Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is a vital website tool; good SEO leads to traffic (visitors) – traffic is the lifeblood for all websites, the amount of visitors a website attracts has a direct bearing on advertising, direct sales and search engine positioning.
Freelance SEO Essex (FSE) was founded in 2012 by SEO specialists Danny Hall and Danielle Haley. Both Danny and Danielle honed their SEO skills by working for some of the UK’s leading digital marketing agencies. Curious to find out more about the SEO industry and their business model I asked Danny and Danielle a series of questions
1. What is SEO and why is it important for businesses?
Danny: SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the process of improving the visibility of a website within the search engines.
The higher a site appears in the listings, the more clicks and traffic the business will receive. As long as the site itself is clean, well-structured and easy to navigate, and as long as the site is ranking for the right kinds of keywords, this extra exposure will lead to more sales or enquiries for the business that runs it.
Danielle: SEO is vital for modern companies. In the famous words of Marc Ostrofsky: “You can spend every penny you have on a website, but it will all be for nothing if nobody knows your site is there.” Companies need SEO to help them source new business opportunities and keep them ahead of their competitors in a world full of people that are increasingly turning to the web to buy and sell.
2. What is unique about your company?
Danielle: Our setup is also very different to many other SEO companies. We operate a small team of consultants and campaign managers in the office, but manage a wide network of freelance web designers, developers, copywriters and PR contacts. Working in this way enables us to keep our overheads low and our prices competitive, and also ensures we’re able to scale our business up or down to meet demand.
Danny: We offer a comprehensive, personalised level of service that other search agencies find hard to match. It’s our attitude towards consultancy and campaign management that really sets us apart. We work extensively with our clients, often face-to-face, to ensure their needs are met at every stage of the campaign – in fact, we try to get them involved as much as possible so they feel they have control over the optimisation process and fully understand the way SEO works. As cheesy as it sounds, we really are big enough to deliver and small enough to care!
3. How did you start on the journey of working in SEO?
Danny: I’ve worked in several different industries but fell into a business development role at another SEO firm a number of years ago. Getting to grips with the various concepts of SEO was tricky to start with, but I soon found I had a knack for engaging clients in their campaigns and I really enjoyed seeing my strategies work wonders for businesses that were struggling beforehand.
Danielle: I started my career as a copywriter and within a couple of years had worked my way up to managing the content and support division of a search agency. It was a small company, so I had the opportunity to get involved in lots of different areas of the business, from sales to accounting to client management, and these experiences helped me form a well-rounded view of what it takes to run and manage a business in the search industry.
4. Describe your path to starting your own company? When and why did you decide to start it?
Danny: We actually met within the industry. We always used to talk about ways in which we could improve the client’s experience, and were constantly sharing new ideas and strategies we’d come up with. After a while, it became pretty clear that we had the same outlook and work ethic, and starting FSE seemed like the natural thing to do.
Danielle: We both felt we had some great ideas and were passionate about getting something off the ground. We were convinced we had something new to offer. Obviously, leaving full-time employment and all the security that comes with it was a risk, and there were moments where we were convinced it would never happen, but eventually we just thought to ourselves, why not? Why not take a chance? We’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got the experience, we just need to work hard. Touch wood, we’ve never looked back.
Danny: Also, I think we both also realized early on that we have very different skill sets and balance each other out very well. I’m more sales and client-focused, whereas Danielle is better at the technical, analytical side of things – you need both elements to run a company like ours!
5. What are the worst things about running your own business?
Danny: Never being able to switch off! When you run a business, you always have something running through your mind and ideas will come to you when you least expect it. I love being busy but it’s hard to distinguish between ‘work’ and ‘rest’, and that can be exhausting. I really have to try hard to relax.
Danielle: I love being in charge of my own work hours and facing fresh challenges every day, but I have to agree with Danny – it’s so hard to unwind! I’m a bit of a control freak too and find it hard to delegate work to other people, so I’ll pull crazy hours just to make sure I’m satisfied with the work that’s being done. I think any business owner will agree that it can be hard to trust others to have the same respect and passion for your vision. You have to learn to trust other people, and you constantly worry that what you’re doing isn’t good enough – even if you’re getting great feedback and it’s clear you’ve gone the extra mile for your clients!
6. What is the importance of giving back as part of your business plan?
Danny: We know we’re incredibly lucky to be in the position we’re in now, and we want to do everything we can to use our success to help others. We help out local businesses at every opportunity and we try to sponsor events and initiatives wherever we can. We’ve been involved in all kinds of schemes, from business awards and competitions to beer festivals and local art exhibitions.
When starting up we found organizations like the *FSB of great use. We found that the resources, advice and confidence it gave us as a startup company really helped us to move forward. As a result of this we always recommend them to anyone who we think can benefit from their service and we believe that giving free honest advice and spending time with people at a stage in their business when they may not have the budget for marketing will always hold us in good stead. These people are then more likely to come back to you when they do have the budget, or when their business is a better position to utilize our services.
7. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started out?
Danielle: I wish I’d known that it is actually possible to say no to something if it isn’t going to work for your business. When you first start up a company, you bend over backwards to take on every project you can because you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t, but there were times when we should have let the wrong kinds of opportunities go.
Danny: Mine is along the same lines as Danielle’s in that we should have had the confidence to stick to what we were good at and not take on projects that weren’t our strong point, or very cost effective for us. Naturally our industry encompasses various other services which all have their own level of expertise and it took us a while to realize that by trying to provide a one stop service we were running the risk of becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none.
8. Do you believe entrepreneurship is something innate or that can be developed?
Danielle: You have to have relentless self-motivation if you’re going to work for yourself. You have to be willing to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone, otherwise you’ll just sit still – or worse, fail. I don’t think these are qualities that you can ‘develop’ over time – you’re either a thinker or a do-er, and only do-ers will make successful entrepreneurs. That said, I do think that confidence and self-belief can be developed to a degree, and these qualities will naturally guide a person to entrepreneurship.
Danny: While I believe we all have the entrepreneur bug within us, I do believe that it’s buried far deeper in some than in others. Naturally some people are happy being secure in a certain role, no matter how much they love or hate that job. Others are scared to start out on their own because of personal or financial commitments, or quite simply the fear of failure, or “losing it all”. Starting your own company does require a special breed, if you like, because not everyone wants the constant stress of worrying about a particular project or where the next client is going to come from. After all there is a lot to be said for finishing at 5pm and not worrying about your holidays, sick pay, bank account and a million other things.
For further information please visit: www.freelanceseoessex.co.uk
*Federation of Small Businesses.