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Lessons Learned Running SEO Service and BST for Two Years

Discussion in 'Business & Tax Advice' started by cash202, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    This post is split into multiple parts for better reading experience

    Part I: The Story

    Hey, I'm cash202 and here is my BHW story. Read and ask me anything.

    Here on BHW people like to hide behind their avatars and you rarely see who they
    actually are. It's easy to forget you are dealing with people just like you. So, to
    break the ice here are a couple of mugshots :)

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    I'll fast forward to 2010, the year when I quit paid traffic and focused solely on
    automated SEO, Approximately in spring 2010 (I live in Australia, so it's autumn
    for our northern hemisphere friends and fall for our American friends) I finally
    put the system in place that worked really well. I was member of couple of private
    forums for several years and never even visited public forums.

    My private forums were mostly full of affiliates pushing paid traffic to CPA offers, and
    I wanted to find some like minded people to bounce off SEO ideas so around March
    2011 I finally joined BHW. The choice was obvious, if you know what I mean. Other
    public forums (with one exception which I won't mention due to BHW rules) are simply
    full of shit.

    I don't know what come onto me, but in April 2011 I simple published my whole ranking
    system in this post which incidentally became one of the top posts on BHW
    (I think it's #4 for number of views in Black Hat SEO subforum, after stickies). It it quickly
    turned into BST and eventually in SEO services business which I am running full time
    now.

    This lessons thread is for those who are thinking about going SEO services route, starting
    BST or doing SEO consulting. I've learned some the hard way, by failing to do it properly.
    Hopefully you'll find if useful. Some people here might even hate me for posting it but
    I don't care :) Let's spill some beans.

    I split it in few parts, grouped by different aspects of the business, like sales and marketing,
    customer services, personal tips, etc. Enjoy.
     
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  2. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    Part II: General Business


    (1) When more than one person asks you to do something you can for them and are willing
    to pay you right away, start a business immediately

    If you read my SEO blueprint thread you'll see the whole story. This is funny. After I
    posted it I immediately start getting replies with people asking me to do it for money. I
    was really reluctant to do so at first. Why the heck I'd do SEO service when I simply rank
    my affiliate site and get money rolling in? Finally I gave up. This was the best decision I've
    ever made. This allowed my to systematise, outsource and scale my business which won't
    probably happen otherwise. In under six month the income from BST eclipsed all my
    affiliate income and I had developed a system that works till this day.

    (2) Go retail or wholesale

    This is something rarely spoken of. There are two types of SEO companies.

    First type you see all over the first page of Google ranking for SEO-related keywords or buying

    AdWords. Here is the truth. With a couple of exceptions, these companies are just fronts. They
    have sweet talking sales people, dedicated account managers and toll free phone lines. What
    they don't have is a SEO team. These guys outsource the whole operation to either wholesale
    SEO or to freelancers. They also buy BSTs on forums. Many web design agencies that offer SEO
    come under this category as well.

    Second is wholesale. These are people who develop a system, software and build outsource
    teams that deliver the results. Their services are usually packaged or highly specialised (link
    pyramid package or X-number of certain type of links).

    I picked wholesale and never regretted it. Wholesale can be scaled using systems, outsourcing
    and automation. Retail is a job.

    (3) BST is an amazing way to test a product or service before going broad

    People on forums are early adopters. They will buy your product or service just because it is new.
    They like to play with new toys. Some even know how SEO really works - easy sell.

    (4) The flip side of it is, they want new bright shiny things all the time

    You either become old news in six months or less, or repackage what you do as "new revolutionary
    <insert-Google-animal-here>-proof <insert-popular-hat-colour-here> hat service".

    The most common question I get asked about my service is:


    - Does it still work?

    - What? Can't you see, I am still in business. Dah! :)

    (5) Get a good accountant and set up a proper business structure

    The structure that I got set up for me allowed me to legally delay paying any income tax for 12+ months,
    so I could reinvest every single cent back into business and grow. Make sure your grow your business to
    the point you are able to pay your taxes when they finally come. Australian Tax Office doesn't like to be
    screwed.

    One of the best tools I got for my business is Xero accounting with multi-currency and PayPal feeds support.

     
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  3. ok888

    ok888 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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  4. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    Part III: Sales and Marketing

    (6) It's all about sales and marketing

    Your product or service is almost irrelevant. Sad but true. You can have the best SEO
    system on the planet but the guy with shinier banners and fancy BST graphics will
    outsell you all day long. Even if their service sucks.

    (7) Stickies and banner ads on BHW work but watch your ROI closely

    Stickies provided me with the best ROI so far.

