Any small business that is just starting off is always going to encounter problems. I remember reading INC magazine about a year ago, they conducted a study of the reasons why small businesses don’t make it and have to fold, and I think it was 60% of them called it quits because of inadequate funding. The best part about SEO consulting? There’s not a lot of up-front investing, unless you consider the countless hours it takes convincing a company to invest a couple of hundred dollars a month in something that won’t begin producing results until the 5th or 6th month, very rarely any sooner.

A lot of SEO experts say that a good SEO consultant shouldn’t have to look for business, because they are already up to their ears in work for existing clients and don’t have time for new business. I can’t wait for that day to come, although I’m sure in a year or so I’ll look back on this and disagree.

A new company without a proven portfolio of satisfied clients and results will have a hard time finding new customers. So how do you compete and survive with offshore companies popping up with colorful and attractive web sites promising to optimize 300 keywords, get you on page 2 of Google within 3 months, write unique and original articles and send you a Christmas card?

Any reputable SEO consultant knows this is all bogus, and the companies that actually do this without using black hat techniques simply outsource this to a number of companies/individuals, tell you they have 300 employees, and charge you a few hundred dollars extra so that they can make a profit.

The one positive thing about SEO, however? It’s still a very unsaturated industry.

There may be 5 or 6 full-time SEO consultants in a major city, which means there is plenty of work out there to be found if time is dedicated to doing so. But balancing self-marketing and client marketing can be a very difficult task. Time management is key, and how many billable hours you complete for the small amount of clients you currently have vs. how many hours you spend blogging, posting in message-board forums, posting ads on craigslist and going “door-to-door” to try to drum up new business, while being careful to not overextend yourself, can be tough.

I’ve found that a good way of finding potential clients is by finding small local companies who have invested money in advertising, either by buying ads in small local newspapers (I say small and local because most of the bigger companies who advertise in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun likely already have full-time SEO/SEM marketers, but it may be worth a shot) or whatever other types of local advertising you notice. Send a quick e-mail offering your services, making a few observations about what can be done better (I notice your keywords are too broad, your content could definitely be optimized, etc.) making it sound like it’s coming from a personal level and less like a spammer. Companies like to have hungry small businesses working for them, especially if they know that you have the time and resources to make an SEO campaign a success; as long as you’re setting the right expectations and not promising them anything in the first few months, but still detailing the work you are performing when billing them for the time.

Small business owners love barter deals as well. Try to work out trade deals; get your house painted, your kitchen cabinets, plumbing work done…whatever you can think of, service in trade for service. Not only are you saving money by not reaching into your pocket, but you’re also building a satisfied client base without them feeling like they’re taking a chance by spending money without proven results.

Taken from  75% of entrepreneurs would be better off financially with a regular job. You could counter by saying that wages may suffer but you can build wealth through your business, but you would be wrong again. The majority of entrepreneurs have $20,000 or less in business equity, and 30% of them have zero business equity. Surprising? Probably not given how many new businesses fail. One paper on entrepreneurs and optimism starts off this way:

Entrepreneurs make peculiar financial choices. They hold poorly diversified portfolios (Gentry and Hubbard, 2001; Heaton and Lucas, 2000). They bear excessive risk for the returns they earn (Moskowitz and Vissing-Jorgensen, 2002). They accept lower median life-time earnings than similarly skilled wage-earners (Hamilton, 2000).

Hey, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, right? Me or any other newbie SEO consultant bringing in six digits in the next 3 or 4 years is not something that should be planned on realistically happening. But finding the balance and freedom of being self-employed (regardless of the 12 hour days I’ll be putting in)? That’s what I’m talking about.

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