • What they are specifically looking to accomplish through retaining someone’s services;
  • What their expectations are for how quickly they will see this;
  • If they have resources to get done what you recommend, or if you have time to implement what they need;
  • Whether they’re willing to pay you what you are worth.

Assuming all of these check out, then in my opinion, you’re good to move forward with the proposal process.

A quick word on pricing

If you’ve never worked for an agency before, you should ask agency friends or other freelance friends what they charge per hour, then use that as a benchmark. If you want to raise your rates, then do it slowly with new clients until you hit a ceiling. Now you know your price ceiling for the current services (whether strategy, implementation, or both) you offer.

New client acquisition channels

Now that we have the common fears identified and you’re armed with a better sales mindset, let’s explore the strategies you should leverage first to build your consulting practice to a base where it sustains your lifestyle and you’re able to remove the stress of starting from the equation and eventually think about growth.

The strategies I always counsel brand new solo consultants to use are:

  • Referrals – Ask your circle of professional peers if they know anyone looking for what you have to offer;
  • Referrals – Ask your friends and family if they know anyone that might need what you’re offering;
  • Agency white label – Approach agencies in your area to see if they need help on a contract basis with their clients;
  • Teaching – This is a longer-term play, but a great way to get clients in the long run is to teach others how to do what you do. I’ve seen it hold true that if you teach people how to do what you do, they’ll want to hire you to do it for them.

These are the easiest and most direct ways to get introductions to potential clients who are highly likely to close into clients.

Long-term this does not scale, but it can get you to the point of covering your expenses, allowing you to breathe a little bit and invest for the future. And if you’re smart about it and haven’t signed yourself up for 60+ hours per week of billed work, you can have a great life balance.

To give some real-world examples, I reached out to two of my friends who became solo consultants in 2013/2014.

First is Tom Critchlow, who went solo in late 2014 after two years at Google New York. When asked how he got his first consulting clients, Tom said that his first leads came from direct referrals from a friend:

“Since that first lead I’ve gotten about 80% of my clients through referrals from my direct network,” he shared. “I’d definitely emphasize the importance of a strong network and ensuring that you’re communicating with your network often to keep them up-to-date with what work you’re doing.”

Next I chatted with Michael King, who has since built his agency iPullRank into an industry powerhouse, and asked him how he got his first clients when he left the NYC agencies he worked for. To get his first, he shared that thought leadership played a huge role:

“My first two clients came through two different methods of thought leadership. One came via a post I’d written for Moz about content strategy, and the other came from a panel I spoke on. Overnight, I went from 0 to 10.5K MRR.”


Solo consultants happy staying solo

If this is you, then congratulations. In my mind, you’re finding nirvana in a lot of ways.

Solo consultants with more years of direct consulting experience are able to charge good hourly rates and monthly minimums from clients, according to my data.

solo consultant pricing.png

Once a consultant has survived the initial push to get new clients, the journey is far from over. In fact, many solo consultants have come up against this and gone through droughts where they were between projects.

This brings up the question: How can solo consultants, who can only realistically bring on a limited number of clients before they become too numerous, keep a strong potential client pipeline?

Define your niche and build processes

The answer is usually to tightly define your niche and then, depending on your niche, to build processes to deliver high quality work.

High-touch strategic consulting does not scale. It also does not have to scale if you charge a high hourly rate ($300/hr for strategic consulting that drives large revenue increases is not crazy, and may even be too low), in which case you can work with just a few clients and still create a great income for yourself.

When you’ve defined your niche, whether affiliate marketing driven by content or local SEO for realtors, then you put together the strategy to reach them.

This should go without saying, but if you’re asking how to define your niche, then you aren’t ready to be a highly paid solo consultant yet. Hone your craft and discover who you love to do work for, then go serve those customers on your own.

Once your niche is defined, you can focus on that group.

Targeting your ideal audience

As mentioned above, the toughest part of being and staying a solo consultant is managing your workload and saying “no” or “not yet” to potential clients, while at the same time protecting your downside should a client decide to stop your services for any reason, whether your fault or because of internal actions.

The best solo consultants that I know, who also have a strong pipeline of potential clients, have built this through:

  1. Content. They produce content related to their target market’s problems and thus become a thought leader in that niche. This will often lead to recurring columns in industry publications.
  2. A strong referral network. They know the who’s who of their niche and are their go-to when someone needs the consultant’s specific skillset.
  3. Speaking. Getting a one-off or set of speaking engagements in front of your target audience often directly drives potential clients and cements you as an expert in their minds.

The goal is to build your own name as an expert so that you consistently have potential customers approaching you to see if you can work with them, while also knowing your limits and when you may next have available time.

The goal isn’t to magically be able to get new inquiries when you need them (though this may happen if you’ve built this system), but to be able to go back to a group of people who have already inquired about your services and tell them that you have some availability. A pro move is also to ask if they know anyone who may need your services, as well.

Creating processes

Not every consultant desires working with large clients who each pay the equivalent of a full-time salary. Some consultants prefer working with smaller clients, mostly small or local businesses, because of the unique challenges that these clients face.

In this case, the challenge is to work out how you scale quantity without sacrificing quality or client retention. There are many ways to do this:

  • Find an agency or group of consultants you trust that you can outsource certain parts of the project to;
  • Leverage technologies like HubSpot, Moz, or others that allow you to automate a lot of the work;
  • Use tools like HubSpot, Calendly, UberConference, or others to help scale scheduling and admin parts of the business;
  • Use virtual assistants, bookkeeping services like Bench, and payroll services like Gusto to alleviate a lot of the business operations so you have more time to work for clients.

