Posted by Dr. Pete
Dear New SEOs,
First off, let me congratulate you. Whether by luck or good planning, you’ve entered the field at a time when business is booming and just about every decent company I know of is looking for talent. So, you may be wondering – why aren’t they hiring you? Maybe being a dad has gone to my head (I’m sure of it, actually), but I’m here to give you some tough love…
Do First, Then Talk
You’re doing it in the wrong order – you need to read this (hat tip to @chriswinfield). I’ll paraphrase – before you shoot your mouth off about how great you are, prove it. Yes, there are cocky people in SEO, and yes some of them make a lot of money, but you’re not them (at least not yet). Your attitude may get you 500 screaming fan-boys and girls on Twitter who all shout “Hell, yeah!” whenever you strike a key, but unless you’re taking your act to the big screen, fan-boys don’t pay the bills.
It’s not just about arrogance, though. I can’t count how many times I walked into a networking event to drum up business and couldn’t connect to anyone, because I had nothing to talk about. People don’t want to hear about what you could do, given enough time, money, and magic beans. They want to hear about what you have done (or, at least, what you are doing). If you want to get people interested in what you do, then do something interesting.
Build Something (Anything)
In this world, “do something interesting” means create something. It could be a mega blog post like David Mihm’s annual Local Search Ranking Factors, or it could be a tool, like Darren Shaw’s Local Citation Finder. Those are just two examples of dozens that catapulted a relative newcomer to SEO stardom.
The double-whammy is that building something not only shows you have skills, but it communicates your niche. We all want to be all things to all people when we’re first starting out, because we’re so afraid to close any door. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a generalist and I absolutely value a broad skill set. The problem is that being a generalist is horrible for marketing. If someone asks “What do you do?” and your reply is “Anything I get paid to”, prepare not to get paid. People want the “WordPress guy” or the “Link-building gal”. Find your niche – once your foot’s in the door, then you can kick it wide open.
Stop Comparing Yourself
The human brain is funny – some days, you can be cocky and self-doubting all in the same half-hour. There’s one area where the internet is especially awful – it exposes you every day to hundreds of people who are better at everything than you are. Get over it. You don’t have to be #1 or even #10,001 at something to make a living at it. Pick something, and do it until you improve. That’s the secret to everything. Last year, I finished the 100 push-up challenge (100 in a single set). You know how I did it? I did 1 set of 8, then 2 sets, up to 5, then 5 sets of 9, 10, 11… until I hit 5 sets of 40. It took me almost a year, but now I do 200/day most days. You want to become an expert link-builder? Stop watching cat videos and build some damned links.
Bite Off 20% Too Much
You can’t grow unless you push your limits. People say that all the time, so let me put a number against it – always take on 20% more than you think you can handle. In my experience, 20% is the point where you force yourself to keep learning but can still deliver on your promises. If you only ever do what you’ve already done, you’ll always have small projects and small results. Don’t lie about your capabilities, but push your comfort zone every single chance you get.
Work Smarter AND Harder
As techie types, we’re naturally obsessed with building a better mousetrap. That’s great, and there’s always room to work smarter, but there’s also a fine line between efficiency and laziness. Sooner or later, you’ve got to stop looking for shortcuts and iPad apps and start doing the work. Learning enough to call yourself an expert takes hundreds (probably thousands) of hours, and building an online business is a full-time job. If you want to play at it, be my guest. If you want to make a living, then get to work.
Tell People What You Do
It’s amazing how many people in the industry I’ve known for 5+ years now, and I don’t actually know what, specifically, they do. This is a mistake I made for at least the first 2-3 years of being in business for myself – I assumed people knew what I did because I hung out in certain communities and wrote on certain topics. Sure, they had a vague idea of my background and expertise, but it wasn’t until I got specific that I really started landing new clients. Tell people what kind of work you want to do, in detail. If you’re looking for a full time job, say it out loud. Opportunity doesn’t fall out of the sky just because you’ve got the sunroof open.
So, get out there – find what excites you, put in the hours, push your limits, create something, and then share that excitement. Do that, and you’ll reap all the rewards of a growing industry.
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