How to Start Your Own SEO Business: Q&A With 14 Leading SEO Experts

How to Start Your Own SEO Business: Q&A With 14 Leading SEO Experts

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Below is a collaborative blog post from 14 leading SEOs I follow and in some way admire. They were kind enough to spare some of their precious busy time and share their tips on how to start your own SEO business.

Whether it’s a company or just being a freelancer you’re after I guarantee you’ll find nuggets of knowledge (or a whole motherload of it if you read all of the below) to get you started. Enjoy and please thank them for contributing by following/retweeting their stuff cos they’re really top guys.

In order of responses received:


James Agate

James Agate is the founder of Skyrocket SEO – a link building agency serving agencies and brands worldwide.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

All the things that usually get people excited when they hear the word entrepreneur;  I wanted a big house and a fancy car :-) 

In all seriousness, I enjoy working with clients as I LOVE good client service, doing deals and making clients lots of money, that gets me out of bed in the morning and I honestly don’t think there is a ‘job’ where I would get the chance to do this.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Plan for the worst and make sure you have plenty of money. In an ideal world you need a buffer to ensure you can survive 6-12 months without having to make desperate decisions like taking on shitty projects. Money doesn’t buy you happiness but it sure buys choices and a good night’s sleep.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

Freedom. I spent this summer in several different countries traveling and working.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Not working your bollocks off 24 hours a day. I’m getting there, now do 50 hour weeks most of the time but last year 75+ hours a week wasn’t uncommon. 

Q5: How did you tackle it?

Delegating and realising that the world probably won’t end if you stop answering emails at 6pm.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Don’t believe the hype and equally don’t believe the horror stories. If you have an idea for a spot within the market you could enter then do it, it won’t be all fancy chairs, conference calls and million pound contracts BUT equally if you can grow steadily and you’re sensible with the initial money that comes in (or has been saved) then you can get yourself up to a livable salary in not too long and then the sky is the limit. 

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan is a freelance SEO consultant based in Cardiff, South Wales, trading as Morgan Online Marketing. He also runs a blog on all things SEO, PPC and social media called SEOno. Follow Steve on Twitter: @steviephil.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I’d wanted to go freelance/self-employed for years, since leaving in early 2011, but never felt quite ready or had the confidence to do so. This changed while at my last job, as I was getting approached by people asking if I did freelance on the side. I said no (as I didn’t want to be doing work during evenings and weekends on top of a busy full-time/40-50 hour per week job), but it got to the point where about 5-10 people got in touch asking. I thought to myself that if I left the job, set up shop on my own and if even only a few of those 5-10 came on-board initially, it’d be a more comfortable stepping stone into going freelance. And that’s how it happened – I left my job in April and went full-time freelance in May.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Learn from my mistake – do more preparation before you make the switch! I literally left my job so that I had my last day on the Friday and started getting everything ready freelance-wise the following Monday (i.e. my first day in self-employment). In my defence I couldn’t prepare too much in advance because we had a massive training workshop on the Thursday (the penultimate day of my agency job), so I was working on that during my evenings in the run-up to leaving, plus there was a big handover to my colleagues. In hindsight I wish I’d gotten a few things ready while still at the job, just so that it wasn’t so much like jumping in the deep-end when I left. I also wish I’d started work on a client or two on the side while still employed, just so that I didn’t make the jump with zero clients (even though I had a fair few prospects). 

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

Quite simply: being able to do SEO/PPC the way I want to do it – a luxury you don’t quite have when you work under someone else (unless you’re the head of the SEO/digital marketing department and your say goes). I also love the flexibility – however that said, I still find myself mostly working roughly 9am to 5pm (rather than some freelancers who enjoy freelancing because it means that they can wake up late and work late at night)… But even so, I love the fact that I can take off a few hours of a weekday whenever I please and possibly make it up with a few hours of work on a Saturday, rather than being tied to a rigid 9-5 work schedule.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

The biggest challenge has been incorporating sales as part of my job in addition to actually carrying out the work – although luckily I’m a keen networker and used to be involved in the sales meetings at my previous agency roles, so it wasn’t entirely alien to me. Plus having to balance the day-to-day running of a business, too (e.g. admin, finances, etc.). I just want to SEO things man, haha!

Q5: How did you tackle it?

