An SEO consultant is a specialist in search engine optimization who works outside of typical contract jobs.
For example, they may be freelancers working with their clients or on an existing team, but not as employees.
They may be responsible for a variety of tasks from pitching and closing to contract negotiation, as well as SEO.
And while there are many advantages to having a variety of skills and the freedom to take on only the projects you want, SEO consulting also has its drawbacks.
This column will help you understand what to expect before choosing a career as an SEO consultant.
- 1 Are SEO Consultants Employed Or Freelance?
- 2 Essential Skills
- 3 Salary Expectations
- 4 Helpful Certifications And Experience
- 5 Who Hires SEO Consultants And Why?
- 6 Considerations For Becoming An SEO Consultant
- 7 Conclusions
Are SEO Consultants Employed Or Freelance?
In the UK, the answer becomes a little more complicated. The term “SEO consultant” can also describe the job title of an SEO employee that does not really denote seniority or management responsibilities.
Like “SEO specialist” or “SEO advisor”.
This could also be how freelancers are described with side companies and full-time jobs.
However, it also means an independent contract as in the United States.
Projects vs. Multiple Clients
An SEO consultant might choose to work with their clients and the only person working on their SEO.
They may also choose to take on contracts that incorporate them into an existing team, such as joining as an additional support to an enterprise SEO team.
Running Your Own Business
The key difference between a career as an SEO consultant and any other type of SEO job is that you have to manage your own business.
As an independent contractor, you manage your contracts, pitching and financial / tax obligations.
What essential skills do you need to be a successful SEO consultant in addition to being a good SEO professional?
Below is an overview of the basic skills to thrive as an independent SEO contractor, outside of on-site, technical and off-site SEO.
It can be used to manage a balance in your employee role to ensure that customer hours have been completed or to control profit and loss for your department.
However, unforeseen additional costs can increase when working as a freelancer.
This means you need to be able to manage a budget quickly, or you won’t have enough money on top at the end of each month to take a salary home.
There may be ad-hoc costs, such as initial legal advice, and ongoing costs such as maintaining an accountant.
Any marketing guarantees, the cost of hosting and developing a website, those fantastic tools that we all love to use. You will pay in full for them.
Without the deep pockets of an agency or a brand behind you, all your business expenses come from the money you have been able to earn as a consultant.
Even though every job requires a time management degree, being an SEO consultant means spinning many plates at once.
There is also a lack of structure, support and resources with an employee role.
Therefore, time management is an increasingly important skill.
There will be deadlines for real estate companies as well as legal and financial requirements and calls with interested parties that other team members cannot cover in your absence.
Getting your bills on time can be more important for your longevity as a consultant.
The amount of admin you need to find time to increase. You will need to sort through receipts and update your budgeting software.
You need to submit the financial details to make your own payment. Then there are emails and meetings.
No matter how much you have as an SEO employee, you look forward to a lot as a consultant.
To be successful, you need to be very adept at planning your time.
Pitching And Closing
From marketing your skills to pitching and hiring a new client, you need to be able to manage the entire cycle of winning a new job.
There will be no business development team to support you, so you may need to strengthen your persuasive skills.
Even if you are an SEO for business, I can tell you from a first hand experience that a few of your business leaders go through your website even if you are the first place to “consultant SEO “in your area.
You will also need to become a marketing expert in other ways.
This means capturing potential customers through social media, events and word of mouth.
Not only do you need to source potential customers, but you also need to convert them effectively. This means working on pitch decks, negotiating rates, and securing the signature.
Even if you can have a standard contract model, expect potential customers to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.
This could also extend to your price proposal and service level agreement.
Part of being an SEO contractor is the need to be able to negotiate contracts.
There can be an expectation of a certain level of compromise, especially if you want to work with smaller companies with limited budgets.
When looking at the long term for the next six to 12 months of your proposed contract, you need to be able to predict how those compromises may affect your profit and quality of life.
A customer may want you to work your proposed hours for less money, which reduces your average rate.
They may also be expected to respond to e-mails outside of the proposed work hours.