    (8) SEO service business is actually an education business

    Most people learn SEO by trolling SEOMoz-like blogs and watching Matt Cutts-like videos.
    Some graduate to actually reading SEO forums. A few test and track what works and what
    doesn't.

    Your customers will be from the first two groups. You must be in the last group.

    They believe fairy tales and they are scared of updates. It is your job to educate them.
    Knowing what I know now, I should've done 10x more education that I actually did. Many
    big high profile SEO consultancies are doing a lot of education (look at Distilled for example).

    (9) Some customers simply want you to make their decisions for them

    Beware, as they will be the first to blame you and ask for a refund

    (10) There can be no guarantees in SEO

    If you even done any hardcore SEO you know what I mean. There can be a money back
    guarantee though.

    (11) Your customers have different internal representation of success

    For some, the success is SERP improvement for a particular keyword, for others it is increase
    in traffic, for others it is the number of different link types that you create and for some it is
    the increase in sales and profit. You can't please all of them at the same time. Pick the group
    you'd like to work with and ignore the rest.

    If you are a wholesale supplier, promising increase in sales and profit is suicidal as you don't
    control vital parts of overall SEO strategy.

    (12) Moral dilemma: being brutally honest vs "sell more shit"

    - Is it Penguin-safe?
    - No idea. Who knows what Google is going to do tomorrow.

    - Can I rank #1 with a single blast?
    - No idea. You never know until you test this keyword with this website.

    - Can I rank for (65,000,000 competition) keyword?
    - No. You brand new site with scraped content is royal shite.

    This is not what they want to hear. It doesn't answer their objection. I could've sold more by
    saying "yes, of course".

    Maybe I sell less than I could but I sleep well at night.

    (13) Deliver on your promise even if you lose money as a result

    It's your fault you've promised it without thinking it through. Refund every single cent if you
    can't deliver on your promise. Even if you already spent all the money to pay your bills.

    (14) Keep you margins high

    You will have unpredicted situations, you need to grow your business, you need to pay
    your employees. High margins take a stress out of your life.

    (15) Collect case studies from the day one

    This is you best sales and marketing weapon. You can sell on a social proof alone. Show them
    it works.

    (16) Discounts

    Ahhh. No matter how cheap your service is, people will ask for discounts. A lot! If you
    are a wholesaler, the volume discounts are almost mandatory to pacify the buyer's resistance.
    Built it in your pricing structure. Make sure that, even with the top discount, you still have a
    healthy margins to profit.

    I didn't do it properly at first and I suffered the consequences. Remember, it is easy to justify
    a price drop. It harder to justify price increase.

    (17) The hardest sale is the first one

    If you service really works, they will come back for more. Sometimes almost begging you to
    take their money and deliver the goodies. But only IF(!) you service really works!
     
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  5. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    I am posting it right now :) Wait 10 minutes.
     
  6. Sampler

    Sampler Senior Member

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    Awesome story and another great share
    mate.

    Well done and best of luck in the future!

    Sampler

     
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  7. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    Part IV: Customer Service

    (19) Customer service is crucial

    I'd like to admit, I fucked this part up. My customer service was sub par. We are based in
    Australia, which is 12-15 hours ahead in time from the continental US. Sometimes it caused
    the 24+ hours delay in response to customer service requests. But they expect you to be
    available all the time. I hate Skype. It is an ultimate productivity killer. Apparently my
    customers don't think so.

    Here is the tip. Do not outsource your customers service as long as you can. You need to be in
    touch. You need to know which parts of your business are malfunctioning. Each complaint you
    receive indicates a malfunctioning part of you system. Patch it, fix it but don't ignore it.

    I am doing the majority of customer service till this day.

    (20) If customer asks for a refund, give it

    Even if you have no refund policy. This is Karma. If they are unhappy, you don't want to keep
    their money. Shitty reviews got posted fast while it requires effort to get positive testimonials.

    I have only two PayPal disputes in two years. In both cases customer simply opened a dispute
    as a matter of asking for refund, without even contacting the customer service.
     
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  8. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    Part V: Systems and Outsourcing

    (21) Make your process open source but keep the little details for yourself

    If you read my SEO blueprint thread, you know my process. At least 90% of it. I have a few
    tricks that allow me to execute it faster and better than others. And this is how I get the business.
    By open sourcing your process you'll solve a bunch of problems like customers having right
    expectations, trust factor, etc.

    I made a mistake when I tried to close source the process, hide links and sell on the results
    alone in version 2.0 of my service. It didn't work as well. I reversed it back and start giving
    links reports again. The matter of fact, there's no point hiding links. Your competitors are not that
    smart and those who are will still reverse-engineer your campaigns. But your customer will
    appreciate the transparency.

