New to SEO: How I Got My Very First Client and How You Can Too
I clearly remember the day me and my business partner started PlacementSEO. The days of telling ourselves that a “X” amount of customers paying 500.00 per month would allow us to pay ourselves an actual self sustaining salary. Does that style of thinking seem familiar? Generating more than half a million dollars in revenue our first year in business it’s always fun to take a moment to reflect on how me and Gary made it this far with our agency, and how we continue to grow quickly to this day.
Looking back and reflecting on our success is what has inspired me to write this post as I want to share with those of you who are getting started in the SEO business how to work towards landing your first client at a decent monthly retainer. That’s right, a retainer. For those of you who have little to no experience in running your own SEO agency I want to offer you hope, hope that you CAN get clients on a monthly contract retainer at a price much more than just a few hundred bucks per month. In this blog post, I’m going to tell you exactly how we did it at PlacementSEO, which lead to retainers that continue to pay in tens of thousands of dollars per month.
First things first, before you even break ground on a new agency website, you need to consider which verticals you plan on tackling. For those of you unaware with the term, “Vertical”, its a word used to describe the niche or industry you are pursing as a SEO. Example verticals are as follows:
- Law Marketing (Usually a great payout but very competitive)
- Dental Marketing (Usually a great payout but also competitive)
- Physicians and Practitioners
- Marijuana & Cannabis
- Small Business SEO in general
In my opinion, its great to specialize in a vertical and then branch off into something new, possibly using an entirely new website. Did you know that PlacementSEO actually has several websites targeted at different industries? This is an excellent way to establish yourself as an authority within a particular market.
Fun Fact: Did you know that my business partner established a industry specific website for less than 300.00 and as soon as the site went live he made $10,000+ in revenue the first week? Seriously, branch of verticals work like a beast.
Finding Your First Qualified Lead
By qualified I mean finding a client that can afford to pay at least $1,000 per month. Long gone should the days be where SEOs are struggling to find and maintain accounts that barely pay $450.00 and walk away from your agency after the first month. The bad news: The lead generating method I’m about to share with you will take some foot work up front. The Good News: This method is 100% free to use, and it will generate literally hundreds of leads per day that are sent straight to you inbox, free of charge.
– Craigslist: a SEO Lead Generating Mad House
What, Craigslist? Yeah, Craigslist. As weird as it is to hear someone say “Craigslist serves as a great tool”, its factually proven to be true. In fact, you can view a video where Daryl and I are discussing how Placement SEO scored its very first client ever, at a whopping $20,000 per month retainer, and they pay this amount every single month. Long story short, using IFTTT, me and Gary were able to create a handful of recipes that scraped predetermined Craigslist locations for new gigs that contained particular keywords (more on that here). For example, we created recipes using IFTTT that scraped gigs in the following cities:
- New York City
- Philadelphia PA
- Detroit MI
- Houston Texas
- Charlotte NC
This is a short list of about 100 different locations we put together, however this will give you an idea. Whenever someone posted any gig with a specific keyword in the title, IFTTT would email me and Gary immediately, allowing us to determine if the lead was qualified or not. The keywords we used were:
- Online Marketing
- Online Sales
- Google Rankings
- Search Engines
- Google Search
Once IFTTT began generating leads, me and Gary had to decide how to determine whether or not a lead was qualified or not. Although IFTTT works really well for scraping leads, I still consider this method far from perfect. Sometimes you will find that you get spam returns from IFTTT, however don’t give up, you’ll find that golden nugget. We determined that a qualify met at least a couple of these standards:
- The Craigslist gig had a good description, meaning, at least 500 words.
- The Craigslist gig had a link to a real website needing SEO.
- The Craigslist gig posted the users first name and business contact information.
- The Craigslist gig had enough information that you could find the company without having to directly email the original poster.
Alternatively, Try This Free Lead Landing Method:
Truth be told, there are many ways to generate leads for free, however, I always turn to IFTTT and Craigslist as a starting point, especially for those of you who are just starting out as a SEO and have little to no funds to invest into marketing yourself using premium tools or services. Before we move on however, I recommend checking out this article that serves as an amazing alternative to finding leads for free if IFTTT cramps your style.
You’ve a Hot Lead on Your Hands, Now What?
Your hearts racing, hands sweaty, anxiety out of the roof, you’ve got a hot lead and now you are asking yourself, “What do I do now?”. Collecting your first lead can be exciting, however, confronting the lead and closing it can be extremely intimidating. Lets checkout a funnel that I regularly use (even for six figure accounts) to close a lead into a sale, and more importantly, a monthly retainer.
- Cold Email potential client after using my craigslist leads method or email outreach strategy.