Although it may be tempting to agree to these altered terms to secure income, in the long run, it might not be beneficial for the growth of your business.
Understanding Of Financial And Legal Responsibilities
Being an SEO consultant means being your own boss, owning your own business, and the excitement and freedom it brings.
However, it also means being solely responsible for ensuring that you are in full legal compliance.
This means understanding which business laws apply to you in your state or country, but also, if you have clients in other parts of the world, understanding how their laws affect you.
For example, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) in Europe regulate the control of personal data.
Even if you are not based in Europe, you may be subject to these rules if your customers are.
As you store information about your customers, you will need to comply with these regulations.
Being a consultant means that no one is above you to take on this responsibility.
It’s all yours. You may be able to get advice from lawyers or accountants to help you make informed decisions, but the ramifications are all about you if you have little advice.
Another essential skill is good stakeholder management.
This includes deadlines for communication, pursuing invoice payments, and ensuring that customer expectations are aligned.
When you are a consultant, your stakeholders are not just your clients.
They are your accountants, lawyers, suppliers and other consultants with whom you partner.
In a larger business, these stakeholders tend to communicate with different team members; the finance department, the CEO, the marketing team, and the account managers.
As a freelancer, you are the only point of contact.
The needs of a client versus the needs of your accountant are very different, but the two should take precedence.
Learning to manage a wider range of stakeholders than you are accustomed to will greatly improve your success as an SEO consultant.
Fitting In With Teams Quickly
You will not be allowed for a long period of time as an SEO consultant.
You have to show value to your customers from day one. This can be a complicated skill to develop.
There will be an expectation that you can drive the return on investment right away, even if you need to learn its processes, procedures, product and industry.
It’s not just about understanding business; you need to get along well with your new colleagues.
When working closely with other members of your client’s team, what they think of your work ethic and personality may influence the duration and recurrence of your contract.
When you join a new company as an employee, you may have a trial period – a few weeks to months where the company assesses your form and competence.
If done right, it will be a time when you can work with your boss to fill any gaps in your knowledge and develop a training plan to ensure you are off to a great start in the company.
As a freelance SEO, you don’t get this.
However, you may have a termination clause in your contract or simply the option for a client to cancel their recurring monthly contract if they do not like your work.
A skill you need to develop first as an SEO consultant demonstrates the return on investment of working with you.
This means understanding exactly what you expect to provide and making sure it is reasonable.
From there, you’ll need to report back on your success against these goals.
PsychologyToday defines resilience as “the psychological quality that allows some people to be overcome by the adversity of life and to return at least as strong as before” and is a skill to cultivate.
Being a consultant can be annoying.
One month you may have so much work to do that you wonder when sleep will be an option.
Others, looking nervously at your emails, want acceptance of the proposal to come.
Stability in the workflow you earn can be slow to build.
Then, during the night, a global pandemic can cause everything to dry up. One thing that tends to be short as an SEO contract is certainty.
A vital skill for an SEO consultant is resilience.
Returning when a customer unexpectedly terminates their contract or there is a conflict with a competitor is challenging.
Even when all goes well, there will always be a need to pursue bills that are 60 days late.
Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle.
There is an element of an SEO consultant not only selling their services but also selling the dream of working with them personally.
As a consultant, you will be in a similar position to going for a job interview every time you pitch for the job. Your client needs to believe that you are the best candidate for the job.
This can start long before a pitch meeting.
The ideal for many consultants is that they become so respected in the industry that word of mouth generates leads for them.
Instead of spending a lot of time and energy on marketing, they have customers approaching them.
Some of the most successful SEO consultants have chosen an industry and become experts.
By doing so, they can choose which ones to work with and charge fees that reflect the value they carry.
If you are looking to become an SEO consultant, it can help you understand your local market, the needs of the companies that can work with you, and what you can do to be more attractive to them.
This could mean finding a niche and adhering to it for your market. It could mean going after smaller businesses that need the full range of SEO support.
Whatever you want to achieve as a consultant, you need to be good at presenting your knowledge, skills and value beyond the initial meeting with a prospect.