The best thing to do is to chat to people about it – don’t be afraid to ask for people’s help and advice. Luckily I’m based in an awesome co-working space just outside Cardiff called Welsh ICE, where I’m working alongside a bunch of other local freelancers/startups. Just the other day I was chatting to someone about how I was struggling to close sales and they gave some good advice. Personally I don’t think there’s any shame in asking for help – I mean I’ve had a fair few people approach me ad hoc asking for SEO help in return – and it’s most certainly better than struggling with something and dwelling on it all on your own. 

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Get as much ready as you can beforehand (see #2 above!), don’t be afraid to ask for people’s help, network like mad and co-work if you can.

Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher is the Founder of @wearestargazer. An Inbound marketing agency and a man of few words. He also writes for a number of leading industry blogs.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

The main reason I decided to start my own business was I wanted to create a place of work where people can be a part of something bigger, something that they believe in. I want people who work at Stargazer to love coming to work every day where they will feel valued and challenged.

I also believed I could do it better than a lot of agencies who were currently doing marketing. I saw things changing and wanted to create an agency that embraced and moved with change.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

I would say prepare to fail because you will, a lot, but it is the lessons you learn from these failures that will make you better at what you do. The quicker you fail, the quicker you will succeed.

If you are going to start by working on your own you will need to prepare for the loneliness because this was the biggest challenge I faced in the beginning. Some people are fine with this, but not me, I love working in a busy environment and interacting with people.

You will need to have a lot of determination and drive to succeed as this is what will keep you going in the early days. Analyse the reasons why you are doing this, this will give you more determination. 

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The fact that I believe that I am creating something special for the people who work at Stargazer and the clients we work with.

It is hard work, really hard work but you need to be doing it because you believe in something.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

One of the biggest challenges any new business faces is generating leads, sales and hiring the best people.

You need to be filling the top of your sales funnel with leads as this is the coal that fuels your business. In the early days there weren’t many leads but we knew what we were doing would work it just takes time to reach the tipping point.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

To generate leads was hard until we discovered HubSpot and once we became HubSpot partners things started to change.

What drew us to HubSpot wasn’t necessarily the software, although it is exceptionally good, it was more that they shared the same beliefs as us and after speaking to their other partners it was easy to see that things were different. It was all about sharing secrets not guarding them and about working together to achieve all our goals.

Growing our business and signing up clients for us is a slower process than most because just like the people we hire, we want to work with companies that are like us, passionate about what they do.

When it came to hiring the best people we are still working on this as we want to hire the people that share the same beliefs as Stargazer and again this takes a little more time because we know if we take care of our staff they will take care of the clients.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Do it! Life is too short to spend it doing the things you don’t like. But do it because you feel you can make something better or offer something no one else can.

Ask yourself why you want to do it. Do not be scared of failure, to not try is to fail. 

Chris Winfield

Chris Winfield is a passionate digital marketing executive, innovator, strategist and leader. He’s also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, AP, USA Today, CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, Forbes, TechCrunch, Inc., and 200+ media outlets. His most important daily quest is to become a better person each day… Read more about Chris on his site at

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I worked for an agency for 2+ years right after I graduated from college. I watched them do pretty much everything wrong and knew there had to be a better way. I didn’t want to work for anyone ever again so my wife and I started our own agency.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

I was lucky because I had a great partner (my wife) and she had a full-time 9 to 5. She would get all of her work done and then still have time to work on our company with me on the side. And that’s the beauty — get everything done at your full-time job. Still kill it at your job but realize that the bar is set pretty low. So many people waste so much time at ‘work’ that if you can really focus and get everything done (because you are being paid to work, right?) that you will still have time and energy to focus on your side business. Grow that while you are earning an income.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?


Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Lack of structure.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

I created a routine of things that I do everyday no matter what. Most of them have nothing to do with work but are intended to keep my mind, body and soul healthy. If I’m healthy and focused, the rest is easy. 

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Create a clear goal in your mind of what you want. Focus on that everyday. Go after it with everything you have. It’s really that simple :) Create a clear goal in your mind of what you want.

Himanshu Sharma

Search Marketing Consultant, Google Analytics Certified & Certified Web Analyst. Founder:,,

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I just wanted to do the things “my way” and this wasn’t possible in my job. Secondly, I wanted to reduce my commuting time to zero. I was travelling like 5 hours a day. I wanted to reinvest this time in doing something meaningful and productive. 

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Before leaving your job make sure you have considerable amount of cash in your bank account and at least 2 or 3 paying clients. Never quit your job and then search for work. Get projects first preferably long term projects on contract and then quit.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

You can do things your way. You are the master of your destiny. 

