IndustrySEM Agency: Uphill Battle?

SEM Agency: Uphill Battle?

iBanker Pat Hall told SES Chicago crowd how to sell your SEM SEO agency. Here's how to build.

There are many challenges involved in setting up a search marketing business. This is no different than setting up any business, but search being a new and ever-changing industry presents some unique challenges that I’ve experienced over the past five years.

In the coming months, I’ll expand on many issues on getting started in the industry. But first, I’d like to share a few basics.

Making The Move

Setting up your own search marketing business can be an exciting time. You may have dreamt of starting your own company for a long time and now you are able to finally make the move.

Realize that good search practitioners are very scarce. If you don’t enter the market now, the window may close very soon. I believe the window is closing rapidly.

It may be the right time and the right place to set up your business if your financial situation has changed to allow you to take more risks, or you’ve been fortunate enough to find a financial backer or a rich misguided family member to finance your venture.

Perhaps you have worked for an agency or an in-house team and now you’re ready to go into business for yourself. Or, maybe you’ve worked on your own as a consultant and now you feel like you have enough business to start hiring employees.

What it Takes

On more than a few occasions, I’ve watched experienced ‘solo’ search marketers with a growing customer base start up their own business. Then, after a few months, they’re out there attempting to re-enter the job market swearing never to do that again.

I’ve seen search marketers who have been making a lot of money as publishers before Google pulled yet another rug out from underneath that business model and they changed to the consultant or agency model only to find a very different skill set was needed.

Why do some people succeed while others fail? It all boils down to who you are and the business talent and endurance that you have. You may be the most skilled search practitioner around, but unless you have a few other attributes, or you can hire individuals with the skills you lack, then the odds are against you.

The Right Components

Recently, I sat on a panel on Women Entrepreneurship at the Arizona Society of Women Engineers. Many in the audience assumed I must have planned to go into search marketing, but that wasn’t really the case.

About five years ago, I decided it was time to go back into the workforce and get a real job. My children were in kindergarten and I was itching to do something more than mop up soggy Cheerios and fish Barbie shoes out of the vacuum cleaner.

Getting a job in corporate America was not an option. I’m originally from Ireland — where we take our vacation time seriously — so when I heard about two weeks paid vacation, I struck that off the list. So it was start my own business — or stick with the soggy Cheerios.

Our decision to set up a search agency was a case of being in the right place at the right time. My business partner, Dylan (also my husband), has been in search since 1996. He was optimizing back in the days of Alta Vista and before Google, so his knowledge of search made him an old-timer.

We sought to create a niche for ourselves with SEO (define), which was (and still is) a much sought after skill. We evolved to services other than SEO over time, but started just doing organic search.

We chose the name Elixir because it was the name of our consulting business in England before we moved to the United States 11 years ago. So, it wasn’t a major flash of inspiration, just a great opportunity that came along at exactly the right time. Setting up my own business was the realization of a dream and a long-term goal.

I consider myself fortunate that we entered the search business. Between us, we had two essential components necessary to start a business: a good business idea and the right skills to get us started without a major investment. Since we had no start up money this was essential.

Next week, we’ll look at the skills you’ll need to make your agency a success.


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