Pic by me – Chicago, July 2016
Last month I hit the lowest of lows I’ve yet to experience in business.
But I’ll come back to that.
I should probably take you to what led to this. And I should tell you this story does end on a positive. But fair warning – it goes through a whole lotta lows too.
A Brief Account Of 2010-2017
Anyhow… let’s start back in 2010 for some context and a fast review of how I got here.
First of all – I’m grateful. In a way where I want to you know, that I am fully aware that I am lucky to have found SEO and have work I enjoy. I’m lucky in SO many ways. And I have perspective for the fact these struggles are nothing compared to what many other endure.
Much of the pain described below, is more about feeling like I let other people down – and that’s far worse than any fleeting moment of self-doubt or sadness (of which there have been plenty).
The iPad launched.
Google ‘instant’ came out.
And there I was – a poor piano teacher, just realizing SEO could actually be a career. I didn’t want to teach one more little kid where ‘middle C’ was ever again, anymore, and SEO was my way out.
(You see, teaching piano was an artifact left over from my gigging musician days. My real heart was in performing, and teaching was a nice supplement to that – which I derived enjoyment from coupled with performing. But I wasn’t gigging anymore, I was a 30-something settled down husband looking for a more ‘normal’ routine).
So in comes SEO. Sweeping me off my feet.
I dove in head first and by 2011/2012 I was getting hired for my SEO skills (which, by the way, I had spent 3-4 years developing on my own businesses, my Dad’s businesses, and a few other close friends).
So what’s so bad about this?
Pic by me – Boston, MA
Let me illustrate how this path goes off the rails, with the story of one of my first big clients.
It was early 2012. They found me being helpful in the Moz forums. And I was hired to do a pretty in-depth audit/strategy. I scoped it at two months for $8,750.
(Reminder, I was still teaching piano lessons 20 hours a week at that time, but this left plenty of time to get the job done.)
Which would have worked fine, but guess what happened next?
The project kicked off. They gave me Analytics access. They paid me.
And then …
A week went by. I hadn’t started it yet.
Three, maybe four.
I was like “ehh, I’ve got four more weeks to finish this thing. I’ve got time.”
It was like I was right back in 6th grade putting off a paper. Except I was (supposed to be) and adult now. 32 years old. “Grow up, Dan!” I was screaming in my head.
Anyway, 8 weeks later I did deliver everything as promised – on the last freakin’ day of the 8th week.
I just searched my email, it’s all there, I actually just impressed myself looking at it in hindsight.
Look at all these docs!
There were 20 of them! In hindsight, I undercharged.
But at the time it was painful. Preparing all those document and reports, and sitting there typing and meticulously taking screenshots and pasting them in… yuck! And feeling like, well if I had spent the eight weeks working on it, it could have been better.
7 years later, I can say with certainty, that’s the style doing of SEO I have still don’t wear very well. The big deliverables. A long, looming deadline months later. All that … typing.
Most of my professional life I performed music or taught piano lessons. The “deliverable” was much different. It’s personal! In person. Being in front of a group of people. Using body language, your voice, encouragement – to transfer information and inspiration.
As much as I was tired of teaching little kids piano after 12 years, that style of work was much more suited to my strengths.
In hindsight, that eCommerce project actually went fairly well. (They even contacted me years later for some additional consulting.)
“Dan, Where are you?”
But there were plenty others that didn’t go as smoothly.
Not everyone is as lenient with a procrastinator – here’s an example:
To be fair – he’s right.
But without a clear follow-up date, I kept pushing things out thinking “well, it’s ‘due’ at the end of the month”. I had been working on it, but not communicating it and not giving the client a sense of progress.
And you know what? It felt crappy. I hated it. It’s the WORST feeling.
These situations kept playing out with the same script.
Secure the client. Receive payment. Lose the sense of urgency. Procrastinate. Feel bad. Eat Ben & Jerry’s. As the weeks go by the worse it would be because then I felt like the more amazing my first deliverable needed to be … and on and on.