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Discipline and self motivation. No one is around to tell you what to do when. You have to be highly organized and self-motivated all the time.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

It is in my nature to be disciplined. I wake up around 6 every morning without any alarm clock.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Think of the long term consequences for yourself and your family. Ask yourself one question, “is this what you really want?” Be as honest as possible. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody and is not a walk in the park.

Stoney deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is president of Pole Position Marketing, a leading inbound marketing agency established in 1998 and located in North Canton, Ohio. In addition to regular training events for businesses in Northeast Ohio, Stoney frequently speaks at conferences nationwide, including PubCon, Search Engine Strategies (SES), Search Marketing Expo (SMX), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Cleveland, and International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Cleveland. He’s also trained bloggers for L’Oréal and was a featured speaker for the Cleveland chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
Contact Stoney and the Pole Position Marketing team at or by phone at 866-685-3374 for web marketing strategy, to speak at your conference, seminar or workshop, and/or provide in-house training for your team.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

My parents ran their own business growing up so I experienced them being employers before I experience being an employee myself. Though I’m sure they broke a number of child labor laws! It was really more of a culture immersion thing so the thought of running my own businesses was always on my mind. Once I got out into the workforce, I never really enjoyed being an employee. I was good at all my jobs but the grind of going to work for someone else for little or no appreciation really started to grate on me. So I started learning web marketing and grew that into a great business that I enjoy.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Start long before giving up the 9 to 5. Self employment means a lot of long hours so you might as well start now. Do what you love, find a way to make money at it and make the move only once you’re established and you know you’ll succeed. Many people start businesses before they have a business plan or know if their idea can be profitable. Smart money says to figure those things out first.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The freedom it brings. Technically, I can take any day off work I want. The reality is, business owners often forgo more time off than the employees because they know they are needed at the company. So, I guess it’s more of the idea of freedom. One of the things I like most about running a company is building one where the employees don’t dread coming to work on Monday and creating a work environment that people love.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

The responsibility of working for yourself or running your own business is immense. I don’t just have to worry about putting food on my table (which sometimes can be a great concern), but I have to worry about putting food on the table for everyone working for the company. I’ve had to make many personal sacrifices over the years to keep people employed during the lean times. But I’ve learned that while lean times come, preparation for them makes them all go better.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

Tackling the change from employee to employer was more of a mental one than anything. I had to be prepared to take on the responsibility, knowing that showing up doesn’t mean an automatic pay check. You really have to be prepared for the ups and downs and figure out how to stick through it all.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Plan ahead. There is no substitute for looking ahead and making sure that you have what it takes and that your business model will succeed. 

Tad Chef

Tad Chef offers SEO, business blogging and social media advice through publications around the globe including his own blog by the name of SEO 2.0. He also directly helps people with blogs, social media and search, both in German and English. You can follow Tad on Google+ or Twitter among others.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

After the so called new economy broke down I got sacked from my well paid but boring web developer job at an Internet agency. I couldn’t get a new job because of the crisis. Like Abraham Lincoln I wasn’t particularly fond of wage slavery in the first place. You could get a government grant here for half a year in case you started a new business. That’s how I decided to go solo. At that moment I didn’t even know I would offer SEO services. At first I thought I could try to sell web development again. 

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

That depends on your situation. Are you young and independent? Then try to gain as much experience from your employers while they are grabbing your surplus value. After you learned what you need break free of the chains gradually at night. Prepare your flight step by step by creating side projects that make some money until they grow so that you can make the final leap.

Do you already have your own family? Borrow money from family members so that you can take half a year off for building your project. Then go cold turkey. Nothing motivates you as much to succeed as the need to feed your family. You can’t go gradually in this case as your spouse and kids won’t be able to cope with you working during the day and at night. Also you will be too tired anyway.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The freedom to say “no”, the freedom to take time off for training parkour in the morning, the freedom to choose my clients and projects myself.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

At the very beginning it was really hard to find clients. Then I ranked my own site so they started to approach me. Also the money does not always arrive on time. Many clients tend to pay late. The income is pretty unsteady in general. So in case you’re the anxious type, this is not for the security oriented people. Beware though, you can lose your job anytime too. So wage slavery is a fake kind of security.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

At first, in 2004 I was perusing forums to find job adverts! Then I started optimizing my own sites to rank for lucrative keywords that would lead clients to it. Also I always offered two kinds of services: SEO and blogging.

