Ep #4: How to Get Your First SEO Client

Getting clients can be hard.

Getting your first client can be even harder, especially when you can’t show results or you’re unsure how to go about pitching and selling your services. Thankfully, there are workarounds that will help you get your first client that don’t involve never ending cold calling or running expensive ads.

What you will discover

In this episode I share the ways in which I got my first clients, what you can do to get clients, and the reality of what it takes to get started without sugar coating it. In particular I cover  –

  • Why a broken yes is better than a perfect no
  • How to get your first client by working your inner circle
  • Why meeting with real people and having real discussions is important
  • And whether or not you should work for free initially or lower your rates

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Click below to read the transcript of this episode.

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Hey guys. Today, I want to talk about something that I’m sure is of interest for many SEO consultants, especially those just getting started, and that is getting your first clients. Now, when it comes to getting clients, even for people that have been in the industry for quite some time, getting clients can be extremely challenging. I’ve noticed, over the last 12 to 18 months, just how bad most SEO consultants are at marketing, which I find to be quite ironic, given that we all work in the marketing space. Now, having said all of that, for SEO consultants who are just getting started, this can be a really lonely place to be. It can feel quite isolated and frustrated. And I know exactly how it feels, because I’ve been there myself. I think, if I remember back, going back around 2007, I remember reaching out.

I was at a point where I was looking at improving. I was actually providing SEO services, but I was looking at improving my operations. And I reached out to a number of really well known SEOs, who are running large scale agencies. And I said, “Hey, is there any way that we can work together?” I was essentially looking for mentorship, and I remember one came back and said 25,000. Another one came back, I think it was 7,000, and there was another one in the middle there for 10 or 15,000. And I just didn’t have that sort of money at that point. And I remember thinking, “Wow, this is incredibly frustrating. I don’t have the money to invest in marketing my service, and I certainly don’t have the money to invest in mentoring.” And I think, for many SEO consultants, especially those who are just getting started, might be or most likely are in the same position.

They either have no money and plenty of time, or they might have some money. I’m not saying that all SEO consultants in this position don’t have money to invest, but certainly, it can be a vicious cycle for a lot of SEO consultants who are looking to get their first client. Because they need the money in order to market and promote their services, but they don’t have any clients, so they’re not making any money. And you go around and around and around. I often refer to this as a cycle of struggle. You end up stuck in a situation where you feel isolated and you are trying to solve all these problems on your own, because you simply don’t have the money that’s required in order to solve the problem that you have. And if you did have the money, then you wouldn’t need to solve that problem.

So it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. Now, in addition to this, for those of you just getting started and looking to secure your first client, you’re going to be faced with the challenges of, not only trying to attract your first client, but also pitch and sell your services. Because what you’ll find is that, in a lot of cases, you’ll be on a call or in a meeting and the client, at some point, or the prospect rather, will be asking you for results. “Can you show us what work you’ve done for other companies?” And when you’re trying to chase down your first client, well, of course, you’re not going to have that, and that can make securing your first client even harder again. So you go through this process of trying to find your first client and getting maybe a lot of nos or not interested.

And then, when you do finally get one who might be interested, you lose them, because you’re unable to demonstrate results. I’m going to share with you a couple of workarounds for that in just a second. But again, this can prove rather frustrating. So something that I’ve often said and shared, which is it can be a little bit hard to hear, but I think it needs to be said, is you’ve got to start out at the very beginning. Anyone who’s running a $10 million a year agency started out at the same place, had no clients. It doesn’t matter. We all start at the same place. And this is why I get frustrated with students when they say, “Well, I’m not going to get my first client until I’ve got results, so I’ll just wait until I get results.” But that doesn’t make any sense.

