Web Design and SEO Freelancer moving towards PPC

Wills

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#1
Hey guys,

I created this account a while back but have mostly been lurking on occasion. I'd like to change that. Here's a short novel about what I've done online and a few things I've learned along the way. Could be useful for people interested in working with clients.

The Other WF
I first learned about "online marketing" while trying to help my family's real estate business bring in more leads online back in 2011. The Warrior Forum was unfortunately my intro to online marketing. I for whatever reason never found Wickedfire.

I bought lots of shitty WSOs and learned some stuff here and there, and made no money. I helped the real estate company a bit.

Successful Comment Spamming
I made my first money online by posting comments on Dave Asprey's (Bulletproof Coffee guy) website. I picked a couple of highly trafficked and relevant posts on the site, and added a long, quality comment about a healthy shake recipe I made up, while listing the ingredients with Amazon affiliate links.

Over the course of 6 months or so I think I made $500 from that. Maybe more. Some people even mentioned the affiliate links in the thread below my comment, but the Amazon sales kept rolling in. Would be hard to get away with that anymore though.

First Clients
After a while I got more serious and decided to focus on getting clients rather than poorly conceived affiliate stuff. I got my first web design clients from people who I knew locally that owned businesses. I knew no coding, had never built a website, didn't even know how to host a website, and used a white label provider I found on the Warrior Forum to build the sites. Surprisingly, the result was good, but despite white labeling I spent an absurd amount of time on the projects since I had to learn so much about everything to even get the sites live. I got paid a little to learn a lot. As part of this and my work in real estate, I also learned some SEO.

Around this time I found a guy on the Warrior Forum with a team building mobile websites for local businesses (before responsive sites were big) and he convinced me to sell these sites. I spent 4 or 5 weeks cold calling like 50 businesses per day and made a total of 1 sale for a few hundred bucks. That sucked but I guess you could call it character building.

First Real Clients
A friend from college introduced me one day to the CEO of a digital marketing agency in Mexico. They had clients but didn't know anything about SEO and needed someone to provide white label SEO for their clients. Since I speak Spanish and knew something about SEO, I said I could do it.

I've been working with them on different clients over the past few years, some lasting months or years, and have probably made $150,000-$200,000 through that relationship, all from SEO audits or monthly retainers. I learned a lot of what I needed to know along the way. I've never met anyone at this agency in person. We've only ever talked on Skype.

More Real Clients Fall in My Lap
A year or 2 later, I went to a "lunch and learn" seminar my cousin (CEO of a large company) invited me to. One of his employees put "SEO" on my nametag under my name. It was all people in the industry, except me. As it was ending, a guy at the table next to mine looked down at my nametag, saw SEO, and said "we need SEO."

Turns out they needed a website first, as they were transitioning their business online, and someone had made them a piece of shit custom website where among many other things they couldn't even delete comments. And some guy was trolling them hard and putting up some really mean shit all over their site via comments. Also, for some reason I never figured out, their website, hosted on a Godaddy dedicated server, would go down for 2 hours every day after they sent out their email newsletter via Mailchimp.

We agreed to a cost for the website, and in retrospect I priced way too low. And I didn't limit the number of changes. My hourly rate on that project was awful, but again I learned a lot from my early screw-ups, and got better at pricing and setting expectations and guidelines. I've been working with them ever since, mostly on web design projects. I've made $150,000-$200,000 from them as well. I charge them hourly or per project for larger projects, and either do the work myself or use developers.

The Rest of It
Apart from those I've had 3 other relationships with agencies where I provide services to their clients. In all cases this happened because I knew one of the agency partners. I've also gotten other web design and SEO clients from BNI (don't recommend), referrals, acquaintances and some cold emails. I have an aversion to sales which I'm just now starting to get over. So most of my business has come to me with not a lot of outbound effort.

Because I've been fairly passive, my income has been pretty roller-coaster as projects and clients come and go. I've had a couple close to $20k months and other $0 months. Mostly in the mid to high single digit ranges in recent years. The first year I probably made a few thousand dollars, and I've made a bit more every year, with 2017 being my best year at around $120,000. This year I'm on track to come in a bit below that unless I change things up.

A Couple of Stories
1.5 years ago I did a technical/content audit for a large ecommerce site in Chile. They launched a botched redesign that tanked their rankings. They implemented everything I suggested, and within a few months had monthly revenues up by $1 million/month. I made like $4000 off that job (did it as a favor for a family member that worked there). That pissed me off a bit.

This year I completely created/revamped the web presence for a failing apartment complex that had 25+ vacancies out of 145 units. The owners have to be the most incompetent people to ever own a multi-million dollar business. I created a great website, improved the copy and images on apartment search sites, optimized the GMB and other citation sites, "upgraded" the reviews in YP and GMB listings, and added a bit of paid advertising, and they're down to between 0 and 2 vacancies at any given time. It is pretty crazy to me how much of an impact this work can have when done well.

