How to Grow From a 1 Man Consultancy into a Successful SEO Agency

How to Grow From a 1 Man Consultancy into a Successful SEO Agency
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About the Author & ‘Organik SEO’

OrganikSEOJulien Brandt is the Owner of Organik SEO, a successful, growing search agency based in San Diego, California.

Julien started out as a part time consultant in 2007 and officially founded Organik SEO in 2009 with just 1 employee.

Today, Organik SEO has 12 full time employees, approx 75 active & retainer customers, and has worked with over 250 businesses to date.

Of their 75 active customers, they have around 40 local SEO clients and about 20 social media clients. The rest encompass content marketing, SEM and webmaster retainers.

While Julien’s story is not unique, it offers an excellent & practical example of how to grow your search business from a 1 man consultancy into a sustainable, streamlined, profitable agency. And he did it with no outside investment.

As an entrepreneur, there is – or will be – a defining moment in your life where you ask yourself “Why?”

Small business local SEO… Why do you do what you do? Why go against the grain and venture into the unknown? And why risk it all, especially when the odds are stacked against you?

It won’t be an easy question to answer, but once you determine your “Why”, it will become your driving force.

When I started Organik SEO four years ago my “Why” was simple. I wanted to provide transparent, honest, SEO to small service-based businesses and change the perception of a notoriously spammy industry. I had a deep desire to build a business I could be proud of, and I felt a need to create something that was bigger than myself.

I wanted to not only be active in the SEO community but in my local community as well, and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of my clients and my employees.

Recipe for Success

Your “why” may be different than mine, but I can tell you that what will make you successful is the same. For anyone seriously considering making the transition from consultant to a full-fledged agency, persistence is the one thing you cannot do without.

It wasn’t that many years ago that I was in front of my computer working till 1 or 2am every night of the week. Twelve-hour days were the norm, and although I had built up a small base of local SEO and social media clients, I was starting to wonder: “Is this sustainable?”

I loved helping businesses grow but I felt like the two scarcest resources in my life were time and money. But wait! Wasn’t time and money the reason I started working for myself in the first place? Something wasn’t right.

It took me a few years to bootstrap my business from a one man show to a small agency of twelve employees, but my hope is that some of the following key insights will help to save others unnecessary time and headache.

You can’t “fail” if you don’t quit

The road to success is not easy. If you want to build anything from the ground up, it takes passion, creativity, intelligence and most of all, unwavering commitment. On more than one occasion, I came within pennies of losing it all. I hadn’t spent more than a couple thousand dollars (and a lot of sweat equity) to get the business off the ground but on multiple occasions I managed to max out my credit cards and run out of cash.

The early days were a lot of sleepless nights, no pay, free interns and pro bono projects to build the portfolio, but by sticking it out I managed to pull through.

Develop a recognizable brand

Organik SEO

Organik SEO

Don’t underestimate the importance of building a unique, bold and recognizable brand. Your brand is not just your logo and your color scheme. It’s a reflection of who you are and what you do. It’s how you differentiate yourself from the crowd, and it helps guide your culture, vision, mission and purpose.

With Organik SEO, our branding may be polarizing, but I can tell you that it’s a brand our clients and prospects don’t easily forget. We’ve made a clear niche for ourselves, and we have clients who choose to work with us not just because they like the results we can produce for them, but because they relate to what our brand stands for.

That connection is the most powerful aspect of our client relationships.

Don’t just work IN the business, work ON the business

The E-Myth Revisited

The E-Myth Revisited

You started consulting because it was what you’re good at, and it made financial sense. But, now that you’re spending all of your time working on those clients, the question becomes, how do you scale?

Issues around hiring and training, HR, accounting, project management, organization and reporting are just a few of the elements that need to be developed and refined as the company grows.

If you have not done so already, I recommend reading The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. This was one of the first great business books I read, and it helped open my eyes to the difference between having technical skills vs. being a CEO and developing the business’s skillset to grow a company.

Don’t get distracted by shiny objects

One of the biggest dilemmas of entrepreneurs is that we are easily distracted. We get excited by new ideas and we thrive off the adrenaline of new projects and opportunities. We often hear stories of startups with huge valuations and companies with crazy 10x growth, but what we don’t hear is how long it took before they were in a position to be able to handle that growth. Understand that most of the “overnight successes” that you hear about were years in the making.

Personally, every time I start to get distracted with another idea or concept, I try and look back on how many countless hours it took to get Organik SEO to its current state. Why start from scratch when you have already made significant progress on your current endeavor? The ones that succeed are the ones that have the willpower to stick with one thing and see it through! Remember, you can’t fail if you don’t quit.