- Client responds – setting a meeting via phone or Skype.
- Followup with Website Audit and Proposal
- Collecting Payment
Simple enough, I have a four step funnel that my agency personally uses and can say that it has helped our team amass more than a half million USD of revenue in our first business alone. Taking a step further, I want to break these funnel steps down so that you have a better understanding of what to aim for when working the funnel yourself.
Step 1: Setting Up the Perfect Cold Email
How many times do I have to mention my email marketing strategy article in order to get you to look at it? For real, if you’ve got a handful of emails to send, my article will prove to be a God send, so read it. You need to come up with an email email template (script) that you can use when cold emailing potential clients and leads. Fortunately for you, I’ve added a hand full of templates that you can download right now. These very scripts are exact copies that we’ve used to generate powerhouse clients and will hopefully do the same for you.
Download Three Proposal Templates and Email Scripts For Free
If you are following my email marketing strategy article, you should be good to go when it comes to tracking. Yet Another Mail Merge not only shoots emails out for you in bulk, it also displays the open rates, clicks, bounces, and unopened messages. Yet Another Mail Merge (YMM) is a freemium tool, meaning, you can send up to 150 emails per day before it forces you to pay for a yearly subscription which is still very cheap. Here is a full Youtube video I made using Hunter.io and YMM which explains how to use the Google sheets addon perfectly.
Step 2: Lead Asks to Setup a Meeting
Moving forward, assuming you are using a great email template, your lead responds and asks to meet with you over Skype or telephone. (or even better, in person if this is a local lead). Here is what you SHOULD NOT DO. “Do not, under any circumstances tell the new lead WHEN you can or cannot meet about their SEO needs.” You read that right, let me explain.
Potential clients and current clients alike treasure the feeling of being in control. Control leads to comfort which then leads to a solid sale. Instead of telling the potential client the times you can meet, you need to focus more on allowing the potential client the chance to tell YOU what time THEY can meet.
The number one tool for allowing this? Good ‘Ole Calendy.com
Calendy.com is awesome because it allows leads to schedule meetings with you directly, thus giving the lead two favorable things. Thing 1: The ability to work you into their own busy routines. Thing 2: This tells your lead that YOU have all the time in the world for them, thus making you look really good.
Further, you can even add Calendy to your email signature, letting cold email recipients click on your Calendy link which then allows them to request a consultation from you. Checkout the image below.
Using or Calendy or not, there are many other great (streamlined) ways to accept appointments while leaving your lead in control. Aside from setting the meeting time over a telephone call or email, how do you prefer to set time aside for new clients? Let me know in the comments below.
Step 3: Meeting in Person, Audit, Proposals
Meeting in person or meeting over a Skype video call, please do yourself a favor and dress appropriately. Honestly, I am a man against suites though I like to wear them when it’s reasonable to do so. However, wear a nice pair of blue jeans, nice shoes and a collar shirt or button down, show the potential client you are not some kid living in the corner of the woods everyone is afraid to walk through.
My number one rule when meeting one on one with potential clients: Show the prospect their website, in person, on your computer. Performing a personal audit with the potential client is an extremely effective method to closing a lead. I have personally learned that going over website details in person with the prospect client increases chances of closure by more than 60% compared to emailing them a video or PDF site audit. Don’t get me wrong, video and PDF audits work also, but an in person audit makes things that much more personal.
“But John, what if the client is remote and this is an online sale?” Great question and I hear it all the time. In fact, 99.9% of my personal selling is accomplished online with clients who live at LEAST 300 miles away. With that said, I STILL accomplish personal audits with prospect clients. I’m able to accomplish this by using two tools.
In most cases, when a lead calls me, or I call the lead, chances are they are close by a computer which allows me to email them a link to my Join.me session. For those of you unfamiliar, Join.me allows a remote client the chance to view your screen, for free. While the lead is viewing your screen you can share with them data from Ahrefs.com which gives you a complete breakdown of their link profiles, keywords they are or are not ranking for, search volumes, keyword rank difficulty, and so much more.
If by chance you cannot afford an Ahrefs subscription you are still in luck. There are many gigs on Fiverr, People Per Hour, Konker.io to name a few marketplaces that offer very reasonable rates for pulling full backlink and keyword reports. Here is one from Fiverr that costs five bucks, something worth investing in before your big meeting. All you need to do then is format the excel sheet you get so that its readable by your prospect client. You need to be doing this. Most clients are visually driven when they can SEE the improvements you can make to their website and online presence.
Key subjects to cover throughout your one on one audit:
- Checking to see if the clients site is mobile responsive.