So you’ve got to get this idea or thought out of your head, that you’ve got to have results first in order to secure clients. That’s definitely not true. It can certainly help, and I’ll share with you a few ways, in a moment, that can help solve that problem. But you don’t have to have a huge portfolio of case studies that you can present and share during your sales presentation. Now, a really unpopular bit of advice that I give to a lot of my students, certainly at the beginning, and I say this with all good intent, simply because I want to keep it real, I want people to understand that it’s going to be hard and there’s work involved. That advice is this, you got to be prepared to eat shit sandwiches. Your first client is probably not going to be your ideal client. It’s certainly not going to be a perfect client.

And chances are, you’ll look back in five years and think, “Wow, I remember my first client.” You might get lucky, could be a great client, but chances are you’ll look back and think, “Man, I remember that first client I took on. I charged $500 a month. Wow, I wouldn’t do that now.” And that’s fairly typical for most of us that have been working in the industry for some time. So you’ve got to be prepared to eat shit sandwiches. I think there are far too many SEO consultants who simply want to land a $5,000 a month client straight out of the gate. And I’m not saying that that’s not possible, but I see so much nonsense, especially on social media, with marketers giving this sense of false hope to people that, “Hey, if you just click on this button, you’re going to have 50 clients by next Saturday afternoon.”

That just doesn’t happen. So that’s the first thing. You’ve got to be prepared to eat shit sandwiches. You’ve got to be prepared to work with less than ideal clients and forget about trying to get everything perfect at the very beginning, because it’s not going to be. And this leads me into my next point, which, and this is some advice that I’ve been sharing a lot with the members in the group. For those, of course, that are just getting started, you’re best off start with a broken yes, rather than a perfect no. You’re best off having someone say, “yes, let’s do this” and put a thousand dollars in your account.

Even though you don’t have the perfect proposal, your pitch was awful, or your processes aren’t in place, or you’re not quite sure how to do certain things, or maybe you’ve got to do all the work yourself to begin with, you’re best off having a broken yes as opposed to a perfect no, where you’ve invested all of this time building a fancy website and you’ve got business cards and you’ve got your branding and social media properties and you’ve started a YouTube channel and you’re doing all of this stuff and everything feels perfect, but you’ve got no clients.

And this is why I always say sell first, then build, get in front of prospects and sell first, validate your service offering, validate the niche that you intend on working in. It doesn’t make sense, and this is a huge mistake I see a lot of SEO consultants making is that they do everything backwards. They build the website, they build all their social media out, they build out landing pages, and they run ads. And they spend all of this time and money, and then, they get to a point where they’re like, “Wait a minute, we haven’t secured any clients, but we’ve done all these things and we’ve wasted all of this time.”

There’s no need to do any of that. Get in front of your prospects and sell first. Sell first and then, build. Now, if you’re in a position where you don’t necessarily have a lot of money, but you’ve got plenty of time, well, that’s fantastic. Use that time wisely. Hustle your face off. Now, this doesn’t mean building out fancy spreadsheets and watching YouTube videos and creating Google Docs and doing all this other nonsense. It means getting off your ass and getting out there, shaking hands, kissing babies, going to networking events, banging on doors, calling people, hosting videos calls, conferencing calls, free coaching sessions, doing it whatever you can to get in front of your prospects, and starting that conversation. This is all about building relationships. I think we live in a time at the moment where a lot of SEO consultants and certainly people that this isn’t just limited to SEO, a lot of people that work in the online space are afraid to step out from behind the keyboard and go out and actually meet people in person.

And I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people saying, “That’s not scalable.” But if you’re looking at getting your first client, don’t be afraid to get out there and introduce yourself and have real conversations with real people. That stuff will always work. It’s how I got my first client. I went to networking events. I’d get up at 5:30 in the morning, I’d iron my clothes, I’d drive an hour to a business networking event. The food was terrible, and I could think of a hundred different places I would’ve rather been, but it got me my first clients. And it wasn’t a long-term strategy. It was just enough to get me started. And then, from there, I worked on all of these other things that I’m talking about, getting referrals and investing in other strategies and methods to automate that process.

