Hello World, Today I’m An Independent SEO Consultant

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 07/09/2014

Hello World! It’s 7:00 PM, and I jokingly like to say that I’m starting day-2 of my first full day as an independent SEO consultant. I have only one more thing to get out today as a deliverable for a client, then I can go home and maybe take over putting Adi to bed if she’s still fighting sleep. Chances are, she’ll already be asleep, and I feel just a little bit guilty about dumping so much on Rachel today, but I’m making up for a bit of it with both dog walks. This post is about the launching of this new independent career, doing the hard work it takes to succeed, but also keeping an eye towards establishing a healthy work/life balance.

This is now my grand unified daily public work journal. As a reminder to people who never followed my long-form journaling articles before, I do this writing as much for myself as I do for you. They are distinctly different from my less frequent and more heavily edited articles like this one about learning Python that become centerpieces of my site. These posts aren’t quite so much that, as they are an attempt to compel myself forward. I only happen to be publishing it to the public due to some very contemplated notions of committing to a thing publicly in a place where you know others you respect will be reading, in order to instill a type of consistency in your own (my own) behavior, and to stay on-track and to have the self-discipline, and to do the hard work that has to be done to become independent successful.

That trick is a lifehack, similar to the things you do to influence others, but practiced actually to influence yourself! It’s called Robert Cialdini’s principle of commitment and consistency: If you write it where they’ll see it, then you’re more likely to carry through on your own statement. My work is in going the independent consulting route is really cut out for me. I’m at the base of the mountain looking up, and I know the path and the hard work it will take to get to the top. I merely need to follow my own advice about the wholehearted commitment to large projects, and finding the love in it.

I have to do great work at the service (and eventually, products) I’m providing, but I also have to hustle. I’m adopting a somewhat unconventional business plan, because what of the greatest stumbling blocks in my SEO career has been the necessity of saying goodbye to perfectly good, happily using-you clients, because everything that could be done (from an SEO perspective) has been done, and the ongoing work has become analogous to pushing ropes. When you’re pushing ropes, the “high-level” SEO engagement is over. The rest is pestering them to carry out on already-provided recommendations, or badgering them to produce the content required for a credible non-spammy content-expansion strategy.

If you’re delivering at a high rate according to the always relevant white-hat SEO playbook, this should take about 2 months maximum. I even think it can be done in 1 in most cases, and I believe that stating all this gracefully up front lets me carry out the work with a great deal more integrity, than knowing I’d be trying to turn it into some retainer gig where the primary service becomes monitoring your Brightedge or Conductor accounts, interpreting the reports, and beating a dead horse. While it’s true that there’s always something more to be done, I can’t stand scraping the bottom of the barrel. The 80/20 rule states that you’ll get 80% of the benefit from the first 20% of the work you put in.

So my consultancy is laying the groundwork so that the client can get that 20% of the work done to get the 80% of the benefit, and pointing them towards Brightedge and Conductor and some SEOs that specialize in that monthly report interpretation and incremental action item world. The new lower-level SEO manager-types can even be simply executing on the content expansion plans I put in place or overseeing the code implementation for canonical or microdata or some such custom recommendation.

Okay, now because what I have to sell is something everyone actually needs (a way to build audience online through search results without paid advertising—a trick that makes so many other business plans work), I’m also working on ways to give everyone a piece of me. I believe this will end up taking the form of a low-cost subscription service that will support hundreds or thousands of people that complements the higher-end contract work I’m doing. In this online community, I’ll answer questions, probably build an FAQ, and on occasion have interactive chats or even Google Hangouts.

Yet another SEO trying to peddle yet more SEO services!?!? Ha, that’s almost like a parody of itself like the later episodes of the X-Files. SEO is filled with snake-oil salesmen, and in many ways, I hate the field. But just like good leaders tend to be people who don’t really want the position but gravitate into it because they can’t in good conscience see incompetents lead, a hater of the field of SEO can make one of the best SEOs. Despite my disgust with the business due to the low-handed tactics and high-cost medicine men that fill it, I will be staying in as my own field, because it’s what I’m known for, it’s what I’m good at that people will pay for, and because I’ve got a 3&½ year old kid and live in New York City.