As for the late payments you inadvertently need an credit card.

Also over the years I got better at spotting the good clients and working with them while not working with late paying but demanding ones. I also always worked for a few clients at once so that when I lost one or two I wasn’t “unemployed”. Ultimately you need your own projects that make money almost on autopilot so when you get sick or someone doesn’t pay you still get money.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Do it! Really do it and never look back! I have head hunters representing the largest corporations approaching me but I refuse! Also do not become a freelancer but an entrepreneur! A “freelancer” sounds good but it’s just a new term for “day laborer”. You need to become independent by offering your own products! Last but not least: do not sell time but offer value! Pricing by the hour will never make you rich, just burnt out. Additionally just say no to difficult and exploitative clients. You will find better ones. These people will only make you lose money.

Rishi Lakhani

Rishi Lakhani is a freelance online marketing consultant in the UK specialising in SEO. Over the years Rishi has worked with businesses of various sizes, and has often been a consultant to Digital Marketing Agencies. He posts his thoughts on his blog

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

Honestly, a few things. The first one being the freedom to be able to choose who I work for and how long. We have all been with difficult clients, whether it is inhouse or as a consultant. As a consultant it gives you the chance to walk away, while inhouse you are stuck with immense amounts of politics. And although I am good enough to deal with politics, I found that they slowed down the scaling and building of strategy. I dont need to bring other peoples stress home. SO I decided to cut ties.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Get organized. Take stock of your resources. Understand what you can and cannot do. Get your network of people built up to rely on. My biggest asset in working as a consultant is access to hundreds of other SEOs who owe me favours – I can tap into any one of these at a moments notice. Way back in 2010, I wrote a piece covering this.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The capability to cross seed ideas amongst clients. When you work inhouse, or at an agency, you may have similar types of clients. But as a consultant, I can use good ideas across clients. The ideas just need to be shifted and changed to suit. Its this creative freedom and ease that I love. Plus the variety of clients I can work with.

In addition, I value my freedom of speech. Often when working for someone else, you have to toe the party line. As a consultant, I am free to say publicly what I feel without having to worry about pissing of my employers.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Making sure money comes in from day one. This is the biggest challenge for going freelance. You need to have a set income to support yourself, and if you have savings to take you through to the next stage, then great, but you have replenish those funds.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

I made sure that I had clients lined up – luckily due to my profile, I used to get requests all the time from clients and agencies to help with tricky situations. I simply tapped into that resource. However, in dry periods, I often tap back into my network of SEOs to make it clear I have capacity I would like to fill, and more often than not, my colleagues in the industry come through.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Before you do, make sure you can. Make sure you have the capacity and tenacity to make it. And most of all, build your contact base, build up your profile. Building mine was the best thing I ever did. And its not as hard as you think. One of my key secrets to success in building up my connections and network is I always offer to help out other SEOs and online marketers when they are stuck, without any expectation of reward. Give. And Ye shall receive.

Nick Eubanks

Nick helps companies grow traffic and increase conversions. He is the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, a digital asset holdings company. For more information check out his top ranked SEO Blog and his user experience meetup.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I got burned out working in commercial real estate, specifically after a a deal for several hundred units in Maplewood, MO fell through after 6 months of building and with $15.8M on the table. So I took my sales and finance background and put it to work for a start-up accounting software company, based in Malvern, PA, as their marketing manager.

After close to 2 years I realized I was having a lot more fun helping friends and family build websites than I was working on the marketing materials for this software company in an extremely boring vertical; SOX 404 compliance.

I’ve always had the itch to run my own company. When I was 19 I took a gamble and opened up a franchise for College Pro Painters, during the summer after my freshman year at college. In 4 months my 18 employees and I painted 42 houses at an average cost of ~$5,000, and while there was a lot of operational costs, that was more money than I had ever seen.

So in 2008, when the opportunity presented itself to start atomni, with the technical founder I needed, I jumped in head first.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

Don’t expect it to feel like it your company at first, in the beginning, you belong to the company – and it’s going to feel like a job, not a business. If I had to give one tip, it would be to meet as many other entrepreneurs as you can, especially running businesses that are drastically different from your own. It will give you perspective on the challenges you’re facing, and in many cases, they will be similar. Most of my closest friends are entrepreneurs, in very different verticals; hotels, furniture, sustainable energy consulting, consumer software, etc. Not to mention I’m still the oddball at social gatherings, with the all too familiar introduction: ‘this guys sells traffic cones.’