- Explaining what a backlink profile is and determining whether the client is over optimized and more importantly how you can fix it.
- Working through current keywords the client is ranked for and what levels of search volume each keyword approximately gets.
- Working through keywords the client could improve on, and approximate how ranking for new keywords could positively affect their business.
- A step by step action plan that you will follow which will provide your client an acceptable KPI – (Key Performance Indicator).
Arguably, there are many other points you can cover with your prospect client, however, these are my minimum requirement suggestions that you should never leave out of your pitch. Depending on the amount of knowledge your prospect client has of “SEO”, it might be better to keep to the top five points. However, if you feel they may be more educated concerning online marketing, I encourage you to include more in depth information when performing your personal SEO audit.
Presenting Your PFS Proposal
PFS? Price for Services. Once you have taken the time to work through your personal website audit with the prospect client, the client should be able to visually see the value and ROI potential of hiring you to perform their website SEO and marketing. When you take time to brainstorm pricing for a client (something you should have done well in advance of your meeting), there are a couple of considerations to make.
- What industry is your potential client currently operating in? Is it dental, law, automotive, B2B, floral, consumer services? By determining the industry your client targets you should be able to estimate the value of a lead pertaining to that specific industry. For instance, Dental leads are likely worth a LOT more money than someone asking for information relating to a flower purchase. If you we’re meeting with a potential dental client, there’s (in my opinion) absolutely no reason they could not afford to pay at least 1,000 USD per month. How much money do you think a dental office makes per appointment after charging the patient and their insurance? FYI, its going to be more than 500.00 profit PER appointment. Take a law firm into account. How much do you think a lawyer makes from one settlement? Did you know lawyers can pay up to 200.00 per QUALIFIED lead? These are the reasons why you need to identify a clients target market and how much money is generated in that particular market itself.
- Does the client operate a seasonal business? I always avoid working with clients that are seasonal, and for good reason. For one, if a client only sells their product or services during the summer season that means all of their summer revenue needs to carry them throughout their off season, thus leaving less money to spend on your services. Even further, during the off season the client will likely cancel their SEO marketing with you, thus falling behind and losing any progress you may have made during the summer season. Forwardly put, it’s not worth it and its likely they will not be able to afford a $1,000 per month retainer. You might say “John, money is money, and if a client only pays for three months out of an entire year, it’s still worth it.” Your Right: But, it could backfire on you in a way you wouldn’t think. Let’s say you perform your SEO services for three months and you are leveraging great results for your client. Then, off season comes around and the client drops your services for seven months and their SEO falls behind. The client could come back saying they need you again, OR, they could say, “Well if your SEO was good, it would have stayed put and not fallen behind”. Trust me, clients are naive enough to say something like this, and it will put you in an awkward spot.
- How well are the clients competitors ranking? If you are working on a local lead this is pretty easy to work on. Simply identify the clients competitors and identify how well they are ranking. By doing this, you will allow yourself the chance to build a visual game plan that explains how you intend to help your clients beat their competitor online. Always remember that clients are usually visual learners, so presenting them a visual of competitor rankings could be a massive tool to leverage when closing the deal.
- How much is your time worth? I see SEO’s fail all the time because they run their business on the “Bank and outsource”. Although outsourcing can be helpful, its not always the best strategy to try leveraging. PlacementSEO only outsources about 15% of its operations, everything else is done in-house by staff members. By managing work in-house we’re able to keep a very tight grip on quality control, but this type of control comes at a cost as well, “The cost of time”. If a client pays $500.00 per month, how much TIME do you think you can put into that project before you feel burnt out? Likely only two or three hours at most, or, you outsource everything. Make sure to set a minimum retainer price at a value that keeps you, the SEO, interested while also keeping the client comfortable with your pricing points. Failure to keep yourself interested in a project will result in failure of your business or worse, your own personal reputation.
Putting together answers for the points I’ve listed above will give you a VERY solid start to putting together a great proposal. Now that you understand the clients target market, their revenue per sale or appointment, how their competition ranks in the search engines, and the value of your time, you should have a better understanding regarding the pricing structure you can offer for your services. Working through these steps will seriously increase your chances of closing the deal into a long term client.
Because I’m Awesome……..
I’ve put together this awesome download file for you containing three sure fire proposal templates you can edit in powerpoint, as well as a few email scripts that have personally scored me more than 100K in revenue.
Download Three Proposal Templates and Email Scripts For Free
My Suggested Proposal Inclusions
When I personally build proposals, I always include my personal SEO audit information. Right at the beginning of my pricing options I mention something like, “In order to correct and improve on the information presented in our personal audit we quoted the following options“. This allows the client to refer back to the audit you offered them, visually reminding the client WHY they are about to invest into your SEO services. As I develop my proposal pricing strategy (taking into account the points listed above about client target market, value of time, and the value of a qualified lead, I structure my proposals something like this.
