Here’s another post for the “I’ve seen this alot while an SEO consultant” category.
In discussions yesterday, a young guy lamented his lack of serious success, even though he was very good at what he does, and even though he worked very hard. I listened, and yawned. A lot. It’s the same old stories.
Yesterday Hacker News ran a thread about how developers could make “passive income” with their skills. The declarative answer citing profit levels for games, ebooks, courses, etc was full of guesses and errors, but sounded authoritative to the readers. The comments stream was funny… I don’t think a single commenter sounded credible to me.
Same old same old, for a new crop of inquisitors. “We (developers) are awesome. Businesses make profits because we are awesome. How can I get more of that awesomeness for myself?”
The truth is, independent success is not always about being good at what you do. Sorry.
SEO is not just Keywords or Optimizations
The Hacker News folks concluded that developers aren’t very good at business, which they have to be in order to achieve independent success. And they probably won’t find “passive” success much… it usually requires a lot of ongoing work. Go figure?
Yesterday on Twitter someone noted that a dental marketing company had a sub-par website, yet reportedly cleared $4M / year in revenues. That confused him… how “with a website like that” they could achieve what he considered outstanding success, with what looked like a small operation.
A quick look at that website revealed they claim an average of 60 new customers per month for their clients. A modern, professional, effective website means very little when compared to word of mouth testimonial that a hired agency will add 60 new customers to your dental practice each month. However they do it doesn’t matter…and whether that is visible from their website or not, doesn’t matter.
Those self-proclaimed experts offering SEO audits do the same thing every day… they come in from outside, make detached, specific judgments of “what’s wrong” with a web business, or what could be better, add some soft promises of success that could be obtained by listening to their advice, and then walk away with their (often hefty) fee.
It is usually clear that they know very little about how a specific business achieves actual success… they merely track this or that metric which they believe is correlated with business success, and rely on oft-repeated claims of how seo and web marketing support business success.
Players, Every One
These are all players. They are in the game to play, not to win.
There is a saying “don’t hate the player; hate the game” which is usually uttered as a defense against being scolded for playing. I think that defense also reveals the truth about players — they need the game to continue, in order to survive.
An SEO consultant survives by winning at the consulting game, not by playing. Just like everyone else, playing is a time-consuming activity, so being paid to play is just having a job. You work, you get paid.
True success (for anyone… a consultant, or a company) involves revenue generation separate from active participation. The Hacker News developer sought the secret recipe for “passive income” probably because he’s tired of playing the game… or he knows that he will only get paid as much as he participates. He wants a side gig that pays dividends without requiring continuing hours of effort.
Don’t we all want that?
The successful consultant wants to earn enough with N hours of effort, to afford a lifestyle that includes N+X hours of leisure of other activity (more time off work than at work).
If you smartly earn $2 Million in 6 months, you can live like a millionaire for the whole year. Scale that up or down according to your lifestyle goals, but the point is you don’t have to work the 9x5x5x50 (9-5 job, 5 days per week, 2 weeks vacation) to enjoy a well-funded life.
See One, Do One, Teach One?
In medical school there was a saying “see one, do one, teach one”. A medical person would not attempt any new procedure, because that was forbidden (they were not “qualified”). Yet oddly, the qualification required was as minimal as possible — often as little as having witnessed the procedure done by someone else.
See one, do one. Visit with a cooperating mentor, be shown how to do it, and then go and do it.
Equally surprising was the way this cascaded down the food chain, from Sr. Surgeon to attending surgeon to surgical resident etc… That is the “teach one” part.
Educators know that teaching is a great way of reinforcing learning… so the medical school culture of “see one, do one, teach one” supported practical supervised learning and training… throughout the system. A young Doc would seek out a chance to participate in a surgery, and then a chance to do one, and later teach others the same way.
In SEO consulting, THIS — DOESN’T — WORK. Yet, I see it tried all the time. It works for players, but it doesn’t lead to serious success in the game. And I can tie idea this back to the original “real success” issue raised by my Jr. SEO Consultant friend.
They Try This All The Time
If you succeed at SEO consulting, you will develop a reputation for being someone who can actually “move the needle“, meaning you have proven yourself by developing real, meaningful ranking websites or increasing business revenues significantly relative to your fee.
Once that happens, you will be approached by winners, not just those seeking to play the game. Real business winners don’t chase uncertain or unproven consultants. They wait… and approach the winners.
This should be part of success for your SEO consulting business — good clients coming to you — but actually, it is another of the many traps awaiting those who succeed at life.
Remember the wise old saying… “as you grow stronger, the world gets more dangerous”.
The winners are not better clients, although they do bring bigger opportunities for success.
I have this Friend
Time and again I am approached by a winner who is seeking help with his business, while behind the scenes that guy is actually one member of a group of winners, running multiple businesses. While Guy #1 approaches me to attempt to engage me into consulting for his successful business, he is really working on behalf of Guy #2, Guy #3, and others, who have much bigger plans if what I can do for Guy #1 actually works.
This is usually obvious to me, because I do background work on any serious client prospect. Before meeting, I usually know where their success comes from, and it is (usually) clear when a private network of businessmen support each other. And that is very often the case.
Independent success is not always about being good at what you do.
Humans form tribes. Tribe members help each other. Relatives, cousins, college floor mates, buddies from an older funding round, etc. Chances are very good that Guy #1’s successful business was helped by his mates, or his club membership, or is not-exactly-as-it-seems (such as backed by a family funder, or owned by a partnership). During an interview, it’s pretty easy for me to learn when someone is seriously engaged into hiring me, vs. attempting to check me out using a less-meaningful project.
I don’t take those jobs. I don’t have to, and I know they are not “winners” for me.
Another fun fact: the typical “much bigger project” potentially undertaken by that larger club, tribe, or group is not usually a very good idea.
Guy #1 is, however, the one who usually believes it is. The other guys are usually “see one… do one” types. If they don’t support the plan of trying out an SEO consultant with a starter project, they are going along because they expect to learn whatever they can about how that SEO consultant operates, so they can attempt to do the same, themselves, and their own projects.
There is No Substitute for Success
The bottom line for any SEO is that success is defined by the project. If it’s yours, you know what matters, and what doesn’t. There is never any debate about SEO because you are constantly adapting to a real business climate, with all of your skills and resources. This is where people like me have the most fun and the most success, and where our work deviates the most of the seo “players” selling SEO services and tools. That’s just not how real business works.
When doing SEO work for a client, the client must declare the success metrics for your work, or you can’t proceed efficiently, and you cannot expect real success of your own. If they can’t define the success metrics, offer to work with them (as a paid consultant) to develop the project into one that you can help them win.
SEO consulting is a type of consulting. As with any consulting, success is based on client satisfaction, delivery in according with expectations, and success in the game, as defined by the client-consultant agreement.
All of the rest of SEO and “consulting” is just playing the game, and keeping busy (employed).
While it’s fine to choose to be a player if you want to, you are not playing to win, so you can’t complain when you finally realize you can never win. In that case do indeed “hate the player”, because that’s the player’s fault.