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The freedom (for the most part) to work where I want and when I want. I love that I can cut out at 1PM for an hour long bike ride, or if I want to meet up with friends that are in town, I can leave the office in the middle of the afternoon. It means I’ll be putting in a late night, but the ability to live life like a human being, and not be chained to a desk, is really my favorite part.

Q4 & 5: What was the biggest challenge of that change and how did you tackle it?

Uncertainty and dealing with failure. Unless you have some very good coaching or the benefit of an experienced mentor, the chances are you are not going to be on a reliable payment schedule for the first few months. What’s more, a lot of businesses fail – and not through the fault of the founders; markets, technology, and people all change, quickly.

You need to be prepared to fail, and be ready to accept it. More so, you need to have the grit (I do like that word) to start again, to pick up the pieces, and not wallow in self-pity. Pity never got anyone anywhere.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

This is sort of a re-hash of part of my answer from question 2, but meet other entrepreneurs. Meet as many as you can. Never stop meeting them. To use an expression from the Smart brothers, always be building your virtual bench, building connections. You never know when you might need help or direction from someone, and the barrier is significantly lower if they’re already in your network.

Simon Penson

Simon Penson is a former magazine editor turned founder of digital marketing agency Zazzle Media. He is passionate about content-led online marketing and how big data can inform strategy and speaks about those subjects regularly at events across Europe. He also writes regularly for many industry websites.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I had been working in publishing as a national magazine editor and saw first hand how consumer behaviour was structurally changing and the web was the ultimate destination for content that connects with audiences. It’s the creation of audiences with content that I’ve always been into, irrespective of channel and so a move into digital made perfect sense. I had also been building my own sites since 2000 and had a semi successful group of content led sites myself. In my day job I had been managing agencies and realised, quickly, that there was a better way of doing digital marketing…which is where zazzle media and our ‘content led’ mission statement came from.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

The amount of sacrifice can be substantial. And it won’t always be a smooth path either. You need to be prepared for a lot of long long hours but it can also be very rewarding.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

The ability to make decision quickly and move on them. It was always a little frustrating waiting for sign off and in a digital world it pays to have an agile workforce and decision making process!

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Balancing work and homelike! My wife and I have had 2 children since I started Zazzle Media and that has been amazing but also hard at times to ensure that you are there for them and also for your clients!

Q5: How did you tackle it?

A very understanding and supportive wife!

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Think very carefully about how much you are willing to give up to do it. It can also be lonely at the top so you need to be Ok with that. And think VERY carefully before jumping into any business with a partner. It’s very important you have a very clear understanding of who does what.

Marty Weintraub

Marty Weintraub is Founder & Evangelist of aimClear®. A fixture on the international conference circuit, his recent and upcoming speaking keynotes and panels include SES London, MediaPost Search Insider Summit, OMS, Charlotte Search Exchange. Marty has spoken over the last five years at SEMpdx, mozCon, PubCon, eMetrics, and numerous other global search and social marketing conferences.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I couldn’t find, or even imagine finding a place, to work at that reflected my cultural values. I was driven to do it. In 2005 I was diagnosed with late stage Lymphoma and my employer told me that I could work from the hospital room, but “just please keep doing our AdWords.” When I recovered, they became aimClear’s first client.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

When you own your business, that just means you get to choose WHEN you start your 14 hour days! Get used to the idea of working a lot of hours. Also, do a gut check. Each time you hire a new person in the early days, you get paid less. Prepare for that.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

I don’t think about it like that. My perspective is that I work for our employees. I’m totally dedicated to their personal brands and I want them to be able to work anywhere they like, for the rest of their careers, just for having worked at aimClear. That’s my greatest sense of pride; the amazing employees we have and how their careers have taken off. Another feature I really like is the travel, especially to conferences around the world. I’ve been to Australia 5 times in 4 years, Israel twice, London many times, and all over America countless times.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

It remains a challenge to get enough time to sleep. Also, it’s a lot of responsibility to shepherd a business and all the jobs that feed our employees’ families. That’s a challenge that keeps me up at night.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

I get lots of excersise and eat really well. It’s important to be open minded and change one’s mind a lot. We adhere to a rigorous set of values, which keeps me straight and on a focused path.