You may have a pretty good idea of what salaries look like in your country and region, but what about rates for SEO contractors?
Recently, Search Engine Journal conducted a salary survey looking for data points from the SEO industry.
The results for freelance professionals were particularly interesting.
Search Engine Journal found that freelance SEO consultants earn less than $ 34,000 a year on average.
Respondents to the survey who identified themselves as freelancers had less than two years of experience. This would have greatly unbalanced his earnings.
With that in mind, take the average salary reported by an SEO consultant with a pinch of salt.
Yours may be higher depending on location, years of experience and specialties.
In the UK, Glassdoor reports that an SEO freelancer can make £ 31,540 a year (about $ 41,000).
What you choose to charge per project or per hour has a big impact on how much you bring home each year.
You also need to consider how many hours you want to work each week. Together, this will help you identify how much you can earn in a year if your customer load is full.
It is important to remember that you also need to deduct the costs of managing your business from your net earnings.
This may include items from network group membership to tax and insurance.
Helpful Certifications And Experience
One of the great things about entering a career in SEO is that there are very low barriers to entry.
There is no university degree that you must have or a governing body that you must be a part of.
On the flip side, there is little for potential customers to use to measure how good an SEO site is.
Due to this lack of regulation in the industry, there are no standard certificates or qualifications to prove your competence.
However, you may need to demonstrate your competence to potential customers in other ways.
Your most obvious way to show that you are an expert in your field is to showcase your experience.
Unfortunately, many customers can equate the experience with years in the industry. This is not always the case.
Experience with specific projects
A consultant may have performed 20 site migrations during their three years in the industry because they worked at an SEO agency.
Another entrepreneur may have completed only one during his five years in the industry because he worked at home for a brand.
A client looking for SEO support for their future website migration might find it more favorable to a consultant who has worked for five years in the industry.
They may mistakenly believe that more years of experience equates to better performance.
If you are looking to pitch for a website migration project, such as an SEO consultant, you need to be able to demonstrate your specific experience with the SEO facets that the project supports.
Another aspect of your experience that you need to show is the industry in which you work.
For some customers, knowing that their consultant understands their market, consumers and products will be paramount.
If you work in a variety of industries, focus on your marketing and pitching materials.
If you have worked in a limited range of verticals, you can talk more about the depth of the experience.
You will benefit from demonstrating that you have a wealth of knowledge about those particular industries that are making your learning curve with a new customer fast and minimal.
If you’ve been around the SEO industry for a while, you’ve probably come across forums and threads where inexperienced SEO specialists have landed their first client and are now asking veterans how to do SEO.
This is not a situation you will enjoy being in.
If you manage to land a customer whose SEO needs are greater than you can meet, it will probably cause stress on both sides.
As a consultant, you need to learn to identify the purpose of a potential project quickly and decide if you have enough knowledge and experience to manage it.
As expected, no governing body oversees SEO practice, which can validate a consultant’s ability to perform SEO.
However, there are a number of award-winning shows and programs that serve in some way as a proxy for this.
The validity of awards is a hotly debated topic in SEO circles.
However, winning a show you have been judged independently as performing the work to a high and impactful standard.
Giving examples of previous work in the form of case studies can help potential clients feel confident in their abilities.
It can sometimes be difficult to get sign-offs from previous customers to use your data, so you may need to obfuscate it slightly.
Make sure you’re allowed to share every detail, especially if it’s from the work you did before you became a consultant!
Recommendations And References
As you may need to provide a new employee role, having arbitrators available to potential clients can help you understand what it will be like to work with you.
Having a couple of current or previous clients happy to provide referrals can benefit a consultant.
Platforms like LinkedIn also allow you to ask for and receive advice that can go a long way to instilling confidence in your work.
Also, even if it’s not fair, the tips written on your website can help you convert potential customers.
Although there is no commonly accepted SEO qualification, many tools, agencies and organizations offer certification in search.
The choice to do your training and examination to receive a certification may seem redundant if you have been in the industry for several years, but it can help to prove that your knowledge is current and your knowledge reaches a standard.
In addition, certifications in adjacent areas such as analytics, data science, and programming can help demonstrate your particular area of expertise.