Granted – I would typically always pull through in the 11th hour, and deliver something – good something’s – it’s really not been an enjoyable way to conduct business.
I knew this was a “flaw” of mine early on, and wanted to fix it, but just couldn’t seem to pull it together.
A Pattern Of SEO Wins
Except … as if I was living two lives, I kept having this SEO wins.
Really, really nice ones, like this:
The beginning of the growth is cut off, but that’s organic traffic to ONE piece of content I ideated and created. No link building was done, and this is only a sample range. As I recall, this piece of content accumulated well over 100,000 lifetime visits.
Or like this:
This is organic traffic growth to the blog of a website. I think it ended up being 20x growth in 8 months.
And like this:
Growth of organic traffic only a 50-page section of a site I strategized, developed the URL architecture and guided the content process. (Note: the dip mid-2016 was the phantom update since we have recovered *nicely* from. I’m going to write a full article soon on this site’s success).
That … feels good. Like I’m actually …. delivering … *gasp*… value.
There are more examples like that, despite the negatives I’ve also called out on myself.
That was the last 7 years in a nutshell. Feeling lost, while sometimes having wins and good moments – but not knowing how to steer the ship more towards success, and away from unfulfillment, procrastination, and big-ass deliverables I’m not very jazzed about.
Pic by me – NYC, March 2017
In short – I’ve just been letting life happen.
The car’s moving, but I’m not driving.
Even if I was driving, it’s not like I knew the destination. (It would be like one of those times you plan on going to get groceries and end up at a random Starbucks 30 minutes away – not because you wanted to – but because instead, you pondered going to the bakery for a donut, but then half way you’re like “I have to be healthy” – but you’re like “well I’m all the way out here now, there’s a Starbucks, I’ll get a doppio. OK fine, my life is a doppio espresso.”)
And feeling like … as much as I love SEO … like I just don’t fit in. Like others around me were growing companies, moving up the job ladder, posting screenshots of amazing work they were doing (growth, results, APIs, fancy dashboards, prominent speaking gigs).
And despite marginal ‘success’, I’ve never really felt like I found my place in it all.
Value Debt = Financial Debt
I want to illustrate (literally) how emotional debt (and misalignment with who you are) can lead to actual debt.
Then we’ll get to the “low moment” – and end on a positive.
Looks good, right?
You can see – things started ramping up quickly once I decided to do SEO full time in late 2010. By 2013, I had completely stopped teaching piano lessons.
Well, not so fast.
As with any business, expenses generally rise with income. This chart showing just expenses illustrates a decent rise, but something goes awry in 2016/2017…
Yep – 2015/2016/2017 – NET income has basically plateaued. Which … is fine … in most cases. Except, my wife and I have been fighting to catch up from being behind on taxes since we were first married. PLUS, the cash flow of money in/money out was wrecking us.
So as you can see, with this super fancy chart – our debt has been steadily increasing since 2011. It’s a bad place to be.
It does not give you the leverage to make sound, long-term business decisions. Every step was a move to try to maneuver towards cash positive as quickly as possible.
This undoubtedly added to my anxiety of doing the SEO work… which…
Of course – it caused the consumption of plenty of Ben & Jerry’s (and some pastries, candy and coffee… now I’m exclusively on Yerba Mate… anyway, it doesn’t matter…)
I’m being a little hyperbolic about 2016/2017. I have really gotten my health in a much better place these past few years. Doing a ton of exercise, and generally eating much better.
Here’s the final blow though:
Despite putting in more hours than ever – did it positively impact our revenue?
Negative impact probably.
Because the more I was throwing hours at the issue, trying to fix it, it just kept getting worse.
I was liking the work actually – for the most part (except the days I would procrastinate and feel bad). I LOVE work in general, let’s get that straight. I’m not the type to couch surf or go to the bar (“to the bahhhh” as we say here in Mass.).