Working Internationally
The work has been fun a lot of the time. I haven't been in an office for years and have been able to "work" while on trips all over the world. I've lived in 2 countries and it hasn't impacted my income. It can be a bit lonely at times not working around other people (I usually work from home). I've worked with companies in a lot of industries, both local and and national, in the US, UK, Mexico and Chile. I've learned a lot about SEO, a lot about Wordpress, some CSS and HTML, very little PHP, and a bit about a shitload of other marketing/sales topics.

Most of my actual learning has come from doing. I've spent way too much time buying courses and reading shit. Sometimes it has paid off, but my ratio of learning to doing has been off too many times, which means that I don't retain what I "learn" anyway, and don't test or put it into practice. Not to mention don't produce as much as I should because I'm in consumption mode.

I took on a partner for a while on a number of jobs. He was more technical than me and taught me a good amount. But he didn't cut down that much on how much time I was spending on things, and he was taking half the profit on those jobs, so I eventually ended it. We also were both too similar in terms of having lots of ideas and trying to pursue too many things at once, so we got off on tangents and projects (lead gen/affiliate) that never resulted in money and took too much time.

I've also spent too much time doing things I should have hired someone else to do. I have hired quite a few developers from Codeable and Upwork though. Most suck, but in sifting through a lot of shit I've managed to find a couple good/reliable Wordpress developers/teams that are pretty cheap. The right people can save me a lot of time. When it's gone wrong, it's been a huge headache.

What Now?
Right now I'm moving towards having my primary service be PPC management for one local business niche. I'll probably upsell web design/SEO where applicable, but want to start with a service that brings nearly instant results. I also want to focus on one industry so I get to know it really well and can provide basically the same service in different locations. Working in different industries can be fun, but there isn't much leverage in providing different services to companies in different industries. I'm interested in leverage now. I'm also now focusing on outbound prospecting to generate these clients.

I've done okay but some of the people on BuSo make in a month what I make in a year, and got there much quicker than I have. I've gotten in my own way a lot over the past couple of years, and I know that I'm capable of a lot more if I'm putting my time and energy on the right things. I've heard that people don't change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. I'm about there at this point. I'm tired of under-performing.

A Few Random Things Learned
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I've spent 10s of thousands of dollars over the years on information and coaching. I've definitely more than made my money back, but most of it was wasted and unnecessary. If I started over now, I'd only buy info/coaching on specific topics I was implementing NOW. I'd try it first, probably fuck it up, then if necessary, pay to learn some key things quickly. This would have saved me a lot of money. -->
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I'd spend some of that saved money on outsourcing more tasks. Yes, it's hard to find quality, reliable providers for content, web development, and probably most things. And it's not always easy to outsource, especially if you're a perfectionist. But it's worth the effort because the ceiling on output is pretty low when you're doing everything yourself. There look to be a few quality service providers right here in BuSo which I'm going to try out.

-Relationships are extremely valuable. If you read my story, you saw that a lot of my business came through people I know. Often it happened because I reached out in some way to someone, but usually not at all looking for business. The business part just happened. I'm a bit of an introvert so I sometimes forget how much easier it is to sell to people who know you or have a mutual friend.-->
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That said, know that consistently making money as a freelancer/agency has more to do with your ability to generate clients than with your ability to fulfill. It's easier to get good fulfillment than get people to bring in business for you, and usually cheaper.

-When you get a check for a job, remember that it's not all for you. Some of it is for taxes. Leave that part alone.

-Always make sure you backup your website(s) and client websites fairly regularly. That way when one gets hacked you don't need to spend as much money getting it fixed. You can just restore the backup.

-Most clients/potential clients in brick and mortar businesses know basically nothing about anything about digital marketing, even if they think they do. This makes you the expert on any digital marketing topic you speak to them about. The bar is low.

-If you really need money, get a side job before you take on a client you know is going to suck. Really shitty clients can be soul crushing. Alternatively, if you insist on taking the client, view it a painful learning experience. I guess I have learned more about dealing properly with clients from the shitty ones than the good ones. -->
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You are responsible for teaching your clients how to interact with you, and setting their expectations. If you don't do this, they will do whatever they feel like doing, whenever they feel like it. When can they can contact you? For what reasons? How often? How will reporting work? What exactly is included and what will cost extra? If you frame this stuff right, you can do it without seeming like an asshole. This education needs to start on the sales call, or otherwise before they pay you any money. And if someone really pushes back, then they'll definitely end up in the shitty client category anyway, so you can use this to filter them out.

-Working in lots of industries can be fun but there is much more leverage in getting really good at providing one service to one type of business/one niche. Once you have enough clients for that service in that niche, if you get bored and want to expand out then fine, but at least you'll have that base of $$ to rely on.