    (22) Invest in the best tools/services money can buy

    If the tools are crucial for your process, bet on industry leaders that deliver the quality and don't
    just disappear overnight. This is exactly a reason I bought SENuke lifetime subscription as soon
    as I could.

    Having overdue orders queueing in the pipeline because your software vendor fucked up or your
    "bullet-proof" VPS kicked you out is not a good place to be.

    (23) Your biggest asset will be your private high PR network

    Start building it right now. Bless those who spread rumours it doesn't work anymore. It will
    make your job easier.

    (24) Put all your prospects and customers on a mailing list

    Do I even need to explain? Just do it.

    Mail often once per week or more ofter or people will forget that you exist.

    OK, if you are on my list you know that I screwed this up :) However, despite the neglect, every
    time I mailed the list, regardless of what it was, sales pitch or content, I got more sales. Having
    seen that, I believe the "money is in the list" motto wholeheartedly.

    (25) Consulting doesn't scale

    Those of you who are thinking about becoming a high paid SEO consultant or providing a
    customised high level SEO service, think again.

    Here is the ugly truth about consulting. It is a dreaded job, disguised as a business to fool you
    into long hour of sweat and toil without an exist strategy.

    Here is how business work. You develop a product or packaged service and scale it up as fast
    as you can. Ideally you are looking at exponential growth but it usually doesn't happen without
    external investment (draw graph of exponential growth in revenue with linear growth of
    expenses and you'll see why you'll need investment capital). Self-funded you probably won't
    achieve more that a cubic growth. I certainly didn't achieve that for the reason I cover in
    part VI.

    In my opinion, if it doesn't scale, forget about it. It takes the same amount of toil to create a
    scalable business as to create an unscalable business. The choice is yours.

    (26) The money is in the system

    The key to scale is the system. Everything from customer coming into you sales funnel to
    service delivery, project management, hiring and firing and research and development
    must be turned into system.

    I know the model of "hire good people and let them do the job", I just don't buy into it.

    This is another reason I hate consulting and custom retail services. They just that, custom.
    Very little can be systematised and scaled rapidly.

    Our SEO ranking system is reduced to a series of steps that are put in our internal Wiki
    together with Camtasia videos on how to complete them. Our project management system
    based of checklists and milestones. Each checklist item corresponds to the process sheet
    with a video on Wiki. Any new link builder we hire can simply follow the directions step by
    step.

    Although I successfully systematised production like and project management, sales and
    marketing system was left neglected. Wrong. This should've been the first system to think
    about (see lesson 6).

    (27) Outsource your process, keep the customer service

    You will need posters and eventually IT guy to manage VPSes, private network and viruses
    on your posters' PCs.

    Hire Filipinos. Period.

    Read "Mastering the Rockefeller Habits" book. Implement everything you read there.

    We have daily voice call meetings on Skype and daily reports posted on internal forum by
    each and every employee.
     
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  9. ok888

    ok888 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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  10. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    Part VI: Personal Issues


    (28) You are not your service. You are not your product. There's nothing personal

    Maintain a emotional detachment from your business. Do not make critical decisions under
    influence of strong emotions.

    Relax. Breath. Meditate. Whatever it takes.

    I am still learning this one.

    (29) Determine your rules and stick to your guns

    This is your business and you set the rules. So, set them up front, communicate to people
    you deal with and stick to them.

    If you don't allow porn into your service, do not make exceptions regardless of how much
    money you get paid.

    If you decided to stay Skype-free for the weekend, do not turn Skype on.

    If you deliver a packaged service and prospect ask you to change bits and pieces here and
    there, say no.

    The people you deal with will test your boundaries and intrude into your life and business
    if you let them. Enforcing you boundaries feels good and makes you a better business
    person. Nobody likes to deal with flakes.

    (30) Do not spend money. Reinvest in business

    This is my biggest fuck up of all. Here is the story. I've accumulated a bit of a balance on
    credit card while doing my paid traffic in 2010 which was hanging there for a while.
    Unfortunately I was reading a bad financial advice books at that time and I bought into
    "credit card debt is bad" bullshit.

    In the middle of 2011 money started to roll in fast and I decided to "kill my credit card".
    Credit card debt is bad, right? WRONG! Debt needs to be managed, not avoided. In the
    crucial moment of hype-growth, I started to extract money from the business instead of
    reinvest it to support growth.

    By the time I almost paid off my credit card, Penguin hit hard and business growth stopped
    standstill. Everybody was scared. Everybody was waiting. Everybody wanted to remove
    links, not build them.

    I strangled my own business and set it back at least six months or more.