But it’s a problem and unsustainable when you’re adding hours and losing income – and you’re racing really fast to the bottom. Where does it stop? I was already doing 12-14 hour days sometimes. Taking early calls from Australia and late calls from the West Coast.
The worst part? I looked back and realized – I lost evenings and even some weekends with my wife. We used to spend that time together. Now it was lost.
The “Lowest Low”
Right, back to where this whole story started. Things get a little darker, but they do improve. Promise.
You may know, we’d hired some extra help here at Evolving SEO throughout 2014-2017. First, a contractor who runs Facebook Ads for some clients. And in 2015 we brought in our first full-time employee.
These things are supposed to help grow your business and move the revenue needle in the right direction. Even if there’s an initial hit of 3-6 months, they should turn around to the positive.
Right? That’s what I’ve heard.
Well – obviously they didn’t.
So, a month ago, we made the hard decision to scale back down to an “employeeless” company, and let our only employee go ? (And I’m in the process of shifting around the Facebook contractor and how we deliver that to clients).
Pic by me – Boston, January 2016
This was THE lowest of all possible lows. I felt like I let our employee down, my wife down, and myself.
I should pause here too with a HUGE, honest, 100% sincere disclaimer: our business shortcomings in the last few years are entire my fault and responsibility. That’s the entire point of this article. Our contractor and employee are hard working, reliable, talented workers – and friends.
AGAIN: perspective is funny too. I know there’s companies that have to let dozens or hundreds of people go. (This is nothing – a tiny little three person company – it shows how your world is your world, no matter how much you try to see outside of it).
I’m Not A ‘Boss’
(I’m not Michael Scott either, but do have the same birthday as Steve Carell… anyway)
You need to know who you are. These last 18 months have shown me.
I’m not a boss.
I’m not a buttoned-up agency guy.
I’ll never be successful playing by the expected rules.
But I DO know … I best deliver value 1:1, with a personal approach, speaking and showing vs putting it all down on paper. And I can be super successful (and help others do so) by focusing 1,000% on my stregnths.
I’m a people person. I occasionally need a break, but people give me energy and a feeling of purpose and value.
(More below on how this translates into my services.)
Are You Aligned With Who You Really Are?
This has been a huge a realization of mine, not a negative on the employee – not only was I never comfortable with agency style “deliverables” and “deadlines” but throw an employee in there and I was super clueless uncomfortable.
(I could tell the story of why we decided to hire an employee, to begin with … but it doesn’t matter too much right now.)
What matters now, it what’s coming next – so let’s dig up out of this low back to what I’m excited about.
Reboot – A New Chapter – An Identity
That was a month ago. And no, I’m NOT quitting SEO.
But I am completely rebooting and clarifying *what* exactly it is I do.
I am a consultant/teacher hybrid.
Kind of like a Puggle, but for SEO.
I can DO the SEO work, but I’m best delivering it by showing you and teaching you.
And further … Evolving SEO is not an ‘agency’.
We started going in that direction, but it’s really not for me.
You Need To Find The Commonalities In Your ‘Wins’
Here’s the lesson for you.
Remember all of those successful SEO Wins from above? Well … what was it exactly that made those situations successful and others not?
You see people often miscategorize things or use the wrong categorization entirely when analyzing success and failure.
It wasn’t industry (they are all super different).
It wasn’t business size (all different).
It wasn’t the particular SEO activities (different).
It was the structure of how the work was delivered.
- Regular, pre-determined phone calls were scheduled.
- *Some* written work, but in smaller bite sized pieces.
- My recommendations were largely delivered verbally, and with screen-share or recorded video, and the ‘deliverable’ is the supplement.
- The client not only relied on me for “work” but providing education, training etc.
- They like my sometimes quirky, unorthodox way of working – and ‘met me in the middle’ working more as a collaborative partner.
- There was ONE point of contact I work directly with.
What about those failure situations? Literally, they all had one or more of the following:
- Agency-like work expectations (ahem – link building.)