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

The first hires are the hardest because when you’re training you’re not studying, selling or doing the work. Look for the parts of your schedule that take a lot of time to execute and are repetitive, that take a small amount of time to train others to do. Though I did not, try to have some money in the bank when you start. Only take work you can succeed at and don’t bullshit yourself about the brutal facts. Focus on something you can be best in the world at. Look in the mirror when things don’t go well and out the window to external factors when things are great. This “credit” for wins, includes luck and the actions of others on your team.

Tony Dimmock

Tony Dimmock, owner of Dimmock Web Marketing – an internet marketing, SEO and web usability specialist based in Hertfordshire, UK. Find him on Google+.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

Before forming my company in 2008, I’d worked 13+ years as an account manager selling IT solutions to small, medium and large companies.

During this time, I started to take a deep interest in search engines: what they were, how they worked and why certain results appeared at the top of ranking pages, while others didn’t.

As I was working full time, I’d get up at 5am, study till around 7.30am then head off to work. So early mornings were my chance to attend “search” university!

I did free work for friends and their small businesses and helped them achieve online success and exposure for them. I immersed myself in a number of online search engine resources, signed up for every “killer SEO” course you could imagine and purchase many books on the subject – you could say I was obsessed! (and I still am!)

Then something happened.. My last job ended abruptly by walking out after telling my boss a few home truths about his working practices and attitude towards me!

So I came home and decided that, from that day, I would never work for a boss again. I wanted to unleash my online marketing skills onto the world and now was the right time!

Problem was, I had 3 small children to support and no monthly salary to rely on, plus a savings account that looked like a lost game of Monopoly!

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

By not doing what I did for the 1st year in my business:

I didn’t have a large pot of money stashed away ready to support me and my family over the next 3 to 6 months.

My Advice: save enough to pay yourself for (at least) the first 6 months.

I hadn’t worked in an agency and gained all the experiences needed to perfect my skills.

My Advice: Learn the ropes at an agency first, learn what works and what doesn’t and learn the challenges that online marketers face first hand.

I hadn’t worked for myself before and the potential isolation terrified me.

My Advice: Read up on the challenges of working alone, learn how to stay motivated (without outside help) and how to separate work from family. Lastly, learn the art of setting yourself achievable goals to help improve your confidence.

Although I had entrepreneurial spirit, I didn’t have a clue about running a business – so I learnt as I went along.

My Advice: before leaping, learn all you can about the legalities of running your own business (specific to your country) and the type of challenges you’ll encounter and the pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Also get your head around invoicing, cash-flow, Tax and VAT.

I had no paying customers and no testimonials

My Advice: if you can, start your SEO or online marketing business in your spare time and build up a number of paying clients, before you go it alone. Attend networking meetings, use your outreach skills to connect with strategic local partners and go speak to people.

I began work in a converted tool shed at home, with 3 children often running amok while I was trying to work. Although I’m a doting dad, I still needed to put food on the table and pay for school meals!

My Advice: depending on your circumstances, hire office space (shared or otherwise) with important business facilities such as a meeting room, reception (with receptionist) and (if available) administrative resources that can be used as and when needed.

Thankfully, I eventually moved into local offices (with the above) and haven’t looked back since. I just wish I’d made this move much earlier on!

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

A number of things:

1) Freedom – to make decisions without jumping through corporate hoops

2) Accountability – personally, I enjoy the challenge of answering to the man in the mirror

3) Growth – by experiencing challenges and meeting them head on, I grow my internal fortitude and an idea of what is possible

4) Agility – to spearhead changes, to adapt and re-focus on priorities as and when needed

5) Vision – to plan and construct a future that’s based on my ideals, ethics and morals, without the need to compromise

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

The personal growth I needed to go through. Running your own business is not for the faint-hearted and choosing to do so, in a constantly changing industry such as internet marketing, means “working on yourself as hard as you work on your business” – an excellent quote from the e-Myth Revisited Book, which I highly recommend everyone reads.

Also, confiding in friends and family can sometimes create negative environments and put strains on relationships. However, this is not a reason to walk away from pursuing your future goals and aspirations – just be wary of negative input or feedback. I found that starting my own business turned some friends into acquaintances and others into strong supporters, encourages and mentors. Just be aware that your relationships often can and do change.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

I surrounded myself with people who were where I wanted to be, both professionally and personally. I learnt from industry leaders, I constantly challenged myself to get better, to be more effective and to move forward when most suggested I give up.

