If you’re a Search Marketer working at an agency, in-house or are out-of-work entirely, you’ve probably considered going independent at least once. A bad day at the office can inspire daydreams of earning more money and working from home in your pajamas. There are clear advantages to becoming your own boss but the grass isn’t always greener, as they say.
Remember the 2010 SEO Industry Survey? More than 10,000 respondents participated and the result was some fascinating analysis by Will Critchlow and the Anatomy of a Search Marketer infographic was born. I was in love. As I began exploring the anatomy of an Independent Search Marketer the raw data from this earlier survey revealed yet another use.
I’ll share a few new findings from the survey that I thought would be most interesting to those thinking of going solo. Also, as someone who’s experienced in-house, agency, and now independent search marketing roles perhaps I can have a useful perspective. I’ll try my hardest, anyway!
Lets check out the data first. After I shatter your dreams of making more money and attending every search marketing event once you go independent, we’ll dive in to what the job of an Independent Search Marketer really looks like. If you are still interested, that is.
As with any survey, there are a number of caveats to take into consideration when looking at the data and conclusions. Take a read of those cautions as described when we first released the survey data over here. All of the data below looks only at US based respondents. There were 846 US Based Agency Search Marketers, 2217 US Based In-House Search Marketers, and and 1176 US Based Independent Consultants.
Interesting Find #1
On average, Independent Consultants earn about the same as Agency Search Marketers and In-House Search Marketers. The average yearly earnings for all three groups was within the $60-$75K range. As you can see in the graph below however, the distribution is very different. I’ll let you interpret that bit as you will.
If you’re thinking of going independent for the financial advantage, rub the dollar signs from your eyes and think seriously about your business plan and revenue forecast. More money isn’t a given, but is of course possible.
Interesting Find #2
Independent Consultants work with a smaller book of clients at one time than Agency Search Marketers.
If you’re looking for variety and to work with a larger number of clients at once, an Agency job might be your best bet. If you prefer to dive deep with a handful of clients, an Independent Consultant career path could be the way to go. Personally, I’d call this finding a big plus for the Independent Consultant side.
Interesting Find #3:
Independent Consultants are less likely to attend industry events and conferences than both Agency Search Marketers and In-House Search Marketers.
Uh oh. Come on Independents! If I were to guess, I’d say that Independent Consultants are less likely to attend industry events because the cost comes directly out of their own pockets. I’m interested in your thought on this, too.
What does it take to become an Independent Search Marketer?
Still thinking of taking the leap from employed to self-employed? Lets explore how your duties as an In-House or Agency Search Marketer might change in your new role as Entrepreneur and Lone Ranger.
Regardless of what search segment you choose to focus on, as an Independent Consultant your clients will expect you to be an expert. They’ll be hiring you to make solid recommendations usually beyond the skill set that they have in-house. It is okay to ask for help from your peers (read your consultant/client NDA first!) and seek the opinions of others, but YOU need to make the call on the final recommendation based on your experience, expertise, and the information at hand.
Stay S-M-R-T Skills
In The Simpsons’ “Homer Goes to College” episode, Homer gleefully sets his high school diploma aflame, while singing, “I am so smart, I am so smart, S-M-R-T, I mean S-M-A-R-T!” Behind him his living room is going up in flames (quote). Just because you’ve made it into the realm of independent consulting doesn’t mean you can stop going to conferences (see Interesting Find #3). Keep engaging, keep reading, and keep learning if you wish to continue growing your career.
Don’t like to toot your own horn? That’ll cost ya. You need to be able to speak intelligently and convincingly about your subject matter. You need to speak confidently about your experience and skills without taking it too far.
Just kidding. You don’t need nun-chuck skills to be an Independent Consultant, unless your also trying to get girls. Right Napoleon?
Do you have a hard time asking for things? Once you’ve covered the Expert and Self-Promotion pieces, you might find yourself in a position to sell something. So, what do you do?
As an in-house or agency consultant, you likely haven’t had to sell your services… for money. Sure, you sell ideas, projects, and the like. You may even be great at asking for a raise or negotiating for more holiday time. What it comes down to is this. Are you willing to look a prospect in the eye (or at least speak over the phone) and sell a project along with the price tag?
General Business Skills
You might be an SEO prodigy, but that doesn’t mean you are a business person. It is possible that the most brilliant SEO on the planet would be most successful and earn the most money if he is allowed to focus on his core strength. Running an independent SEO consulting business requires a lot of tasks that will take you away from the thing you love. Here is a quick list of the non-SEO stuff you’ll need to be prepared to tackle.
- Marketing – I know, you can show up in the SERPs for the terms you are targeting but SEO isn’t the only marketing channel at your disposal to drum up clients. What else do you have in your tool belt? Email, graphic design, advertising, social media, affiliate…? Take stock and make sure you have enough tricks up your sleeve.
- Basic Accounting – Even if you hire an outside accountant to handle your taxes, you’re going to have to keep records and have a clue about balancing a budget, filling out a W-9, invoicing, accounts payable, etc.
- Bill Collecting – If a client doesn’t pay, it is on you to follow-up and make it happen. Outsourcing this function can be pretty expensive, so be prepared to do it yourself at least in the beginning.
- Strategic Planning – Sorry, this one sounds borrowed from a business 101 text book. The content there wasn’t all drivel! Strategic planning is important because you need to be able to plan and think about your business as well as do the work.
- Old-Fashioned Paper Pushing – You’ll need to register your business and keep it registered, notice and do something about legal matters as they arise, open your mail, deal with banks, order business cards, etc. This is my least favorite part about being independent. Each of these items can seem like a small task, but add them up and you can lose a lot of valuable billable time.
You may know your search marketing inside and out. You may have a solution identified to triple a web property’s search traffic. Unfortunately none of that will matter if you can’t communicate and influence your prospects and clients. Some people are excellent at this from birth. Others have to work at it.
- Save money first ( You’re so smart!)
- Move back in with Mom. Food, shelter, bedtime stories, what more do you need? (Think I’m kidding? See: Census Bureau data, Slide 18)
- Take a loan. This seems like a bad idea, but your finances are your own business. 🙂
- Lean on your partner. Are you currently living large with two household incomes? I bet you could manage on one for a little while.
- Get your boss to hire you. Some of my best independent consulting clients today are my employers of yesterday. Why not continue to work a bit for your current boss, as an outside consultant? It could make the transition smoother and help everybody meet their goals.
What is the fun in that?
Certainly there are a lot of heavy things to think about before making a go of it on your own. Lets round this post out with the top 5 reasons that being an Independent Consultant is awesome.
- You can choose your own clients. Not into paper products? Don’t pitch the project!
- You don’t have to get dressed in the morning. You should. The point is you don’t have to.
- You’ll have a nice short commute from your bedroom to your office.
- If you have a young family, you can oversee your children’s care with in-home childcare.
- If you do your best work at midnight, have at it. Aside from client calls and general daytime availability you can usually set your own hours.
That does it for tonight. Happy Daydreaming!
P.S. Congratulations Watson! “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.” – Ken Jennings
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