    I saw a post of dude here on BHW who claims he had huge success with CPA in one year
    so he bough Maseratti. Oh my gosh! Even if he did, he probably financed it. In the first year
    of his business. The most idiotic decision ever.

    In two years I only bought one toy. Here it is:

    [​IMG]

    This is 1997 BMW 528i. Not a fucking Maseratti. I paid $7000 cash for the car and another
    $1500 to fix the light control module. The only reason I got the car was that my old barely
    roadworthy Ford got smashed by piano removal truck and I had to dispose of it.

    Reinvest, reinvest, reinvest your profits. Live below your means. Don't spend the money
    when it is rolling in fast. Grow your business instead.

    (31) Work from home is overrated

    I am now paying for a desk and co-working space and startup incubator Fishburners here is
    Sydney. You won't believe how much more you get done when you get your arse on the bus,
    go to the office and put headphones with 3 hour dubstep mix. When you add all the contacts
    you make and and networking with people who sold their companies for seven and eight
    figures, it's no-brainer.

    I now work two to three days in the office.

    (32) Own less shit. Simplify and streamline life as much as you can

    [​IMG]

    I live with a family in small 2-bedroom apartment in Maroubra, NSW with a minimum furniture
    and only one car. I would've moved to one bedda but my daughter is growing up and needs
    a separate room.

    I have two pairs of sneakers for sport, two pairs of comfy shoes, two pairs of
    jeans, 7 or 8 t-shirts, one warm sweater and one hoodie for winter, one formal shirt and no
    formal shoes. My wife has a little more :)

    We still have XBox Classic, HD TV and DVD because I didn't have an opportunity to throw it
    out yet. It comes useful sometimes although I feel half of the shit we own can still be thrown
    away.

    I work on Lenovo Z560 laptop I bough in 2010. I replaced the hard-drive with SSD in December
    2012. Still running well. Not going to buy a new laptop anytime soon.

    My life is a life of a robot. Everything is programmed. Wake up, gym, come back, team meeting,
    work, work, work, work, collapse. Sometimes a good movie gets squeezed between work and
    collapse.

    (33) Exercise your ass, quit smoking, don't drink too much, take supplements, sleep and eat well

    I quit drinking and smoking in 2001. Drinking because I tended to smoke when drunk. Used to
    smoke two packs a day. Now I occasionally enjoy a drink and maybe get really drunk once per
    year. It's not worth it, in my opinion.

    I follow CrossFit program religiously and eat CrossFit prescribed Zone diet. This helps to keep my
    head clear and feel alive. Minimum eight our of sleep is a must if you do CrossFit. You can pull
    all-nighters without consequences when you are 20, at 36 rest is important.

    (34) Take the fucking holiday once in a while

    You will burn out if you don't. I certainly experienced some symptoms of burnout during these
    years. I didn't take the fucking holiday yet.

    That's all folks. I'll be happy to answer your questions.
     
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  11. Untouchable

    Untouchable Supreme Member

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    I am surpised you didnt make a WSO and sell this for $99.
    Lots of goods stuff here!
     
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  12. masterjani

    masterjani Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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  13. cash202

    cash202 Elite Member Premium Member

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    I didn't even sell the original SEO blueprint as WSO. It would've sold well, so I was told.
    Eventually some dude on WarriorForum stole the post and rewritten it, skipping the Xrumer
    part and started link building service there. The service died pretty quickly, my guess the
    guy couldn't scale it.
     
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  14. aidennn

    aidennn Registered Member

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    Wow, absolutely amazing post!
     
  15. Akash1812

    Akash1812 Registered Member

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    thanks for this, something useful and motivating on BHW after long time!
     
  16. IamBlackhatter

    IamBlackhatter Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    Good one cash202 i accept BST's are no lame unless we do it properly with some knowledge also its better to test the results with our service before they enter BST for the well being of our customers only if that works we can satisfy our clients IMO but #1 seo providers are hoax which is not guaranteed even if we do hardcore seo as you said instead may be some good serp movements will make customers happy :)
     
  17. Pilfer7

    Pilfer7 Regular Member

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    no headphones for me, I plays my dubstep out loud so everybody is bothered but me.

    thx for the effort and the info cash
     
  18. davids355

    davids355 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    Wicked post man. Congrats to your success, and thanks for sharing the details with others:)
     
  19. carlikito

    carlikito Regular Member

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    Awesome post Cash, one of the best so far in 2013.

    I love this part: (32) Own less shit. Simplify and streamline life as much as you can.

    Thanks for sharing.
     
  20. kingscript

    kingscript Registered Member

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    Awesome post my friend! You really revealed a huge secret to success in your post! It is simple. Live simple.