- No pre-planned check-in calls … no teaching/training component.
- Work was to be delivered in writing, in big docs
- Link building. Did I mention link building?
- Little to no focus on me as an educator as much as the doer.
In other words – when I was perceived and expected to act like an agency it failed. When I am perceived as your personal, one on one consultant (teacher, trainer, strategist hybrid – whatever word you want to use) – it works. It works really well.
When do YOU most win, feel good and achieve success?
The glue tying it together may not be so obvious. If you’re stuck like I was, I suggest questioning how you’re categorizing things.
What Does This All Mean?
It means … I have a lot of updates to make to my website now ✔️
In the future weeks and months, I’ll be doing some experimenting with how to deliver SEO consulting, and will be rolling out some new services options.
But I wanted to use this post to communicate a little about what I can offer and where I can add SEO value.
On Demand SEO Consulting
This is where I’ll be experimenting a little.
This is the new core service I am offering!
I’ve been testing this out in the last month and it’s gone very well.
I spend the day working on what you need and deliver it via live screen share (you can record it if you want).
It’s perfect if you have some exact SEO needs and want an expert to pour a day of time, dedication, attention (coupled with 10+ years of SEO experience and industry relationships).
Here are a few real ways I have provided this service:
- Someone needed a handful of topics for a company blog based on advanced keyword research and topic targeting.
- Someone needed the URL/page/hierarchy structure of a new website laid out.
- Someone needed a “lightweight” audit for a rapid start to the biggest issues, without breaking the bank.
- An in-house SEO needed some outside help for an internal project.
- Or kind of like what I provided to Noah Kagan (video link) on my Podcast
- …the list could go on.
Soon, I hope to have a ‘one-click’ buy option on this site to easily order your ‘day’ with me.
I want to clarify I DO deliver documents (keyword sheets, audit checklists, etc) but the primary mode of delivery is live via screen share with a heavy teaching and training component.
(HUGE thanks to Marie Haynes, who helped chat through this idea with me)
I quite simply love and enjoy hopping on a call and tackling SEO questions, problems, and challenges.
I share my screen. I give you notes, links, and resources. And I can answer questions very clearly and quickly.
You can see my reviews here: https://clarity.fm/danshure
Projects & Ongoing Work
But the difference is – work is broken into bite size pieces and a phone call/screen share delivery. Regular communication and using me as a teacher as much as “the guy that does SEO” is where we’re both going to be most successful.
SEO IS an “ongoing” activity when it’s expected to be a growth channel, so if that’s what you are looking for, you need to be employing SEO consistently.
NOTE: This service is limited to people who have done the 1-day Jumpstart, worked with me before, or come from a highly trusted referral source.
Yes … the Podcast. I’ll have some news to share about this soon, but the Podcast is a channel that I only foresee growing into a more meaningful element of my service-mix.
Speaking / Seminars / ??
Remember when I talked about “being in the car but not driving”?
This is something I believe I can do, and do well. I’m working on these skills constantly with the Podcast and hopefully more videos content (like I had started to do earlier this year).
This is the year I get more pro-active about that (or – call me – I’m 45 mins from Boston and 3 hours from NY, wink, wink).
And my shift towards a consultant/teacher approach could lead in many more directions (for example I recently taught an 8-session LIVE course for Conversion XL).
This is all early in transition, so I clearly need to update a lot on my website.
BUT I wanted to get the wheels in motion. I wanted to update YOU as to what’s going on here at ‘Evolving’, put ‘out there’ what it is I’m up to – and take back control of the steering wheel a bit.
I’m excited for this next step in realizing how I best deliver value to the world.
I have a LOT of case studies, testimonials, and work examples to share.
But in the meantime, feel free to say hello below or email me: dan at evolvingseo dot com (Need some of my personal, hybrid consultant/teacher style of SEO guidance? I DO have some spots open right away for hourly consulting and on-demand consulting/training).