-Recurring monthly services are > than one off projects, if you want to build consistent income.

-Working from home is great in some ways but it's harder to stay focused when you're not surrounded by other people also working. It can also be lonely, even for someone pretty introverted like me.

-Are you a bit of a perfectionist? In most cases, and with most clients, people won't notice the difference between your 80% effort and your 100% effort. But getting from 80% to 100% takes at least as much time as getting from 0% to 80%, so you waste a ton of time on work no one will ever notice. If you get the 80% done and show it to the client, they'll give you exactly what they think needs to be done to finish things off and you can skip all the extraneous crap you thought you needed to do. This applies to most things.

-And finally, something totally unrelated to business. If someone calls an ambulance for you, and you don't actually need it, reject it. Don't accept any help from the EMTs. Tell them you don't need them as they're walking up to you. Don't feel bad for them for coming for no reason. It wasn't your fault, it was the dumbass who called 911 unnecessarily. Even if all the EMTs do is ask you a few questions and throw a couple of bandages on you, you will get a ridiculous bill in the mail. Ask me how I know.
 

Wills

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#2
2 other things I thought of I've learned.
-If you're working with local businesses, it's easier to charge a good amount if you're dealing with either (1) companies that have a high customer value (either upfront or lifetime value), or (2) Non-profits that have a grant that will expire and they'll lose the money if they don't spend it. If you work with businesses that make a small amount per customer/client, then you have to generate a lot of business for them to justify higher fees. If you decide to go that route, you'll likely have to get a much higher number of clients to make the same amount of money, which can still work if you have good systems.
-I've been "lucky" in getting a lot of the clients I've gotten, in that I haven't had to work that hard to get them. But it almost every case, it was because I agreed to go to an event that was a bit of a pain to go to, or rekindled an old relationship, reached out, or otherwise made human connection away from my computer. So I've generated a lot of that luck. On the flipside, you obviously can't say yes to everything so you need to be strategic about who you reach out to, where you agree to go, etc. This isn't rocket science though.
 

Ryuzaki

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#3
That's a fantastic story to read. I love reading people's origin stories on here and seeing where they plan to go from there. Thanks for sharing it. Glad to have you posting.

Over the course of 6 months or so I think I made $500 from that. Maybe more. Some people even mentioned the affiliate links in the thread below my comment, but the Amazon sales kept rolling in. Would be hard to get away with that anymore though.
Yeah, you definitely can't do that these days. Amazon won't even honor sales that don't have the correct referrer in the HTTP header of the browser. Too many of them and they'll consider banning. You'd think there'd be tricks like redirecting people through your website but Amazon has assured me they can see through that too, and also is an automatic cookie drop that they'll ban for too. There's definitely a million other affiliate programs where you can do this kind of thing and they don't care. Traffic Leaking!

I learned a lot of what I needed to know along the way.
To me, that's the supreme way of learning, if you want to be pragmatic about it and not waste time preparing indefinitely. That's how I've learned every ounce of what I know about computers, the internet, marketing, SEO, coding, all of it. I don't bother with it until there's an actual need in the work I'm doing. Then I learn it and immediately apply it, which means I'll remember it for next time or at least have something to reference.

Did you ever go about building any of your own websites during your adventure, or is it something you've considered for the future?
 

Wills

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#4
Glad you enjoyed it!

Yeah, you definitely can't do that these days.
I figured as much with Amazon these days. I think that was in 2012, and they weren't so sophisticated/strict back then.

I don't bother with it until there's an actual need in the work I'm doing. Then I learn it and immediately apply it, which means I'll remember it for next time or at least have something to reference.
It's taken me a while to figure this out. The reality is that in this space, you could spend your entire life learning and you'd just scratch the surface, especially since things change so quickly. So just in time learning makes the most sense. I like reading and learning and researching by nature, so I have to battle that and only do it when I need to.

Did you ever go about building any of your own websites during your adventure, or is it something you've considered for the future?
I started and fairly quickly gave up on an Amazon affiliate site with a couple of hgue 10,000 word or so review posts. It was too general and I wasn't that into it.

I've also built some local lead gen sites and Youtube channels, but they never amounted to much.

Right now I'm working on around 18 small sites each focused on one condo community local to my family's real estate business, and will get a % of commissions generated. I've built sites like this in the past that do really well and generate consistent business since they're usually the only site online solely targeting the community. They're not high volume obviously but in aggregate it could be decent, and will help out the business too. Obviously the number of units in the community is a major factor.

If I wanted to I could probably make a 6 figure income just from making a ton of these sites and generating a % of each sale. It's pretty time intensive though to do since I need to get pictures of and content about each community. Also I'm not local right now so is harder to pull off.