How I see it there are three types of SEO; you either work at an agency, client side or on your own as a freelancer. Working in agencies and client side are the most common of the three so I was interested to hear that Steve Morgan had recently left agency life and set up business for himself. Mine and Steve’s business paths crossed a few years ago and I thought it would be useful to hear what his experiences have been like so far.
How long have you been working in SEO and where did you start out?
I’ve been working in SEO for 4.5 years (since early 2009), starting out at Liberty Marketing, my brother’s company. I was the second person in and when I left about a year ago, it was up to about 15+ staff, so it’s done well, especially during the recession. Just goes to show the demand for online marketing and SEO, even during times of austerity!
What made you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve considered self-employment for years. In addition to my brother starting Liberty, my parents run an IT recruitment agency, a Spanish rental property business and my dad’s also a landlord. So you could say that my family’s no stranger to entrepreneurship and I’ve grown up seeing that way of working firsthand. They’ve been a big inspiration. But the reason I decided to do it now (1-2 months ago) and not years ago is simply because I’ve felt more confident now. The timing seemed right.
Did you already have clients established beforehand?
Not quite, but a fair few people I knew through networking, etc. had approached me asking if I did freelance work. While working at my last full-time job, I said no, because I didn’t want to work a 40 hour per week job and then do freelancing on the side during evenings and weekends as well. But it got to the point where I thought to myself: “hang on, if I leave the full-time job, there’s probably enough potential work to sustain this as a full-time, on-going thing.”
What do you consider to be the advantages vs disadvantages of the working environment
In terms of advantages… I love the flexibility, the fact that it doesn’t have to be a 9 to 5 thing if I don’t want it to be. I’m quite happy that I can take a random weekday off but then make it up by working on a Saturday, or something like that.
In terms of disadvantages…Security is very important to me, so it’s been difficult adjusting to the fact that one month I might invoice a lot and another month not so much, based on the amount of work that’s going on. Also, I’m no stranger to working from home, but I’ve found that the novelty soon wears off and it can be quite lonely and boring, so I’ve made the effort to move into a co-working serviced office environment (Welsh ICE in Caerphilly), which is about a 20-minute commute from my home.
What were the main struggles (if any) of setting up as self-employed?
It’s getting your head around everything that’s involved from a day-to-day admin/accounts point of view. I like to think that I can do a good job at SEO and PPC, but sorting out contracts, expenses, invoicing, HMRC, accounts and everything else? It’s quite overwhelming. It feels like you have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades (juggling finance, management and sales as well as the work itself) while still being quite focused on your ability to do the work well.
How did you decide on business name and logo?
I went with Morgan Online Marketing for a few reasons:
- “Morgan” because of the George Foreman analogy: “I put my name on it.” Everyone knows SEO doesn’t have the best reputation, but if I’m putting my name on the line, I’m hoping people will realise that I’m serious and not dodgy (unlike some companies who sour our industry). It’s also a typically Welsh name, and Welsh businesses love to buy from other Welsh businesses! We’re a patriotic nation…
- “Online Marketing” because it’s less restrictive going forward, if I decide to do social media, email marketing, etc. as well in the future. Calling it “Morgan SEO” would be pushing myself into a corner if I did want to branch out.
That said, I’ve already had a business advisor tell me he doesn’t like it because “it’s not sexy enough,” haha! Oh well, you can’t please everyone!
Regarding the logo, there’s a logo designer I’ve known for years who I’ve wanted to work with. I told myself that if I ever started my own business, I’d definitely hire him! He wasn’t cheap, but I’m a strong believer that you get what you pay for. A friend of mine had a heart-attack when I told him how much it cost, but then again he did think I should’ve just gone with someone on Fiverr…
How do you plan to market yourself to build up your client base?
I already have a strong network in South Wales (or so I like to think), so I’ll make the rounds with networking events on a frequent basis to keep the momentum going. I used to be a member of BNI (a weekly breakfast networking group), so I might re-join my old chapter or seek out a new chapter to join. Also, my blog (SEOno) currently ranks on page 1 of Google for “seo cardiff”, so I’ll try and keep that going or try to get my separate freelance site to rank as well/instead.
What would your advice be to others thinking of doing the same?
I knew it’d be tough, but it was still a lot tougher than I thought it’d be.
Make sure that you have money saved by, as you’ll be paying for lots of things to begin with (e.g. logo, website, etc. – unless you do them yourself or get friends to do them for cheap) and if things are quiet to begin with as well – in my first month I invoiced £0 and this month looks like it’ll be quiet on the invoicing front (because projects are really only starting out), so I might not breakeven for another month or two yet. Oh and don’t assume that if people say “I’ll definitely work with you if/when you go self-employed” that they will!