As Francois Marcil of Ehook.co shared:

When you have over 10 clients, the time spent attending meetings is the biggest obstacle to serving all your clients well. For this reason, I reserve 2 days of the week for meetings and 3 days for work. The rule is strict, and I inform my clients from the start.”

When a solo consultant sets up these processes, it not only makes their life a lot easier and their clients happier (which leads to better retention, which leads to a healthier business), but it also sets them up for success should they decide later that they want to start an agency. In this case, their processes of both acquiring and managing new clients will let them generate the cash flow needed to make the leap to employing someone full time.


Agencies leveling up

Some business owners don’t feel the need to constantly push and grow their business. They’re bootstrapped, their business affords them and their employees a great lifestyle, and they have no desire to take on more responsibility with their business. If this is you, then I’m a bit envious and encourage you to enjoy it.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re never happy with maintaining. You always want to be growing, to be learning, to push yourself and your business to see what it’s capable of. If you’re on this course, then keep reading.

Your strategies have to change a bit when you go from being a solo consultant to growing your agency. A lot of your processes are going to break or need tweaking as you grow the number of people working on accounts. Your challenge now becomes managing the growth of your headcount while maintaining quality and bringing in great new clients at the same time.

This is likely way too much for one person to handle, so at some point you’ll be forced to decide what you are great at (and love doing) that is also instrumental to the business’s success. Then hire out for the rest.

Let’s focus on the sales part, of course.

At the beginning of your journey as a brand-new consultant, you were likely heavily dependent on one-off referrals from family and friends. But referrals don’t really scale.

As you’re looking to grow your business quickly, your channels have likely shifted to:

  • Speaking. If you have a dynamic founder who is a keynote-level (or heading in that direction) speaker, this can be great lead generation;
  • Strategic partnerships with investors or other agencies;
  • Your own search traffic and thought leadership on your own website;
  • Your own advertising of your services online.

You’re facing the unique challenge of increasing the quantity of potential clients contacting you while not sacrificing quality. While difficult, this is absolutely possible. You can grow your revenue by:

  1. Targeting new clients who have similar traits to your existing ideal clients;
  2. Growing accounts by upselling your existing clients to other services you offer that they need;
  3. Defining a specific niche or type of company where you get outsized returns, and then target them specifically through content, speaking, education, or both.

Sales changes as you grow. You’re looking for long-term sustainable clients as it is four to ten times cheaper to retain and grow your current clients than to get new clients (source). If you’re investing in landing new clients, you should not also have to worry about retaining your current clients. If you are, then you are simply refilling a leaky bucket and you will not grow.

Michael King of iPullRank is no stranger to the challenges that agency founders face as they grow, but he’s successfully transitioned from solo consultant to now managing seven figures in agency income. So what does he do differently?

“The difference is really that it’s far more dire,” he shared. “The maintenance of payroll becomes the battery in your back to have to just figure it out. Whereas when you’re by yourself and you have a low month or you lose a client, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Johnathan Dane of KlientBoost credits lessons he’s learned about sales along the way in growing KlientBoost from himself to $4M in revenue in just a few years:

“We’ve been very fortunate to have 99% of our sales come from our content, and when that happens, our sales cycle is drastically reduced because the potential client already likes us and has found value from what we’ve given them,” he said. “So even 2.5 years in, I still handle the inbound sales — which I know isn’t scalable — but you gotta allow yourself to still have some fun.”

I should also note that at this point, you should have someone dedicated to sales and onboarding new clients full-time. This can be filled by the founder if the founder is stellar at sales, but most often I see this role being given to a dedicated sales executive who hopefully also has marketing experience, or has proven their aptitude for learning and applying it so they sell the right work.


Agencies moving into new service offerings

At some point, you may max out your growth in your current niche and with your current offerings. At the same time, you want to continue growing but don’t have the option of increasing client budgets. Or, maybe a new platform emerges (think: Snapchat) that has the opportunity to be big and you want to be an early mover in helping your clients get exposure.

But moving into new niches is hard when you’ve established yourself in another service offering and that’s how you’re known. Every agency has a primary service offering, so how do you move into new niches?

There are two main ways:

  1. Think of this new service offering as a startup in and of itself. It is responsible for its own profit and loss (P&L), as well as landing its own new clients;
  2. Upsell your current clients into this new offering as well.

This is hard. Brandon Doyle of Wallaroo Media, who went from being a generic SEO agency to leading the way in travel marketing and Snapchat from their offices in Provo, Utah, knows this firsthand:

With a background in SEO, we strongly believed in its ability as a channel,” he shared. “We utilized SEO and evergreen content to carve out a name for ourselves both in the travel space, and more recently as a leader in Snapchat-related content, strategies, and news. The latter paid off, as we were just recently named an official Snapchat Agency Partner!”

Will Critchlow, CEO of digital marketing agency Distilled (full disclosure: I used to work for Distilled), also knows a thing or two about moving into an adjacent vertical. The agency recently become recognized for not only SEO, but creative content and outreach services, too:

“All our moves have come from the passion of the team,” shared Will. “Team members saw an opportunity, started doing part of the solution, and pitched the rest.”

Finally, your marketing will change as you seek traction in this new vertical. The topics you write about, the people you reference, the outreach you do, and the places you choose to interact will necessarily change.

This is specifically why I recommend tasking someone specifically with building out this new area. At Wallaroo, this was Brandon. At Distilled, this was Mark Johnstone who was previously an SEO consultant who had an interest in big creative content and Tom Anthony with an interest in technical A/B testing for SEO.


Conclusion

Consistently generating new potential projects at every cycle of your business’s growth is the best skill you can learn as a services business owner.

Leave a comment about the channels you’ve found to be the most effective!

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