The Riches are in the Niches

This ties back to the other two concepts of establishing a solid brand and not getting distracted. When you are first getting started its almost impossible to consider turning down someone that wants to pay you. However over the years, I have realized the importance of not being everything to everyone. I can’t tell you how much time and money I lost by taking on projects that were not within our wheelhouse.

In addition to the insights mentioned above, here are a few specific considerations to keep in mind when building your small agency:

  • Ensure that your business is easy to identify and speaks directly to your target audience.
  • Become a thought leader in your space, and work to maintain and grow relationships with others in the space.
  • Stay focused – No matter how small your niche market may be! The more narrowly you can define your niche the easier it is to identify and target your audience.
  • Attend networking events, industry conferences
  • Join a business mentoring group and find an accountability partner

In the end, its imperative to be patient with your startup.

Learn from the challenges and keep an open mind to discovering the solutions that will further lead you to your ultimate goals. The natural progression of your business will help define your success, if you let it. If you have specific questions by all means feel free to connect with me on Twitter or via my website. I am always happy to talk shop!


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16 thoughts on “How to Grow From a 1 Man Consultancy into a Successful SEO Agency”

  1. John Kelly: “My ‘why’ is having fun and earning a living. I’m trying hard to maintain that path but how do you ‘grow’ it and keep the answer to ‘why?’ ”

    Just have fun while you grow your business, earning a living will come with the growth.

  2. Great post and I think the two most important details you laid out were: You can’t be all things to all people. Think of it this way. When you have some existing clients who are your perfect client. But then this big deal that really isn’t in your wheel house pops up but somehow you’ll patch it together. Why? Because you focus on the money. What happens? You rob time, energy and focus from your perfect clients who will become your Raving Fans and you under serve them. The big deal client probably won’t succeed or come back a second time. The other comment that fits with this is to avoid the shinny object. Same principal. You’re stealing what other clients have bought from you.

    And I would add one thing. To grow you have to know the difference between a project and a process. If it has a deadline, a clear outcome and clear start and stop date it’s a project and you manage it accordingly. But if it is something that doesn’t have those clear definitives and you do it more than once its a process. You need to map it out, understand it so it can help you.

    Good luck…

  3. Yep, over 10 years now in the same boat as most of you. Working full time alone with contractors as needed. I need to focus on growing my own business as much as I’ve helped others. Over 240 web and marketing clients now and growing but need to know how to take that next step. I don’t want to take on more headaches with payroll, bigger office payments, etc. My “why” is having fun and earning a living. I’m trying hard to maintain that path but how do you “grow” it and keep the answer to “why?”

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m at the beginning of that journey right now. It’s funny that I’m listening to that book right now and also recently finished Built to Sell which is also inspiring on this topic.

    I’ll definitely take you up on the offer to connect. My challenge right now is quitting the day job to pursue.

  5. There’s two types of entrepreneurs; the first is only out for himself and the second has a burning desire to help others. Like yourself I am in the second category, creating my own SEO company after being disillusioned with the state of the industry, total lack of transparency and mentality of most of the companies out there that cared more about lining their pockets than actually providing a quality service that helped businesses to grow. Keep up the great work and here’s to your continued success.

  6. Great post, Julien. One of the things we’re really focusing on right now is business process mapping. It’s been a huge part of setting the stage for growth. Basically, we’re looking at everything we do and creating flow charts of “how we do it”. In the process, we’ve seen how big of a deal it is. Now the team can collaborate on the process, refine it, and make it our own. Your mention of E-myth is so perfect. Keep up the great work.
    Will

  7. I have been employed as a VA/SEO Specialist for 3 years. I just quit from the company 3 days ago. I am currently working on several SEOs, Adwords, and social media projects. For now i have 2 clients, and looking forward to have more soon. I hope my fate will be as successful as yours. I am more inspired than ever reading your story. Thanks for being an inspiration.

  8. I recognize some of those same stories as we have experienced just about all of them as well. Looking forward to reading the book that you mentioned.

    Best of luck Julien.

  9. Thanks for the encouraging words…I own a marketing agency (On-Demand Business & Marketing Solutions). I’m in my 3rd year going on to my forth and it seems as if we have it a wall. Thanks for the encouraging words, we’ll put some of the things you have said in your article to practice

  10. Thanks for the article. It’s nice to see a company that it’s in for the sake of being in this “game” and not just trying to build up a client base to quickly sell.

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