I pushed myself to experience things I hadn’t experienced before and step up to attempt things I had once feared. A wonderful quote that sums this up: “iron doesn’t become steel until it’s been put through the furnace”

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

I think I’ve covered quite a bit above, but I would add this. Similar to when working with new potential clients, understand the “why” first. Don’t start your own business for the wrong reasons. It’s the “why” that keeps you going when stuff happens and it’s the “why” that keeps you afloat when life knocks you down.
Lastly, don’t ever stop learning! As soon as you think you’ve arrived, life will remind you that you haven’t..

My reading recommendations would be:

  • E-Myth Revisited – Michael Gerber
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  • From Good to Great – Jim Collins
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  • The Purple Cow – Seth Godin
  • The Dip – Seth Godin
  • Tribes – Seth Gogin

I also suggest watching Seth Godin’s various inspirational presentations on YouTube and reading Wil Reynolds’ and Rand Fishkin’s personal stories on how they overcame challenges while building SEER Interactive and Moz (formerly SEOMoz).

Barrie Moran

Barrie Moran is a technical SEO and content strategist working with companies of various sizes in multiple verticals. Passionate about search, internet marketing and delivering real results.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

I always wanted to work for myself / start a company from I was very young, but never had the balls, then got married ;) In the main I was fed up working for other people and wanted to do things my way. I also wanted to be more in charge of my time, work when I wanted to work and spend time with my young family when I wanted to.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?


Plan ahead and plan for the worst, I mean the worst! Obviously you hope and pray that will never materialise but if you plan for the worst everything is positive ;)

Self-development, personal preparation, you are the one that will have to make tough decisions, so you need to get used to that.

Set your standards and be prepared to stick to them. Things might not go your way, but, do you really want to work with “that” client on work on “that” project.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

It’s my time!

I love being able to close the laptop, put the phone on silent and go and kick the leaves in the park or push my kids on the swing!

And maybe the odd client meeting from the golf course ;)

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

Control, self-control, being able to say no and to stop working. Even with a young family and the freedom I mention previously, the counterpart is then working to 2, 3, and 4 in the morning. Working on Saturdays and Sundays and putting in 80+ hours in a week! My biggest personal problem is switching off.

The other aspect was getting clients. Reputation and word of mouth counts for so much, but depending on how full that pipe is, you need to find new work so trying to find new clients and doing the “sales” thing was a bit of a challenge to start with.

Q5: How did you tackle it?

The sales thing was relatively easy to tackle in that, I didn’t try to sell and still don’t. I speak to clients about their opportunities and their threats and how can work with them. I present a solution, plus I have a nice smile ;)

I have tried the no working after X, not working on weekends, I have tried it all. This to me, and for many people who start is a tough one to overcome, but, learning that the world will not end if I park that e-mail is a good thing!

I am by no means perfect and this is one I am still working on!

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Don’t be afraid of failure, we can learn from our failings. There is lot of hype and lot of barriers put in place and the regrets we have are the ones we don’t do, rather than the ones we do.

You could use every cliché under the sun here, YOLO, life is too short, and you only get one shot.

In truth, the sentiment in all the clichés is true.

If you spot a gap or you just want it bad enough, do it, plan, prepare, and move forward with cautious optimisms for success.

Make sure you outline your project like you would a clients, have clear paths, deliverables and KPI’s and most importantly take time to evaluate.

We all take wrong turns, it how you get back on the right track that define your success.

Chris Gilchrist

Chris Gilchrist is MD & Founder at Hit Reach and is slightly fatter and balder than this outdated photo. You can find him on Google Plus and Twitter.

Q1: What made you start your own thing?

3 main things. In the 2 short jobs I had I found I hated working for someone else as their poor decision making frustrated me and I knew the chances of finding a place to work that would offer me a job doing what I wanted, with good managers/leaders in place and a learning platform for me that would also pay well was very slim at the time.

I also understood that on top of the money they were paying were a whole load of overheads and profits that I could be taking home instead of earning for someone else. I also wanted to make lots of money and have a nice lifestyle and the path to achieving that was far quicker by working for myself.

Q2: How do you suggest one prepares themselves in advance of giving up your 9 to 5?

I think it’s important before starting to decide what you want to get out of it. There’s no right or wrong answer and it’s not final as you can change it down the road if you want to.