So I didn’t have to go to those networking events, but at the very beginning, like I said, you got to be prepared to eat shit sandwiches. And if that means getting up at 5:00 AM ironing your clothes and driving through two feet of snow to go to a networking event to secure your first $500 a month client, well, then that’s fine, because it’s better than nothing. It’s a start. Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean… I’m not advocating that you need to go out there and near kill yourself to make peanuts. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying, you got to be prepared to put in the work and do whatever it takes to secure your first client, rather than thinking that you’re going to download a piece of software and press a button and the phone’s going to ring and you’re going to have a long line of people wanting to give you your credit card details. Because that’s probably not going to happen.

One other thing that I want to touch on here, and again, and look, a lot of the points here that I’m covering may not be what you want to hear. And I’m sure for many SEO consultants, and I’m not saying it’s all doom and gloom, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t need to be difficult. It can have its challenges, but I’m not in the business of sugarcoating things, in order to lead people into believing it’s going to be all roses and rainbows. There’s enough of that nonsense around already. But getting back to my point, forget about the money initially. I’ve had numerous conversations with SEO consultants, who say, “Oh, how much should I charge? What are my profit margins?” If this is your first client, forget about the money. Focus on just getting started. Be prepared to break even. You are getting paid to learn.

That’s the way in which you need to start thinking about it. Your first, maybe two or three clients work at a lower rate, work at a discounted rate. Look, if anyone says never to work with discounts, it’s me. But I think, at the very beginning, that conversation needs to change. You need to think about, “what can I do in order to be honest with someone?” And this is something else that comes up in conversation a lot. “Should I build out some fake case studies? Should I tell them that I’ve worked with these other companies?” Never ever have I ever made the recommendation or encouraged anyone to bullshit someone around showcasing fake results, and I never will. Because it’s not necessary. I think you’re much better off having some integrity and telling a person, “Listen, I’m just getting started. I need someone to give me a break here. I’ve invested in training, I’ve worked with a mentor,” whatever that might be.

So long as you are competent and you know what to do and you have confidence in being able to actually help the person, then there should be no issues around you saying, “Hey, I’m new at this. I’m just getting started. I need someone to give me a break.” Now, a great way you can get leads by doing that is by working your inner circle. Work your inner circle, your immediate friends, family, people you’re connected with on social media, people that you might know in other businesses or spaces, people that know you personally, that you can go to and say, “Hey, listen, I’m getting into SEO. I’m focusing on this particular niche. These are my ideal clients. Do you think you might be able to send me someone? I just need someone to get me started.” Getting a warm referral like that through your inner circle can be a tremendous way to get your first client and essentially build out case studies and be able to show results for future prospects.

And this is essentially where you work the Ascension model. “Okay, I’m charging 500 bucks a month, I’m charging 1,500 8 months later. Hey, I’m now charging $3,500 a month, and I’m where I need to be.” But initially, I think you need to let go of the idea that you’re going to be landing a $5,000 a month client as your first client. I know some pretty successful agency owners, and even those guys started at 750 a month. And now, I know they won’t take on clients less than seven and a half thousand, but we all start somewhere. And this is the other thing, everyone starts at zero. Don’t be thinking, “Okay, I’m not going to get clients, because I can’t showcase results. I can’t show results or demonstrate results.” That’s not true. Everyone starts at zero. But yeah, be mindful of that. Forget about the money. You’re being paid to learn.

Focus on just getting started. Now, a question that I’m asked often is, “Should I work for free?” Now, if you had to ask me this question five years ago, I would have said, “Absolutely not.” But I think that conversation has changed. I’ve been involved in this conversation with a number of people over the years, and I’ve been presented with some different perspectives and ways of looking at things. And I want to share a couple of those with you. The first one, and this was shared with me by a mentor that I worked with a number of years ago, and he said, “I only work for free if the organisation or client that you’re going to be working with is head of a big brand or a reputable company.” For example, if Bob calls you and says, “Listen, I got this local mowing business thing and we need help getting customers, we’re interested in SEO,” that is going to be a lot different from the CEO of Coca-Cola calling you and saying, “Hey, we need someone to do an SEO audit.”