Notice how in the image above I added the “click here to view your audit” because I want to remind the client what they are about to invest into. You might be thinking that a pricing jump from 950.00 to 1,600 is substantial, and your right. However remember that human psychology proves that people feel they need the best of everything. How many times have you gone to market and had two options to choose from, option A being less than option 2, but both options we’re almost the same? You likely chose the more expensive option. Trust me when I say, clients WILL tend to go for at least the middle option.
Securing Income Using Contracts
Another twist you can add to your proposal is building your proposal in a way that clients save money by signing a contract. For instance, if the client opted to operate their SEO campaign using a month by month payment agreement they would be required to pay $3,200.00 per month. However, if they chose to run a three month campaign, their charge would be $2,800 per month, and if the client chose a six month campaign their costs would be $2,450.00 per month. This is a GREAT way to secure income. After all, a six month agreement results in 28K in annual revenue if they renew at least once.
Avoid 50 / 50 Split Invoices
As an agency that produces a lot of revenue its acceptable to offer split payment options under the right terms and conditions. Why? We have capital on hand and can take a hit if a client decides not to make good on their last payment. However, a lot of marketers out there have little capital to put away for safe keeping, therefore I always recommend full payment upfront. This is easy to do if you already have a few references that can speak for the good SEO work you are offering.
Closing Without References
A common question I personally see through the many Facebook groups I watch is this, “Hey guys! I’ve gotten my first solid lead and before the client closes into a sale, they need one or two references. Truth is, this is my first client so I am kind of stuck on what to do. Can someone give me advice?” This is all to common, however if you find yourself in a similar situation you are still in luck. Here are a couple of strategies to combat this situation, strategies I had to use myself before getting my solid start in SEO.
- Offer free work for a month. There are many strategies that you can leverage that will help increase rankings in the search engines, even if it’s marginally. Just to be clear, this is not free work for your lead, instead, I’m suggesting working for free for a few months with a couple of different projects in trade for testimonials. Next think you know, you’ll have a stack of reviews you can push to new leads.
- Another strategy that I’ve used is this: Offering the client discounted SEO for the first month and then investing the entire budget into adwords or Facebook PPC to deliver instant results. After the first month, if they are satisfied, I walk in with my contract proposal. Trust me when I say, all it takes is one email or a single phone call to convince a client that your worth the money.
Point is, its very realistic to land a great paying client without having previous references. Leveraging one of the two points above will help you break the “New to SEO” barrier and will get you well on your way to collecting a nice list of paying customers.
Managing Projects & Deliverables
Though in this article I won’t go into a lot of detail about the collection of tools our agency uses to execute and manage projects, I do want to stress the importance of remaining very organized with your client management. If you need a surefire strategy for losing clients quickly, you need to lose grip of your project management. There are many solid tools on the internet that are free, and paid, that allow you to manage workflows which come useful if you ever bring on board a virtual assistant or full time employee.
My favorite Freemium project management platform? Asana. You can use Google Analytics as the free method of reporting traffic and visitor flow on your clients website. Additionally, there are paid services such as raventools.com that offer an excellent platform for automated auditing. However, the reason why I like Asana so much is that you can create projects and invite clients to see those project details. The client can then login at anytime to see the progress of their campaign and can also leave personal notes for you and your team.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion:
Whether you are a one man show or run an agency, I am confident that the above strategy and advice will universally work. Big SEO contracts (10K + per month) are not only for agencies to land, individual SEOs can score these just as easily. To break down my long article into a shortlist for you, here is what we just covered.
- Using Craigslist and IFTTT to scrape for unlimited SEO leads, free of charge.
- Setting up IFTTT recipes targeting different cities of choice.
- Alternative lead finding strategy if you don’t like the idea of using IFTTT.
- How to begin processing your first lead.
- Drafting your email template.
- Setting a one on one meeting with lead.
- Personal one on one SEO Audit.
- Presenting your Proposal.
- Avoiding 50/50 split invoices.
- Closing a deal without references.
I know there’s a lot of information here, but I swear on my first SEO contract that this layout is exactly how we landed our first 20K per month client. It works, and this layout strategy is flexible enough to tailor to the exact needs of each of your incoming leads.
Now It’s Your Turn
I always love hearing from readers. Is there something you would like to add to this article that would make it better? Do you personally have a client acquisition funnel or step that you would like to share with us? I welcome you to offer your input using the comments below, Ill do my best to reply to each one.
Until then, happy SEO hunting!