I must earn. And since I must earn, I might as well strive for being the best in the world at what I do. And I might as well teach and share all I can with virtual no secret-keeping except perhaps the name of my clients and any work I actually produce for them. On the flip side, I can apply everything I do for myself, creating a reference site for SEO. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but was always low priority when you’re doing billable hours for a client and logging all your time in a system that the marketing agency must keep for audits and such. So, there will be the reference site to look at, but there will also be all the tools and the process I use to make it perform well in search. That stuff will all be free and open source.

If I do this right, I can produce legions of followers, because I will be advocating a timeless approach to online presence management that just happens to be called SEO for now. But more importantly, I will be advocating adhering to the core principles of good information architecture design, good website design, good publishing platform design, good content expansion design, and the like. Sites grow somewhat organically out from a core set of hopefully timeless web addresses (or URLs). People pick up and share those URLs by many means—social sharing buttons like Facebook, Twitter and the like.

The online equivalent of word of mouth ensues, and the site undergoes a temporary traffic spike. However unfortunately, a settling-down of traffic occurs until the site is at the same number of sessions or uniques per day as it was at before. When social and SEO are working off of the same content expansion strategy, it is possible to have a more satisfying alternative version of this, where after every social media traffic-spiking success, the settling down of traffic never quite goes down to its prior levels because you’re leaving behind a new perfectly well targeted (on a new important never previously well-targeted keyword) evergreen landing page. Pshwew, that’s a mouthful. Perhaps that’s why so few do this well.

This article is like practice, getting back into the flow of how I used to be able to work. Now, at 43 years old with a house full of pets and kid at home, I don’t think I’ll be putting the kind of repeated all-nighters into that that I used to do all the time when I was in my 20’s and working for Scala Digital Signage. And so really all the more important, this writing. It’s like the voice of my conscience standing over my shoulder talking to me, telling me how to behave to make a successful go at this independent consulting thing. And it’s going to be A LOT of work.

And I think I will be measuring my success by how well I can earn at least the same working for myself as where I was at working for “the man” AND STILL be an awesome daddy (Adi was actually here already today to see my new office). And so, how well I can work my passion for being an awesome daddy directly into the work I do here, the better. I want to be able to talk TO ADI ABOUT this work. It is my hope that this will one day soon be sincerely interesting to her. And for that, I got to get as much SCIENCE into SEO as I can, and keep out as much of the snake oil that saturates this landscape from seeping in.

To that end, I will be making tools. Or more precisely, I will be programming Python Scripts to do a lot of the work for me that I find difficult to do myself manually. Many of the chores I show you how to do here will actually end up semi-automated, because you can’t really ever automate everything. If you could automate everything, then everyone would be done it, and something else that was not yet automated would become the competitive differentiator.

But that’s what being a competitive SEO consultant is all about—being able to do many of the common SEO tasks do faster and better than others can, freeing up as much time as possible to put towards both the more customizes deliverables required for each client (entirely non-automate-able) and creating and improving my own tools.

So why make those tools free and open source software (FOSS)? Because my business plan requires always having the next and the next and the next client already lined up, so I can always be gracefully be winding down when all I can do for the client according to the 80/20 rule has been done. At this time, I should have the next client on deck and ready to ramp up. They’ll almost be back to back. Given the scarcity of my time (only taking 2 clients per month) and the large number of people I can reach through my reputation enhanced and amplified by making these tools, I think I can make this work.

In large part, it will depend on exactly the types of people I will be reaching today with this article and these videos. So do me a favor, will you? See if you know anyone who needs that 1 or 2 month SEO jump-start, who could then be transitioned over to more retainer-based SEO consultants or social media professionals (perhaps in-house) to take the torch from me and execute against content expansion plans and provided but not-yet-executed-against deliverables (canonicals, microdata, local, etc.). It’s the makings of a pretty good affiliate network in the best sense of the word: a bunch of affiliated SEO professionals all in it to do top-quality work for their clients, gracefully distributing the workload amongst the best for each bit of work.

It’s now 8:10 PM. I put just over an hour into this article. Now, it’s time to write JUST THE RIGHT headline, publish it, embed my YouTube video from earlier today, finish my last bit of client work for the night, then ponder publishing another video or two in YouTube that I shot today but am sitting on, unsure of whether they’re appropriate or professional enough—walking the dog, introducing you to the Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood I live in, and such. Any interest?