Now, of course, you’re not going to get a call from the CEO of Coca-Cola, but I think you understand my point. If you can do something for free for a very large firm and you have their permission to use that document, that process, and use that as a case study in your site, where you can upload their logos and share all of that information, that’s going to give you huge leverage in terms of being able to attract future clients. I wouldn’t recommend working for free for Bob’s mowing, because let’s face it, who cares? So that’s the first thing. The second thing I’ll share with you is redefining the interpretation of work. Okay, work for free. Well, what does that mean? What do we mean by work? Of course, you can’t run a full scale SEO campaign and cover operational costs, paying staff, yourself, covering the cost of links and content and everything else.

You can’t do that for free, because then, you’re going backwards. You’re working at a loss. But what you can do, and this is just a quick example, is you can offer free coaching sessions or free consulting calls. “Hey, 30 minute consulting call. Let’s jump on. I’m not going to try and sell you anything. This is not a sales pitch. We’ll jump on and I’ll walk you through all aspects of Google Business profile, let’s say, and I’ll show you what you can do in order to get more reviews, rank higher in the Map Pack, how you can upload photos. I can share all of these strategies with you, that will help you attract more customers and generate more sales and revenue and everything else.” Now, guess what’s going to happen when you do that, 50% chance, you are going to get to the end of that call and they’re going to say, “Listen, you know what?

You’re an expert at this. We really don’t have time. Can you do this for us?” Bingo. And the other thing, of course, is that you don’t want to continue working for free. Should only be a short term strategy, so that you can start gaining some momentum. You don’t want to be working for free for the first 20 clients. You can do this for a handful of clients at the beginning to build a portfolio, so you can demonstrate results, and as I said, attract additional clients. And you can use that as part of your sales pitch. Now, lastly, and this, I don’t want you confused by this point, because I said, just a moment ago, sell first and then build. I don’t want you to get confused by what I’m about to share with you, but it’s really important that you help first and you don’t sell.

Now, I know that sounds confusing, like I said, but stick with me. Think about what you can do to help your ideal prospect, get in front of them, and think about how you can help them. If you just start that conversation and you focus all of your energy and efforts on providing value and actually helping them and not having any expectations around doing so, then there’s a high likelihood that, somewhere in that conversation, they’re going to ask you to work with them. Now, this is essentially the same strategy that I used when I sell my high ticket item. I get on a call with the prospect. All I’m thinking about is overwhelming them, overwhelming the prospect with massive value. I often find myself on calls where I can see them. They’ve got a pen in hand, they’re quickly frantically trying to take down all of the notes.

Guess what happens at the end of those calls. “Oh, wow, John, yeah, look, let’s do this. This is fantastic.” So it’s about give, give, give, give, give, and then, maybe, then, ask. Okay? But you got to be careful. Don’t invest all your time, just to clarify, don’t invest all of your time building out a fancy website and doing all of these other things, social media properties, and creating a YouTube channel on a podcast, and all these other things, unless you’ve actually validated and sold your offer. You’ve got to do that first. Do that first and then, build. But even though I say sell first, I should probably rephrase that and say, “help first.” Help, sell, and then, build. Do it in that order. Because if you’re just running around trying to pitch your services, then it’s likely not going to come to a very good end, especially for your first client.

So I want to finish up this episode by saying this, your first client, it’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be messy. Things are going to be clunky. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s all part of the process. It’s all part of the process. Just focus on getting started, focus on helping people, being honest, and doing whatever you can to help them get results. Hey, if you’ve enjoyed this episode and you’d like to learn more, you have to come check out the SEO Accelerator programme. It’s my monthly coaching programme where we take all of this material and we apply it, we take it to the next level, and we study it. Join me over at bringtheseo.com. I’d love to have you join me inside the SEO Accelerator programme. I’ll see you there.

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