But if you decide in advance and remind yourself why you’re doing it, for example for money, more family time, more leisure time, because you generally hate having a boss, you want to sleep all day or whatever your motivations are it will help you with the hundreds of choices you’ll need to make on your journey and stop you making the ones which will lead you right back to the headache(s) you wanted away from when you were employed.

For example if you hate bosses and managers do you really want a business partner or investor to be accountable to? And so on.

Q3: What do you enjoy the most about working for yourself?

Decision making I think. I enjoy that if I want to try a new marketing idea I can just do it. If I want to hire someone I can do it without quantifying that decision to anyone. I can change the focus of the company overnight without red tape or long drawn out boring discussions. I can buy software tomorrow and get everyone using it or buy subscriptions or conference tickets without having to get them approved. I’m really impatient, a useful thing as well as a hindrance sometimes, so having to spend hours validating that stuff would drive me nuts if I was employed.

Q4: What was the biggest challenge of that change?

I guess it was perhaps spending less time with people socially than I should have. I was young (20), didn’t have any responsibilities or debts, was very work focused and driven to learn so there weren’t external pressures on me but I got very absorbed in learning web design & SEO and spent far more time at the computer than I maybe should have looking back. Come to think of it that hasn’t changed much

Q6: Best advice to someone thinking of starting on their own?

Leverage as much free and cheap tools as you can. For example in our sector there’s Google Apps, ok now costs a little for new accounts but you can mask a domain onto a free Outlook email. You can get amazing online accounting software for about £25 a month. Free project and sales software like Trello. And so on. It all adds up and every penny you spend is coming out of your wages so control your costs.

Learn from other’s mistakes so you don’t make them.

Of course you’ll make your own, that’s inevitable, but by speaking with people who’ve been on the journey before you (and not just those in your market or vertical but even people who were in a similar position etc) you’ll avoid lots of costly mistakes. Don’t be scared to ask them either as most people will enjoy helping you and giving you some advice.

Also enjoy the journey. Along the way you’ll inevitably have sleepless nights, horrible clients or customers, staff that take the piss, your best laid plans ruined overnight and hundreds of obstacles but you’ll learn something from all the bad things so don’t let them get you down, cherish the highs and enjoy the ride.

Please comment below and show the contributors some love by following them – they’ve really outdone themselves (especially Tony! lol).

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Categories: SEO Community, SEO How to, SEO Industry


  1. I love reading this sort of article. With so many freelancers in web and related industries, I swear there’s an opportunity for a bunch of experienced folk charging for a mentoring service.

    I’ve read this about 3 or 4 times already. Thanks for putting together a great piece and for picking your contributors really well Krystian :)

    Rob Duckers
    1. Thanks for your comments Rob.

      There’s so many organisations offering general business start-up and growth advice, but none that I know of that offer the same for SEO businesses. There’s definitely a need for a mentoring service, love the idea ;)

      Tony Dimmock
  2. Thanks for sharing my contribution, Krystian. Reading the other responses has reminded me (and also reassured me!) why I’ve gone solo. Some absolutely fantastic advice here :-)

  3. This is one of the amazing motivational posts i have read till date. Thanks a lot for combining lots of Motivational people at one place. Their thoughts and experience is quite common but the way they made their journey is commendable.

    Yogendra Chavda
  4. Hey Krystian,

    Thanks for sharing my story & advice.

    I’ve now read this post a few times and I’m amazed at the depth of advice and guidance given.

    Also, love the way that the experts have often said “don’t do what I did!”. Wish I’d had access to this info when I started.

    For anyone starting their own SEO business, it’s a great resource.

    Thanks again for inviting me to take part :)


    Tony Dimmock
  5. Pingback: Search Engine Weekly Roundup #43 - Wow Internet Blog

  6. Thanks Krystian for providing a perfect end to my day :)

    Loved reading this post .Most inspiring part for me is the piece of advice these experts have for us(Last Questions). Blogs like these are greatest source of motivation for me.

    Perfect time! Perfect Post!

  7. Thanks very much for putting this together Krystian, and for all those that contributed – really fantastic article, filled with tons of inspiration.

    Look forward to coming across more of the same! :)

    Ned Poulter
  8. I somehow feel like i can relate to most of these answers. The hardest thing in starting up an SEO company is probably finding mentorship and people who are willing to assist you during the initial stages. Sometimes going solo looked like a pretty bad idea but when i come across posts like these, am encouraged to keep going strong.

    Christina Rene

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