Considerations and certifications in specific SEO and analysis tools.
These can demonstrate to customers that you can use their stack of tools without additional training.
Who Hires SEO Consultants And Why?
There are many types of organizations that would hire SEO consultants. It may be their only SEO resource or to complement an existing team or list of freelancers.
Small businesses that can’t afford their own internal resources often turn to SEO consultants.
SEO consultants are often lower than agencies and can be more expensive to work with. This can be an attractive alternative to cash strapped organizations.
Rounding Out A Team
Brands with an existing SEO team can use contractors to reinforce their resources or fill a gap in specific skills.
For example, a brand looking to appear on Google Discovery for the first time may want external advice on how to do better if their internal team has no experience with it.
Filling A Temporary Gap
It may be necessary to increase resources during the busiest seasons or to cover an extended leave of absence of existing employees.
If an employee leaves the organization, a consultant could fill the gap while hiring a replacement.
Some agencies do not have SEO services, but want to partner with a consultant to offer this service to existing clients.
They may also want to test the water of how SEO additions to their services work before hiring an employee to cover them.
Consultants can offer support without the cost of hiring, training and employee benefits.
Similar to brands that need temporary help in busy seasons, agencies may require an additional person on their team to fill employee permits, skills gaps, or to consult on industry-specific projects.
Agencies can often offer a repetitive task to consultants for this reason.
Support With Hiring
One very niche project that you may find available to do as an SEO consultant is that of hiring support.
So rather than filling a skills gap yourself, you can be a consultant on hiring SEO professionals.
For organizations without, or very junior, SEO teams, it can be difficult for the employment manager to know enough SEO to make a wise decision.
Consultants can bring their expertise to the recruitment process.
They may also recommend a job description, review resumes, and even do interviews.
Setting Up A Department
Along with helping with recruitment, SEO contractors can also help you create a department from scratch.
This may be the case when a team is needed, but hiring talent at a senior level is proving difficult or too slow.
The SEO contract could help create the department and potentially lead to a permanent senior employee.
Considerations For Becoming An SEO Consultant
Ultimately, there is a lot to consider when moving from employee work to contract work. It can be an exciting and liberating movement, but also risky.
When you become an SEO consultant, you change the structure of a corporate world for the freedom to be independent.
That includes no longer having a manager.
Legal And Financial Implications
You need to follow the law, the fees to pay and the extra costs to be a consultant you need to know.
All of this can affect your finances.
Pick And Choose Projects
SEO consultants have a much greater freedom to decide with whom they want to work and on which projects.
Pitch For Work
You will need to develop your own business pipeline, including lead generation and ultimately converting. This will likely mean pitching and contract negotiation.
Set Your Own Fee
Although it depends mainly on the type of client you want to work with and the market in which you operate, it will be up to you to decide how much you charge.
Depending on where you work, the difference in employment rights for employees and what you are entitled to as an independent contractor can be very different.
In addition to the legal rights that you may be granted as an SEO employee, there are also likely additional benefits offered by your employer.
You Only Get Paid If You Issue Invoices
There are no “pros” to this.
It is essentially one of the most challenging aspects of being an SEO consultant.
If you can’t work for some reason, such as illness or vacation, you won’t be able to bill for work. If you don’t bill for the job, you don’t get paid.
Unlike the jobs you can pay for if you can’t work, it won’t be something you get as a freelance SEO consultant.
If you can’t send invoices, or worse, do, but they aren’t paid, you may struggle to make your own payment.
The day-to-day working lives of SEO consultants can be very similar to the SEO experts employed in terms of work.
However, there are often additional complexities beyond SEO activities that can make for a scary prospect for some.
Taking the plunge into the world of freelance SEO can be liberating, though. There is a greater freedom to choose what you want to do and when.
Someone chooses to kick the toe in consulting work alongside their regular job (if allowed by their employer).
This can help with the learning curve of running a business while in job security.
You don’t intend to quit your job, but it’s always good to watch the market. You may not want to be an SEO consultant yourself, but you do need to hire one.
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